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Move to Wehrle Drive headquarters will give Tops room to grow

Tops Markets plans to start moving by late summer into new headquarters on Wehrle Drive that will give the grocer room to expand.

Frank Curci, Tops' chairman and CEO, said the company expects to hire another 40 workers within a year or two after the move is complete.

Tops has 300 employees at two nearby sites on Spindrift and Earhart drives and leasing the space at 1760 Wehrle allows Tops to consolidate its headquarter-based employees in one site with room to grow, Curci said in an interview Friday.

Tops should complete its move by spring 2018 into a building now occupied by PHH Mortgage, which plans to leave the office building at Wehrle Drive and Youngs Road as it continues to shrink its local work force.

The Amherst Industrial Development Agency on Friday agreed to carry over tax breaks granted as part of the building's construction.

Zaepfel Development constructed the $17 million building for PHH when the mortgage servicer expected to grow its area work force. PHH Mortgage once had 400 employees at the Wehrle Drive site, but has undergone a series of job cuts that will leave the company with just 100 local employees by the end of March.

David S. Mingoia, the IDA's executive director, told the board before the vote that Tops Markets is the kind of company any developer would want to have as a tenant and any community would want to have as an employer. He noted the company has stores in four states.

Tops’ strategy has been to continually grow its store count. Since 2008, it has grown from 71 stores to 172 and has expanded into Pennsylvania, Vermont and Massachusetts.

"We want to keep this hometown headquarters here," Mingoia said.

The Amherst IDA in 2012 granted up to $4.55 million in tax incentives for the $34 million project at 1760 Wehrle Drive, including an estimated $2.5 million in property tax savings over a 10-year period. The total project cost included $17 million for construction and $17 million for furniture and equipment.

The property tax breaks, structured as a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, started last year and have nine years remaining, according to the IDA.

The agency board on Friday voted to approve a sublease agreement that replaces PHH Mortgage with Tops Markets.

Ron George, chief financial officer for Zaepfel, said the property tax breaks pass through the building owner to the tenant, and Tops would assume the benefits from PHH.

Curci said Tops built its 30 Spindrift Drive headquarters building in the early 1990s. The company sold the building to National Fuel in 2003 and now leases about 45,000 square feet there. Tops also leases about 30,000 square feet at 75 Earhart Drive.

The company began looking several years ago for new headquarters. It had synced up its leases so that they both expired in April 2018. The company was looking for about 100,000 square feet of first-class office space in a relatively new building, and Curci said he liked the PHH Mortgage site because it is close to the company's existing offices.

"We were very happy," Curci said.

Tops will move into about 98,000 square feet in all at 1760 Wehrle, starting in the summer.

Zaepfel needs to build out about 23,000 square feet of partially finished space in the building, and that's where Tops' employees will move into initially before filling in the rest of the building. Tops will vacate Earhart first, followed by Spindrift.

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