Developer Rocco Termini's plans to redevelop a pair of downtown buildings with two restaurants are moving forward.
The Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Monday approved a total of $131,000 in tax abatements for the two projects, at 437 Ellicott St. and 338 Ellicott St.
Separately, the ECIDA approved $1.47 million in tax abatements to support a $13 million new administration building for Moog Inc. in Elma.
Termini plans to convert 338 Ellicott, formerly the Horton Coffee Co. building, into a "reasonably priced" family restaurant. The building, south of East Huron Street, has been vacant for 20 years.
And Termini plans to turn 437 Ellicott, located north of Chippewa Street and formerly the Golden Swan Cafe and Grille, into a "reasonably priced" Italian-style restaurant. The ECIDA describes the property as "long underutilized," noting that it houses the Golden Swan bar and that the property's upper floors are home to transient guests.
The total investment in both restaurant projects is estimated at $800,000.
"I'm happy to see [the ECIDA board] finally recognized the importance of creating a neighborhood in downtown Buffalo," Termini said outside the meeting. "A neighborhood is not just housing. It's restaurants, it's retail. And that's what we're trying to form downtown.
"And it's different than giving benefits to a restaurant in Amherst or Clarence," he said. "Downtown is a different animal."
Termini is teaming up with Sarah Ketry, daughter of Pearl Street Grill and Brewery managing partner Earl Ketry, and chef and restaurateur owner Mike Andrzejewski on the projects.
The projects are eligible for the minimum amount of real estate tax abatement allowed by the ECIDA under its tiered incentive program, said Karen Fiala, the ECIDA's assistant treasurer. "As [Mayor Byron W. Brown] said, in the past it has been difficult to finance these types of projects in general because the market is not proven, and our incentives do help bridge that much-needed gap in the financing."
Termini said he hopes to start the project at the former Horton building within 30 days and finish it by the beginning of next year. He aims to start the project at the former Golden Swan in mid-2012. The tax abatements for the restaurants were on the ECIDA board's agenda in July. But the board had a bare quorum at that meeting, and there were indications the abatements would not have received the required unanimous backing to win approval under those circumstances, so the vote was put off.
At the July meeting, the proposed tax abatements became part of a broader board discussion about whether the agency's adaptive reuse program, which seeks to revitalize vacant properties, should include restaurants.
On Monday, Andrew Rudnick, a board member and president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said the agency's policy committee is developing criteria for incentives for retail projects in targeted areas and for senior housing projects. The recommendations are expected to go before the ECIDA board in September.
"We need sharper policy because we're going to be ambiguous in both of these areas without it, and the projects will suffer because we're not clear enough with this," he said.
Meanwhile, the board approved incentives to help Moog create a new building on its Elma campus, which will house the aerospace company's corporate administration and corporate services divisions, and free up manufacturing space elsewhere on the campus. Moog announced the project in April.
The new building will consist of about 65,000 square feet. The ECIDA has assisted nearly $63 million in Moog investments since the early 1970s.