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Vital bill must be signed; Bigger historic rehabilitation projects will follow expansion of tax credits

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should move quickly to sign legislation expanding the tax credit for historic buildings.

Such a positive stroke of his pen would go miles toward boosting Western New York's architectural fabric while adding some steam in this area's economic engine.

The just-passed bill, ushered through the Legislature by Democratic Assemblyman Steve Englebright of Long Island and Republican Sen. Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo, raises the limit per project from $5 million to $12 million.

Developer Rocco Termini recently finished a $43 million makeover of the Hotel @ the Lafayette using the $5 million in historic tax credits available under the current law.

The new limit means that more complicated and comprehensive buildings will get a shot at rejuvenation. Termini has all but promised, at least preliminarily, to renovate the old AM&A's department store on Main Street, an eyesore for years and years, if the tax credit is expanded. He also points to other potential projects developers might tackle with a higher tax credit, including the Women & Children's Hospital campus when the hospital moves to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

While the Central Terminal and the H.H. Richardson complex are mammoth endeavors and require even more substantial assistance, this higher cap could help those projects.

The downtown resurgence in Buffalo is being led in part by the renovation of many of its historic buildings. The bigger projects cannot happen without substantial assistance. That assistance, including the state historic rehabilitation tax credit program, pays off in the long run by creating economic activity. The Hotel @ the Lafayette project should put about 200 people to work permanently at the various businesses that will occupy the space.

Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, who also pushed for the new legislation, have it exactly right when they talk about the host of deteriorating buildings eligible for rehabilitation and the potential for those same structures to compete with new builds out in the suburbs. It's a game-changer.

As good as this legislation is for Western New York, it needs some improvement in the next legislative session.

The bill does not extend the program, which is due to expire in 2014. Proposals to extend the program for five years, then two years, never got off the ground. The two years left in the program is simply not enough time for the type of big projects that will utilize the higher tax credit limit.

A companion bill that would have made the rehabilitation projects more attractive to out-of-state investors also died, and should be resurrected. Increasing the pool of potential investors will help speed the work.

The increased limit on tax credits is a key to some major rehabilitation projects in Buffalo, and deserves the governor's signature. He should then commit to long-term improvements in the legislation.