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Amherst supervisor candidates urge IDA to focus on vacant buildings

Republican Amherst supervisor candidate Marjory H. Jaeger thinks the town's IDA should "pivot" away from encouraging development of green space, while her Democratic opponent, Brian J. Kulpa, is pushing for a "targeted approach" specific to developing individual neighborhoods.

Redevelopment of vacant commercial buildings in Amherst should be the focus of the IDA, according to the two candidates running to be Amherst supervisor for the next four years.

Jaeger, the town clerk, and Kulpa, Williamsville's mayor, talked about their stances on future development in Amherst on Friday during a candidates forum in the Amherst Center for Senior Services.

The two candidates were asked, "Excluding the recent separation package for its recent CEO, are you satisfied with the amounts of money the Amherst IDA dispenses with in the various forms of tax forgiveness it can grant to businesses?"

The Buffalo News reported this month that when James J. Allen stepped down as the Amherst IDA's executive director in April 2016, the board of directors agreed to pay him his full annual salary of $185,248.

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Both candidates characterized the payment as a "golden parachute" that was "offensive."

Friday's cordial forum before a crowd of about 100 people was the first and only time Jaeger and Kulpa are expected to debate before the Nov. 7 election.

Jaeger went on to state her position that she is not satisfied with the IDA's projects.

"Amherst has got to open its eyes and pivot," she said. "The IDA can no longer be supporting greenfield development and tax abatements for building on green land."

In 2016, 86 new and previously approved projects received $9.66 million in tax breaks from the Amherst IDA, according to the state Authorities Budget Office. The largest was $1 million for the BlackRock data center in CrossPoint Business Park, a $40.9 million project approved in 2014.

Kulpa said the town planning, building and assessor's departments, as well as the IDA, need to "all work together and get out of their silos" to identify struggling stretches along corridors such as Niagara Falls Boulevard and Kenmore Avenue.

"Those are the types of locations that are gateways and signal to people from outside the area what the Town of Amherst is," he said. "If we can't address those small locations then we're hopeless when it comes to places like the Boulevard Mall."

The owner of region’s oldest enclosed shopping center early this year defaulted on a loan payment and the mall has been hurt by the departures of retailers, including anchor tenant Sears.

Jaeger referenced older buildings along John James Audubon Parkway that are for sale or for rent and lack the technology infrastructure to make them attractive for reinvestment.

"That's where the IDA money needs to be spent -- reinvesting in those older properties and pivoting from green space building to going back to revitalizing our vacant properties," she said.

An office study by Delta Associates of Washington, D.C. funded jointly by the Amherst IDA and the town in late 2016, recommended the town "retool its incentives to focus on the renovation and/or redevelopment of underutilized sites and buildings, rather than on promoting new greenfield development."

Kulpa called reinvestment "the single hardest aspect of economic development."

"You have to be nimble and you have to be ready for it," he said, adding that he was in favor of a local IDA for the town rather than a regional one like the Erie County IDA.

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