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Tax credits eyed for old homes, businesses

Homes and businesses in one of Buffalo's oldest neighborhoods soon could be eligible for state and federal tax breaks and other incentives.

The city is partnering with a local architect to survey buildings in the Black Rock neighborhood. The mission will take several months and aims to pinpoint homes and commercial structures that might be eligible for public incentives under New York's historic tax credit program.

City officials describe the effort as a citizen-driven crusade. Volunteers involved in the Black Rock-Riverside Good Neighbors Planning Alliance have been working to pinpoint new ways to spur investment.

Typically, most of the public attention of historic tax credits has focused on big-ticket projects such as the proposed rehabilitations of the former AM&A's department store on Main Street and the Hotel Lafayette. But architect Clinton Brown said the credits can also provide lucrative credits to homeowners and small businesses who want to renovate their properties.

"If you grew up in Buffalo, you take for granted what is seen by others as being nationally significant. Not just the [H.H.] Richardson Buildings, but also the great neighborhoods we have," said Brown. "And we will find, I'm certain, many structures meeting the federal criteria for official [historic] designation."

Having a building certified as a historic structure isn't as tough as it might sound, officials said at a news conference Thursday in the Riverside neighborhood. Structures must be at least 50 years old and either have some ties to a noted architect or other distinguishing characteristics. For example, many structures in Black Rock have ties to the Erie Canal, said Clinton Brown, who operates Clinton Brown Co. Architecture.

Experts believe there are 50 to 100 homes in the neighborhood that are circa 1850, said Maryanne Kedron, chairwoman of the Planning Alliance's Housing Committee.

The property survey will determine which structures are eligible for a variety of incentives. For example, certified buildings can receive income tax breaks amounting to 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitations. Historic tax credits can amount to as much as $50,000 for a home, and up to $5 million for commercial properties.

Community leaders were joined by Mayor Byron W. Brown, North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. and a liaison to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, who was a lead sponsor of the tax credits law.

Kedron said the initial focus will involve encouraging the owners of larger commercial structures to apply for incentives. She stressed that there's no desire by community leaders to force any property owners to apply for historic certification.

"We don't want anyone to be threatened by this effort," she said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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