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Editorial: Emerson II will be good for both students and the region

The agreement seemed a long time in coming, but with the approval last week by the Buffalo Planning Board, the Buffalo School District is now on a track to create a second Emerson School of Hospitality in downtown Buffalo.

The school will open at least a year later than originally hoped, but big projects often hit obstacles along the way. It’s all to the good that this one is finally approaching its start.

The need for a new school of hospitality in Buffalo has been plain for several years, and the district has been keen on meeting the demand. With the original school on West Chippewa Street bursting at the seams, officials have wanted for several years to serve more students by creating a second school.

Earlier this year, school leaders settled on a strong proposal by McGuire Development, Mark D. Croce and James F. Jerge Jr. to renovate the vacant C.W. Miller Livery building at 73-79 W. Huron St. Now, with approval from the Planning Board, the project should soon be able to move forward.

The new school would be near the existing one and would be connected to the Curtiss Hotel, which Croce opened in summer. That would offer opportunities for collaboration and training, and would add hotel management to the programs offered by Emerson. In addition to the hotel curriculum, the new building would feature a six-level space for training in the restaurant and catering fields in addition to the traditional subjects of math, science, social studies and English.

The original proposal had been to open the new school for the 2018 academic year, but that didn’t work out. That plan, to locate the new school in the vacant Trico building, fell through, after School Board officials lost confidence that the school would be ready by next September.

Subsequent delays in settling on a new site and a new contractor group made that date impossible, anyway. Now the building is scheduled to open a year later, assuming the final requirements don’t also meet with delays. Presumably, the district and contractors know enough about the needs of the project that signing a lease agreement between them won’t be a difficult matter.

In addition, the developers want to secure breaks on sales taxes and mortgage recording taxes, citing increased project costs totaling $36.8 million, up from $30 million previously. That includes $24 million for renovation, $2 million for the 5,000-square-foot addition, $4.5 million for furniture and equipment, and $6 million for “soft” professional costs.

The project involves renovating the 90,000-square-foot former stable into an 80,000-square-foot culinary school. It will be designed to serve 500 students and will feature a public restaurant, a private dining room and banquet and special event space. It would also provide kitchens, a bakery and food preparation and serving space. Other amenities will include a two-story gymnasium and standard classrooms and lockers. The building will also provide a 600-square-foot apartment that will rent for $900 per month.

Important to note, the project will be financed in part with $7 million in state and federal historic tax credits and state brownfield tax credits, among other sources. Washington is talking about abolishing the federal historic tax credit as part of its misguided plans for tax reform. As this project demonstrates yet again, those tax credits are crucial to Buffalo’s redevelopment.

There is real value in expanding the Buffalo School District’s hospitality program. With places such as Canalside, the Outer Harbor, the Frank Lloyd Wright houses, the Richardson Towers and other attractions raising the city’s profile, demand for the skills taught by the Emerson School will increase.

It’s too bad the district will miss its hoped-for 2018 debut. It’s now up to the parties to be sure 2019 is locked in for the opening.

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