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Four banks bid on financing city courthouse project

The Niagara Falls Courthouse Advisory Committee learned on Tuesday that several investment bankers are interested in underwriting the financing for the $37.7 million construction of a new city courthouse and Police Headquarters.

Jack Phillips, a principal with Largo Real Estate Advisors of Amherst and part of the city's chosen development team, said four bankers submitted proposals, and he is close to selecting one.

However, the committee also learned that delays this fall in the schematic design process for the complex mean the developer won't recommend a financing model to pay for it until July 3 at the earliest. The initial time line of the project called for that to happen in May.

The Planning Board also has hit a slight delay in its determination of the project under State Environmental Quality Review Act. A tentative public hearing on the environmental review application for the three-story building was set for Dec. 13, but now that won't happen until early 2007.

City Senior Planner Thomas DeSantis said the application is not complete, as the board is waiting for information for a parking variance that's needed.

Also, the State Historic Preservation Office has deemed the Bible Way Church, which will be acquired, to be eligible for historic site status. DeSantis said the city and developer now need to convince the state that demolition of the building is unavoidable.

Advisory committee member Thomas Pryce voiced frustration with those delays.

"Where is the sense of urgency?" he asked. "We've lost three to four months in the last six months on this project."

Pryce and four other volunteer committee members also got an exhaustive update on the financing options that the developer is investigating.

In June, Largo and Ciminelli Development Co. of Amherst recommended the city pay for the entire project -- estimated at $42 million or more -- with casino revenue.

The city recently released a 10-year capital plan that calls for it to issue $37.5 million in 30-year bonds next year, making a $1.5 million payment the first year and $2.6 million payments in subsequent years.

But the developers made it clear on Tuesday that they want the city to form a limited liability corporation, a nonprofit entity, to act as the owner of the complex. The city would make payments to the so-called LLC instead of the developer or a bank, explained Terrence Gilbride, the development team's lead attorney from the Hodgson Russ law firm.

Gilbride said forming an LLC would be relatively easy, and would allow the developer to pass over the land it is currently working to acquire on behalf of the city.

Phillips said that while an LLC is a nonprofit corporation not directly controlled by the city, it would have representation from the city, usually in the form of an ex-officio member. He said the reason to use one is that it would allow the city to get a 40-year fixed-rate financing deal, and still qualify for a partial reimbursement for the courthouse side of the project from the state's Office of Court Administration.

The other financing option discussed was to issue general obligation bonds, which last for 30 years.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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