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$9 million in state grants and loans announced for Buffalo projects

New York State awarded slightly more than $9 million in Better Buffalo Fund grants and low-interest loans to support 14 Buffalo development projects – including six located on the city’s East Side.

Altogether, the projects – whose private investment totals $131.4 million – involve the renovation of more than 250 residential units and more than 140,000 square feet of storefront and commercial space.

“The Better Buffalo Fund is our signature initiative to revitalize Buffalo’s commercial corridors and bring residents back to the city’s neighborhoods,” said Howard A. Zemsky, Empire State Development CEO and a Buffalo developer. “The projects awarded today will strengthen the city’s communities and secure their economic future.”

The announcement, which took place at the Varsity Theatre on Bailey Avenue, marks the second round of awards through the $30 million Better Buffalo Fund, part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion initiative. The fund was set up to support projects to revitalize neighborhood commercial districts and “create vibrant, mixed-use, high-density neighborhoods,” while also encouraging growth and concentration along transportation corridors.

“The Better Buffalo Fund is working to create a fully livable city with revitalized, inclusive communities,” said Satish K. Tripathi, University at Buffalo president and co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. “These projects have the opportunity to reinvigorate the most neglected areas of our city and make real, quality of life improvements.”

The Varsity Theatre itself previously received an Urban Initiatives grant that helped turn the vacant movie theater into an event and cultural space, and it could get additional Better Buffalo funding through the University District Community Development Association. As part of Friday’s awards, the University District Community Development Association received a $300,000 Buffalo Main Streets matching grant that it will use to help property owners along Bailey renovate and rehabilitate commercial storefronts.

That will be part of an effort to stabilize the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood by reinvesting in its building facades and restoring Bailey as a commercial hub. The group has already identified seven candidates who want to make improvements ranging from exterior lighting, signage and new energy-efficient storefront systems to roofs, windows and insulation.

“The Better Buffalo Fund combines state, local and private-sector resources to make targeted capital investments in priority areas of the city,” said Jeff Belt, president of SolEpoxy in Olean and co-chairman of the REDC alongside Tripathi. “The projects announced today will work toward advancing the vibrancy and long-term economic sustainability of Buffalo.”

Among the major recipients is the joint project by McGuire Development Co. and Mark H. Trammell to redevelop the Pilgrim Village affordable housing community just north of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus into the Campus Square complex. The project will demolish or rehab the existing structures in the 12-acre apartment complex, which was built in 1980. It currently has 18 buildings with 90 townhome units. Construction is now underway on a 350,000-square-foot, 152-unit multiuse midrise facility, designed to provide its mixed-income and multigenerational tenants with access to job and training opportunities.

Besides housing, the building’s first floor will feature a minority-owned grocery store, a dental office, a coffee shop, a music school and a dance school, meeting a need for community services and creating 115 full-time permanent jobs that are largely aimed at minority residents and businesses. The state provided a $2 million loan Friday.

“The governor’s Better Buffalo Fund is generating economic opportunities throughout Buffalo, and the entire region will benefit,” said James S. Rubin, commissioner of New York State Homes & Community Renewal. “These projects are an investment in Buffalo’s future, creating sustainable, attractive communities that offer a good quality of life for residents and a strong environment for business.”

In the first round of Better Buffalo funding, announced in April 2015, the state awarded $11.7 million to 21 projects to renovate more than 200 residential units and more than 50,000 square feet of space. The projects were valued at $92 million in private investment. A third round of funding will be unveiled in 2017.

The total of $7.77 million in nine transit-oriented awards announced Friday include:

• A $2 million grant and revolving loan of up to $2 million in gap financing for “adaptive reuse or infill capital projects” to promote denser housing, employment or retail development within a half-mile walk of transit stops on Main, Niagara, Utica or Grant streets or Bailey and Fillmore avenues. The projects must also encourage “multi-modal” transportation and stimulate pedestrian activity with retail and neighborhood-oriented businesses, services, public spaces and accessible walkways.

• A $1.55 million loan to the Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Company Inc. for its rehab and adaptive reuse of the three-story, 80,605-square-foot former Buffalo Public School 77 at 429 Plymouth Ave. into a mixed-use hub with 30 affordable senior apartments plus offices, art and performance space, a gym and a workforce development program.

• A $1.5 million loan to a local group to transform the vacant former Methodist Church and a Grant Ferry Circle warehouse at 467 Richmond Ave. and 531 West Ferry St. into the Rosanna Elizabeth VPAC Arts Campus. The project, which has 63,500 square feet of historic space and 2,800 square feet of residential space, will have six apartments, including 2,000 square feet of new space, and two commercial areas to serve at least five anchor tenants and as many as 100 art and community users annually.

• A $750,000 loan to Amy E. Judd for her mixed-use redevelopment of 19,530 square feet of vacant historic space in the seven-story former Loew’s Theatre Company warehouse at 510 Washington St. into The Alexandre Apartments, with 12 units and ground-floor retail space for a bakery.

• A $600,000 loan to Legacy Development for its renovation of an existing mixed-use historic building at 810 Main St. and construction of a new residential building behind it at 9 St. Louis Place to provide downtown housing and support commercial and medical development on the nearby Medical Campus.

• A $500,000 loan to Karl Frizlen for conversion of an underused 40,000-square-foot warehouse at 170 Florida St. on the East Side into the Buffalo Mattress Factory, with 31 market-rate apartments, office space and commercial storage.

• A $365,160 loan to Linwood-Allentown Preservation LLC to renovate 18,977 square feet and 10 storefronts of ground-floor commercial space in two existing mixed-use buildings at 922 Main and 76 Grant. One building has 36 apartments and 11,577 square feet of “vacant blighted commercial space,” while the other has 26 apartments and 7,400 square feet of commercial space, according to the state.

• A $250,000 loan to 136 North Pearl LLC and Heffler Management LLC to renovate two buildings at 136 North Pearl into eight high-end, market-rate apartments, with parking for nine cars, bike racks and indoor storage.

• A $250,000 loan to 1501 Main Group LLC and Sinatra & Company Real Estate to create an open floor plan for tenants at 1501 Main and provide various building upgrades – electrical, mechanical, windows, structural, flooring, facade, new blacktop and a new commercial kitchen for Mid-City Bazaar.

A total of $1.36 million was awarded to four other Buffalo Main Street programs, including:

• A $300,000 grant to the Schiller Park Community Services for its Clinton Street Buffalo Main Streets Initiative, aimed at renovating storefronts and commercial buildings along Bailey from Clinton to the city line.

• A $300,000 grant to Citizens Alliance for commercial properties along Jefferson Avenue.

• A $300,000 grant to the Allentown Association to rehab, restore and improve properties in the neighborhood.

• A $160,908 grant to BRRAlliance Inc. to renovate storefronts and apartments along Niagara Street in the Black Rock Village area.


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