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Niagara County to bid on 3 downtown office buildings in Lockport

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature is going to bid in an auction of three downtown Lockport buildings, two of which are leased for county offices.

The Legislature voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a maximum bid of $2.4 million for 111 Main St., where the county has a motor vehicle office, the Board of Elections and several other departments; 20-40 East Ave., headquarters for the county Social Services Department; and 50 Main St., a vacant former bank that once contained the Niagara County Community College Small Business Development Center.

U.S. Bank filed a foreclosure action on the properties in December 2013 because of mortgage delinquency by the owners, 37 Holdings LLC, a California company that bought the buildings from Ulrich Development Co. of Lockport.

“My understanding is the bank has taken title to these and the bank is selling them off through what they call a title auction,” County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said.

The county signed leases with Ulrich in 2003 for 111 Main and 20-40 East. Those deals last through April 2018.

Joerg said the buildings have not been well maintained since Ulrich sold them. He said the buildings have heating and air conditioning issues, and one may need a new roof.

The auction is being held online between 1 p.m. March 17 and 1 p.m. March 19. The bank has set a minimum bid of $1.5 million, but the Legislature authorized County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz to bid up to $2.4 million. “We have to give a number publicly that we’re going to be allowed to do,” Joerg said.

But the Legislature called a special meeting for 11 a.m. March 19 to monitor the bidding and decide if the county wants to go higher, if need be, to grab the buildings.

The county’s $2.4 million bid was based on the $3.1 million still owed on the leases, minus the estimated maintenance costs of $570,000 and the $87,000 in property taxes that would be lost if the county ends up owning the buildings.

“We’re just putting up what we’d have to pay, anyway,” Joerg said. The county’s payment, if it wins, would come from the county’s surplus.

“The county’s not committed to staying there,” Joerg warned. “If you’re a developer who wants to buy the buildings, don’t think the county’s going to be a tenant for 30 years.”

But the county is committed to three more years at 111 Main and 20-40 East. If someone else buys the buildings, it won’t change the lease terms or the rent, Joerg said.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said the county has talked to the City of Lockport about renting space in Harrison Place, the former auto parts plant on Walnut Street controlled by the city. The county also still owns the Switzer Building, also known as the old county infirmary on Davison Road. The Legislature voted to sell it to R.B. Mac Construction of Lockport, but the deal hasn’t closed.

Updegrove said, “There have been a lot of negotiations over the terms of the contract. We still don’t have a final contract.” He said the county could decide to make use of that building itself.

The Legislature has named a space utilization committee chaired by Legislator Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, which will host a city delegation March 12. In the meantime, Updegrove said he wants a report from the Public Works Department on the cost of asbestos removal and other cleanup at the Switzer Building.

“We do have some options,” Updegrove said, adding that there are others that he is not ready to talk about publicly.

Updegrove said he’s not sure whether the county has a use for 50 Main., which has been empty since NCCC moved out about three years ago.

Also on Tuesday, the lawmakers approved a $270,000 makeover of the exterior of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. The NCCC facility on Falls Street is to be altered this spring with separate doors from the street for the restaurant, pastry shop and bookstore inside the building.