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Pilgrim Village project awaiting federal, state action

McGuire Development Co. hopes to start work on the first stage of the development of the Pilgrim Village site beside the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus within a couple of months, as soon as it gets the final approvals and financing pieces in place through the federal government and Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

McGuire and Pilgrim Village owner Mark H. Trammell’s MHT Holdings Inc. plan to build a mixed residential community on 12 acres just north of Gates Vascular Institute. The developers said the project will serve the current residents of the low-income neighborhood and the growing demand for housing for the Medical Campus. They are calling it the first “multigenerational, mixed-income, full-service apartment building in Buffalo.”

Designed by Smith & Associates, the project has undergone several revisions in size and cost, as it was scaled up and then down, and McGuire ran into problems with proposed underground parking. First-stage plans call for demolishing 25 low-income units in one corner of the property and building a six-story, 267,000-square-foot building, with 152 units designed for a blend of senior citizens, medical students and medical workers.

The new building, on 3.4 acres, would include 90 affordable-housing units – including for seniors and students – and 62 market-rate “workforce housing” apartments, with amenities designed for residents as well as the surrounding neighborhood and Medical Campus.

The facility would include 60,000 square feet of first-floor retail space – for a co-operative “fresh-food” grocery store, a restaurant or coffee shop, a bank branch, a dry cleaner, a dental office and other medical offices, and community space with the Muhammad School of Music and Miss Barbara’s School of Dance. Additionally, the complex would include an 88,000-square-foot parking ramp.

Residents of the demolished units are being moved to vacant units in Pilgrim Village, so no one has been completely displaced, McGuire Development President James Dentinger stressed. Meanwhile, the remaining 65 affordable “garden-style” apartments in Pilgrim Village are being renovated, while redevelopment plans for the rest of the property are being formulated, he said.

The next three buildings on the site may be smaller with more medical office space in addition to apartments.

The initial project, whose revised price tag is now estimated at $90 million, received all municipal approvals last year, and has building permits in place. The cost will be partially financed with low-income housing and brownfields tax credits. As of now, about 35 percent of the work has been “bid out” to contractors. But McGuire is still awaiting two key elements that it hopes to secure by October, Dentinger said.

First, it needs approval by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for an amendment to the existing “use agreement” for the complex, which is covered by federal housing subsidies. Second, it is counting on the ECIDA to issue a $52 million tax-exempt bond, purchased by a bank or other private third-party, to help pay for the construction. That’s allowed because the project involves subsidized, low-income housing, and it’s a former brownfield property.

But the ECIDA doesn’t yet have the authority from the state to issue that much in tax-exempt bonds. Industrial development agencies receive a specific bond-issuing authority and capacity each year from the state, based on the local population. If they don’t intend to use the full amount by the end of the year, the state asks them to “return” any excess authority to the general pool, which is then made available to other IDAs with larger special projects. That often happens in September or October, said ECIDA Executive Vice President John Cappellino.

ECIDA’s board would then have to formally approve the bond sale.

Construction by R&P Oak Hill will start as soon as everything is in place, Dentinger said, and should last 19 to 23 months.