Share this article

print logo

Apartments, commercial space proposed at former Falls school

NIAGARA FALLS – A Queens developer Thursday night unveiled a $20 million-plus proposal to turn the former South Junior High School into apartments and commercial space.

CB-Emmanuel Realty is proposing more than 50 apartments, to be marketed to younger tenants, for the school property on Portage Road that has been closed since 1987.

The developer and the city’s Community Development Department held a public forum to discuss the plans in a meeting room at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

“You are the deciders of what we do next,” project architect Clinton E. Brown, head of Clinton Brown Co. Architects, told about three dozen people.

A number of proposals have been made in recent years for the property, but none of the planned developments has come to fruition. The meeting was held, organizers said, to gather community input before deciding whether to fully pursue the idea.

The condition of the former school, which opened in 1923, continues to deteriorate, Brown said, meaning a reuse of the building won’t be possible for much longer.

There are holes in the roof, the basement is flooded, there is asbestos contamination, and one of the gymnasium floors has buckled.

“It isn’t pretty, but it’s fixable,” Brown told the crowd.

CB-Emmanuel Realty, in business since 2005, specializes in inner-city redevelopment projects, said Benathan Upshaw, a principal in the firm.

Most of the projects the firm has already undertaken have been in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and have been done in partnership with larger developers, Upshaw said.

As part of the Niagara City Lofts, the developer estimates that between 52 and 59 one-, two- and three-bedroom units will be constructed, along with 22,000 and 30,000 square feet of commercial space.

There have been “early discussions” with Niagara Falls Memorial about using the commercial portion as a community service and training facility, said Upshaw, who lives in Lockport.

Eighty percent of the units will be “workforce housing,” aimed at young workers, including teachers, teacher’s aides, casino workers and entry-level police and Fire Department employees.

Twenty percent of the units will be luxury units with larger layouts.

The estimated rent for a one-bedroom unit ranges from $650 to $750 a month, while the two- and three-bedroom units will rent for approximately $750 to $1,250 a month, Upshaw said.

Developers said they have completed a market study showing there is a demand for apartments in that price range in the city.

Developers are hoping that grants from the state and federal government will subsidize the construction, though none of the rents will be subsidized for tenants, they said.

The developers plan to put between $14 million and $16 million in private investment into the project, Upshaw said, but also plan to apply for state historic and middle-income tax credits.

The city has received a $5 million state grant for the redevelopment of the site.

CB-Emmanuel Realty also has proposed drafting a “community benefits agreement,” which may include the creation of a home improvement loan fund and helping to create a historic district in the neighborhood.

Brown, who has been trying to redevelop South Junior for about 12 years, said he has worked with three or four previous developers trying to get something to happen with the property.

Should the project move forward, the city school district would have to put up the potential sale of the property for public referendum.

“Today, it needs to find a new reason for being,” Brown said.