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IDA offers 10-year tax break on new gym at former school

LOCKPORT – The new Ultimate Physique location in the former Washington Hunt Elementary School may receive a 10-year tax break, it was disclosed at Wednesday’s Niagara County Industrial Development Agency meeting.

Gym owner Robert Muscarella had applied for a five-year, 100 percent property tax exemption under the IDA’s Opportunity Zone program for the county’s three cities.

But IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma said the agency has previously set a precedent allowing a standard sliding-scale payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement to follow after the expiration of an Opportunity Zone exemption. That’s what the IDA is proposing: five years of no taxes followed by five years of reduced taxes.

Muscarella said the project also includes a new, second location for Kandyland, a day-care center that will be available to the general public, not just Ultimate Physique customers.

A public hearing will be held in Lockport at a date to be determined. The IDA board is expected to vote on the deal Sept. 10.

“The company needs help at the front end to redo the building before it generates any income,” Sloma said at the IDA board meeting in the agency’s Wheatfield headquarters.

The deal would include an exemption from having to pay sales tax on building materials, furnishings or equipment for the renovated school. Ultimate Physique would be moving from its current Ann Street site. Muscarella said that could be taken over by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, which is next door.

Muscarella said he met three times this week with city Planning and Development Director R. Charles Bell and Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano after finding out last week that he wasn’t going to be sponsored by the city’s development agency for a $200,000 state grant to be put toward asbestos removal in the former school.

That disordered the financing for the renovation of the 85-year-old, 33,200-square-foot school.

“We’re putting up $250,000 cash, $1.3 million in the project,” Muscarella told the IDA board. He said his private lenders feel the deal can be restructured to take the $200,000 of additional borrowing into account.

Bell said the property would be a “burden” to the Lockport City School District if it hadn’t been sold. The $65,000 sale of the old school, which closed in June 2013, was approved by voters July 29 after it was narrowly rejected in a May 20 referendum.

The school is located in a residential area next to Eastern Niagara Hospital. “If it were abandoned, it would create all kinds of social problems,” Sloma said.

Bell said the city has “fear as to what the future of the building would be. It’s going to take an incredible amount of investment, and Mr. Muscarella is stepping up.”

Muscarella has been leasing the 15,000-square-foot building on Ann Street from Montondo’s Seafood for nearly 20 years. It has been expanded three times, but half of the structure is nearly a century old and its floors are inadequate to support heavy workout machines.

“Half of the building is pretty good. We can’t run the gym in half of the building,” Muscarella said. Washington Hunt, on the other hand, has one-foot-thick concrete floors on both the first and second floors. “It’s built like a tank,” he said.

Ultimate Physique will take up about 80 percent of the building, using both floors. Muscarella said 3,000 to 4,000 square feet might be available for rent on the second floor. He said he’s been approached about that space, but “we don’t really have anything lined up.”

If there is no deal for other businesses there, Muscarella said he will likely expand Ultimate Physique’s yoga studio to fill the space.

He said the presence of a day care center should help him lure more parents as gym members, and Kandyland also might benefit from the hospital’s proximity.

He estimated that 20 new jobs will be created, most of them being Kandyland’s. The gym would add five full-time equivalents, however.

The IDA staff calculated that the five-year tax exemption would save Muscarella $131,876 at current tax rates. That includes the sales tax and mortgage recording tax exemptions. There were no figures for the savings from the second half of the 10-year break.