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Buffalo improvement projects getting Buffalo Billion money

Continuing the Buffalo Billion initiative, state officials on Friday awarded $11.72 million in low-interest loans and grants to 21 real estate development projects throughout the city to help renovate more than 350 residential apartments and create more than 50,000 square feet of new storefront and commercial space in neighborhoods and along business corridors.

The loans and grants from the state’s Better Buffalo Fund are part of a joint effort by the city and state to stimulate real estate projects that will encourage smart growth and higher-density development along transit lines, while also strengthening neighborhood business districts. The goal is to create a more livable city, particularly for a younger generation of residents and workers who want to live in an urban environment and walk, bike or use public transportation.

“This key part of the Buffalo Billion is aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods and businesses, and with today’s announcement, more Main Streets and more neighborhoods will have the resources they need to help take part in this region’s transformation,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement. “We remain committed to investing in Buffalo and continuing the momentum.”

Officials also stressed the importance of bringing state dollars to bear in neighborhoods and communities that have been historically neglected to demonstrate that the revival of Buffalo is to benefit everyone, rather than just a handful of businesses or developers.

“We haven’t seen this much development in over 50 years in the city of Buffalo,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. “We want that development to reach every neighborhood in our city.”

The money awarded Friday represents the first third of the $30 million overall fund that the Cuomo administration and Buffalo city officials created and administered jointly to focus more Buffalo Billion resources on the city itself and its neighborhoods. The rest of the money will be allocated to additional applicants by yearend, officials said, but that won’t be the end of it. Most of the money consists of loans, so as funds are repaid, dollars can be recycled.

“This money is exclusively going into the city of Buffalo,” Brown said. “The concept here is to focus on development that strengthens neighborhoods, that strengthens businesses along the city’s transit lines.”

The projects include nine on the East Side. Howard A. Zemsky, a local developer and head of Empire State Development, announced the recipients in front of more than 60 people at 1423 Fillmore Ave., home to the Masten Resource Center of Community Action Organization of Erie County, which received a $300,000 grant. Besides work on its own building, a former bank branch, CAO’s grant will assist seven commercial property owners with facade improvements along Fillmore from East Ferry Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The grant also will fund streetscape improvements and signs.

In all, Friday’s announcement included $7.95 million in grants and revolving loans for eight transit-oriented development projects. That portion of the larger fund is designed to provide up to $2 million each in gap financing for “infill” projects that will promote denser housing, job and retail developments within a quarter-mile walk of bus or Metro Rail stops on the Main Street, Niagara Street, Bailey Avenue, Utica Street and Grant Street corridors. Additionally, the money is intended to spur the use of public transportation and walking, by strengthening businesses and services, and by creating public spaces and paths.

“Transit-oriented development is one of the components of our smart-growth strategy ... reversing the effects of sprawl that this community has had for way too long,” Zemsky said. “With these targeted grants, funding mixed-use development projects, the Better Buffalo Fund will revitalize Buffalo’s commercial corridors and bring residents back to the city’s neighborhoods. This is key to our strategy and it’s great to see it finally being implemented this way.”

Awards include a $1.5 million loan to architect and developer Jake Schneider for Schneider Development’s Turner Brothers Loft apartments at 285 and 295 Niagara St., which will convert 55,000 square feet of space into 40 apartments and first-floor space for retail and a gourmet food-processing operation. Ellicott Development Co. received an $800,000 loan for the adaptive reuse of an existing building at 960 Busti Ave. into a mixed-use facility with 18 apartments on the third and fourth floors and office space on the first two floors.

Also, developer Nick Sinatra’s Sinatra and Co. Real Estate and contractor Sundra L. Ryce’s SLR Contracting received a $1.2 million loan for their conversion of a former six-story 100,000-square-foot shipping warehouse at 1665 Main St. into the Midtown Apartments, with five floors of 60 residential units and first-floor retail space. Sinatra and Ryce will market the building as “workforce” housing for medical campus or downtown workers, and teamed up with Buffalo Car Share and Buffalo Bike Share to make the building a hub.

“It’s a very difficult building to work with because it was built as a warehouse and used as a warehouse,” Sinatra said. “So to convert it to apartments that young people want to live in is very difficult. It’s a launching pad for us. We have a view of urban Buffalo that we’re going to start implementing project by project, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Another 13 projects received $3.77 million in grants under the Buffalo Main Street Initiative, designed to revitalize historic downtowns and mixed-use neighborhood commercial districts. That program is modeled after the statewide New York Main Street Program. Besides CAO, recipients included Iskalo Development Co., which received a $500,000 grant to convert the former St. Margaret’s School at 1391 Hertel Ave. into 23 apartments and about 2,000 square feet of commercial space on Hertel.

Not all applicants were granted money, as officials focused on the strongest projects with the most detailed plans. Empire State Development and the University at Buffalo’s Regional Institute will provide technical assistance and advice to nonprofits that may need help in applying for the next round.

“It was a very competitive process. We weren’t able to satisfy everybody, but we’re optimistic,” said Christopher J. Schoepflin, regional director for Western New York for Empire State Development. “We will be working with the groups that weren’t successful.”

“Buffalo is the envy of the rest of the state. We hear it every single day in the halls of the Capitol,” said State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo. “It’s about time. This is Buffalo’s time. We’re on the move. We have some momentum and we’re taking advantage of it ... Our best days are in front of us.”


A list of projects

Here is a look at many of the projects:

• A $2 million loan to Livionia HDFC and CB-Emmanuel Realty LLC for Lisbon Commons at 91 Lisbon Ave., a rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of the vacant former School 63 to create about 45 mixed-income rental apartments for workers.

• A $1.81 million loan to Regan Development Corp. for Niagara Gateway Apartments at 885 Niagara St., to renovate a vacant historic warehouse into a mixed-use project with 53 affordable apartments and two first-floor commercial spaces for retail and services. Eight units will be designated for homeless refugees to support the West Side immigrant community.

• A $440,000 loan to HES Properties I LLC, for construction of a three-story, multi-use building at 363 Grant St., with 11 apartments and 2,659 square feet of commercial space.

• A $100,000 grant to Belmont Housing Resources for WNY Inc. to convert 1484, 1486 and 1490 Jefferson Ave. into 30 units of affordable rental housing and commercial space for a museum and the local NAACP offices.

• A $100,000 grant to Bethesda Community Development Corp. to finish converting the second floor of a mixed-use building at 1373 Main St. into six apartments.

Recipients of Main Street grants include:

• $300,000 for Gerard Place Housing Development Fund Co., to convert the former St. Gerard Parish Hall at 2563 Bailey Ave. into the Gerard Place Community Education Center, offering employment and educational training, as well as a gym.

• $300,00 for Broadway-Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. to create a Main Street program just for the neighborhood near the Broadway Market, for business and property owners.

• $300,000 for the Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Co. to renovate at least 10 commercial and 40 residential units on Grant Street between Auburn and Hampshire and on West Ferry Street between Parkdale and Herkimer. Work will include facade, signs, lighting, roofs, windows, doors, electrical, plumbing, drywall, flooring, and kitchen and bathroom renovations.

• $300,000 for the Elmwood Village Association to renovate commercial and residential units on Elmwood Avenue from Lafayette Avenue to West Ferry Street, from Lexington to Bryant and from North Street to Allen Street.

• $300,000 for the Heart of the City Neighborhoods to renovate at least 11 commercial and 13 residential units, and improve the streetscape, on Niagara Street between Georgia Street and Porter Avenue.

• $300,000 for the Old First Ward Community Association to renovate four currently vacant commercial buildings from 2064 to 2178 Seneca St., to expand existing businesses and welcome new ones.

• $282,500 for Vision Niagara to work with a local developer on the interior and exterior renovation of 1225 Niagara St., in accordance with local plans and historic guidelines, to include a 2,000-square-foot first-floor commercial unit and three upper-story residential units totaling 3,400 square feet.

• $275,000 for Iron Island Preservation Society of Lovejoy to make interior and exterior improvements, fix code violations and improve the streetscape on Lovejoy Street from Bailey Avenue to Goethe Street.

• $175,000 for Torn Space Theater to renovate the existing theater at 608 and 612 Fillmore, with an additional workshop, video sound lab and office, while converting adjacent lots into an outdoor stage.

• $125,000 for University District Community Development Association to restore the Parkside Candy building at 3208 Main to commercial space, while renovating two upstairs apartments.

• $115,000 for Westminster Economic Development Initiative, to rehab a vacant mixed-use property at 398 Grant into two apartments, a corner cafe or retail store, and professional offices.