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City of Niagara Falls awards $130,000 to renovate 13 downtown apartments

NIAGARA FALLS – Thirteen apartments on Third Street and Main Street will be renovated with the help of city grant funding.

Projects at four properties, including the building that housed the former Orchard Grill restaurant, will receive $130,000 from NFC Development Corp., whose board has approved the awards.

Michael Capizzi Jr., through his newly formed Cataract Development Corp., recently bought four buildings in the Third Street area, where he plans to renovate roughly 23,000 square feet of apartment and commercial space, he told the panel.

His plans call for four market-rate units each at 435 and 437 Third St., as well as three market-rate units at 537 Main St.

The total cost of the projects, including land acquisition, is estimated to be $450,000.

The downtown area is “very close to full capacity” for existing market rate apartments, said Seth A. Piccirillo, director of the city’s Community Development Department. The area needs more market rate apartments, which are typically rented within four to six weeks of going on the market, he said.

“We see this as an effective way to assist the private sector to renovate buildings that have been long vacant in many cases and to introduce much-needed market rate units into the community,” Piccirillo said, speaking about the city’s grant program in general.

Capizzi’s company will get $40,000 each for 435 and 437 Third St., as well as $30,000 for 537 Main St.

Capizzi is co-owner of Michael’s Restaurant on Pine Avenue and also recently bought a fourth building on Third. He said work is planned to begin in the apartments at 437 Third, the building that includes Third Street Tap Room, “immediately.” There will be eight apartments total in 435 and 437 Third. The eight units will include four one-bedroom, three two-bedroom and one three-bedroom units.

“We have been in a lot of discussions with outside interests,” Capizzi said, involving the available commercial spaces “to try and turn some of the businesses on Third Street, whether that be coffee shops, art galleries, so on and so forth.”

Without the city’s funds for the project, he said he estimated he would not turn a profit for 15 or 16 years, “so it wouldn’t be worth it on our end.”

The buildings Capizzi purchased had been owned by an out-of-town landlord who had been delinquent in tax payments.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster said the city is no longer worried that a “long-term speculative interest” will hold back development on Third Street, calling Capizzi’s purchase “a godsend.”

Grant funding awarded to the city earlier this year by National Grid will be used for façade work and lighting at the properties.

A proposed project to renovate two apartments at 1217 Main St., the site of the former Orchard Grill restaurant, also received $20,000 in city grant funding. The project is being undertaken by Paul Morreate’s Ciara Holdings.

Under the city’s program, the grant funding is paid out – $10,000 per unit – as a reimbursement when work is completed at the end of a project. At minimum, the program requires the developer to at least match the amount of grant money being awarded. In these four cases, the developers are investing more than that, the city said.

The city’s banking arm also awarded a $150,000 grant to Plati Niagara, the company building a 110-room Wingate by Wyndham hotel at 333 Rainbow Blvd.

Frank Strangio of Plati Niagara said the project has encountered some unforeseen costs, including having to move power lines that had run through the middle of the property.

Strangio said the grant would not cover all of the company’s unanticipated costs – which totaled between $200,000 and $250,000, and included some environmental issues – but will help continue the project’s aggressive timetable, which includes a partial opening next year.

Strangio, whose family runs Antonio’s Banquet and Conference Center and the Quality Inn at 7708 Niagara Falls Blvd,, said he was led to believe that the costs of moving the power lines would be covered through a program sponsored by National Grid, but the funding did not come through.

Dyster said the city and the state’s USA Niagara Development Corp. were under the same impression.

National Grid has a formal application process for its grant programs, and exactly how someone would be under the impression the company would be able to fund such work was unclear, a spokeswoman said.

“We do not have a program that funds infrastructure relocation projects,” said spokeswoman Virginia Limmiatis.