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New IDA chief: rail between Buffalo and Amherst is 'game changer'

 

Two massive projects are on the horizon for Amherst: a $250 million, mixed-use redevelopment of the former Westwood Country Club and revived talk of extending the light rail from Buffalo out to the UB North Campus.

But aging office parks and retail complexes in the town have vacancies, and in recent years sentiment in the town has turned against the unfettered, no-holds-barred growth that marked much of the past several decades in Amherst.

This is the climate David S. Mingoia stepped into Friday as he started his first day as executive director and chief financial officer of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency. He will earn $120,000 annually in the job.

 

Mingoia answered five questions from The News on a range of economic-development topics:

Q. What are your priorities as you start the new year as executive director?

A. I think one of the first priorities is to implement some of the items that were called forth in our recent economic analysis that we participated in with the town. Dave Versel, who's an outside economist, came in and talked. There were a number of suggestions, and we talked about it a little bit at the board meeting, about providing a little bit of a live, work, play environment [in] some of the office properties and the office parks and even some of the industrial parks. ... So really our goal is to help facilitate more redevelopment and more mixes of uses throughout the community.

Q. What are you going to do to get more projects? I think you provided tax breaks to just three projects last year?

A. Some of this is there's always been a historic ebb and flow at this agency. We've had up years. We've had down years. I don't think our goal is to go out and just get projects. That's not what our public purpose is. Our public purpose is to encourage the right type of  economic development for this community as laid out in the town's comprehensive plan. I think there's a general feeling on the board to work with companies. I think some of the national politics have dragged down some companies' confidence in investing.  I think activity is going to be up this year. I'm going to be reaching out to as many businesses and what we call the multipliers, so that would be their attorneys, their accountants, those things, to really talk about opportunities for growing and investing in Amherst.

Q. What would you say the state of development in Amherst is? Aren't there vacant office parks in the town?

A. I think there's some vacant buildings within office parks. But the office parks themselves I think are still fairly healthy. But we have seen some of the older properties that were constructed in the '80s and maybe the early '90s are in need of some additional investment. So I think to the extent we can repurpose those for, maybe not all office, but for some of these other uses, makes them more attractive to the marketplace right now.

Q. What's the relationship among the Amherst IDA and the other IDAs in the region?

A. I think we've got a great working relationship. Obviously we've got some good relationships with the local IDAs. We've got a good working relationship with the (Erie County) IDA. Many of the policies that the ECIDA has we've also adopted, such as local labor. We share an application. There's a lot of back end stuff, administrative stuff, we're doing with the ECIDA, where there's commonalities of practices. We're in communication. My board leadership is in regular communication with the ECIDA's board leadership, as an example, to really further the entire region. Because, although our geography is the Town of Amherst, we know we have a much larger impact. Because companies aren't necessarily looking at municipal borders when they're looking to locate and making investments. And we do know their work force comes from everywhere. On a typical day, half of the residents of the town go elsewhere to work, and there's an influx of about the same number of people that work at businesses in the town.

Q. Talk to me about the two major possible projects for Amherst: Connecting the Metro rail from the UB South Campus to the North Campus and the Westwood redevelopment.

A. Well I think the light rail is a complete game changer for some of the aging retail. Traditional brick-and-mortar retail is under siege by online retailers. It's clear the impact Amazon has had on some of the big box retailers. And if you look nationally at what's done in terms of development around transit stations and the amount of new investment and the increase in taxable assessment and benefits to the community, I think it could be a tremendous help to redeveloping a lot of properties along Niagara Falls Boulevard through the corridor. Plus connect UB right to downtown through the light rail system.

Now the Westwood project, that's going through the regulatory process. We are so far down the timeline, on having kind of input or involvement with it, we're just observers at this point. The plan continues to change at this point.

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