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Produce market, 2nd project seek Clarence IDA breaks

Two projects with a combined value of $7 million will seek tax breaks from the Clarence Industrial Development Agency.

Niagara County Produce plans a $6 million project at its market at Transit Road and Tonawanda Creek Road. It involves building an 86,850-square-foot facility, then tearing down the existing facility.

The other project, a $1 million office and retail development proposed for Main Street in Clarence Hollow, is expected to provide a boost to the hamlet, which is trying to revitalize itself.

Clarence IDA board members discussed both projects at the agency's meeting Thursday but took no action. Public hearings, with details of the tax breaks and the projects' economic impact, are expected to be held in July.

Niagara County Produce has gone through an extensive process of governmental approvals for its planned new market, greenhouse and warehouse building on 13 acres at 8555 Transit, at the northern end of the town.

David C. Hartzell Jr., the IDA's chairman, praised the expansion but questioned whether tax breaks were necessary for a predominantly retail project on Transit, which he called "arguably the hottest retail road in Western New York."

"I could see where we'd want to abate something [going] into the Hollow, because nobody wants to go into the Hollow, unfortunately," Hartzell said. "But Transit Road, all of Transit Road is full."

David Schuster, an IDA board member, said that while Niagara County Produce is on Transit, its location is removed from the heart of retail activity. "They are the anchor that brings people out there," he said.

In its application, Niagara County Produce called the IDA's involvement "imperative," citing "significant financial costs."

"Without the participation of the IDA, this project would not exist," it said.

The IDA also learned details of Niagara Assets Management's plan to acquire and revitalize two properties at 10681 and 10687 Main in Clarence Hollow.

Niagara Assets plans to renovate two houses and convert them to first-floor retail space and second-floor office space. It also would also add two buildings to the site, said Joseph David, who is partnering with Joshua Bruzgul on Niagara Assets.

David said he is talking to two potential anchor tenants who are interested, depending on how much space is available.

"They like the location," he said. "We like where it sits in the Hollow. And we really feel if we can pull this off, it's going to really bring the Hollow to a whole new level."

David did not identify potential tenants, but he mentioned a bakery/coffeehouse and an exercise facility as two prospects.

The Hollow has been searching for ways to rejuvenate its business base, after the departure of many of the antique shops the hamlet was known for.

In other business, the IDA:

*Will advertise for applicants for the position of economic development officer to recruit and retain businesses. The person would be hired on a part-time basis as an independent contractor.

Board members discussed paying the officer $12,000 a year. They also said they would prefer to hire someone who lives in Clarence or is familiar with the town.

"I'd love to find somebody retired who had been a [businessman or businesswoman] who would do this for the love of the job and not for the money," Hartzell said. He said he did not want to hire someone who would use the position as a "springboard" to another job.

*Agreed to contract with Masiello, Martucci & Calabrese for an additional six months to lobby on the IDA's behalf in Albany. "I think it's one of the few tools we have to keep ourselves in business," said board member Clayt Ertel.