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Editorial: A worthy tax break for Northland Workforce Training Center

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency has the power to ensure that a transformative project on the East Side has the chance to reach its full potential.

Agency officials just need to award Northland Workforce Training Center roughly $1.9 million in sales tax breaks for the second phase of the state-funded project.

By doing so, the City of Buffalo agency in charge would be able to turn large vacant spaces in old, abandoned buildings into usable, ready space for businesses. Those businesses would, in turn, likely hire the graduates from the training center.

This is about creating jobs. Without the tax breaks, spaces would likely remain vacant and unused. It is a “but-for” scenario that the tax breaks should fill.

As recently reported in The News, the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. is planning an August completion for the training center. The quasi-city agency is seeking tax breaks for the second phase of the state-funded project, which is Buffalo Manufacturing Works.

The sweeping project that BUDC has undertaken includes conversion of 239,314 square feet of a former manufacturing facility on 10 acres at 683 Northland Ave. into the central component of the new 35-acre light industrial economic development hub.

It is a giant step for a long-neglected area. The state is pouring more than $100 million into the project, anchored by the Workforce Training Center, which will take up about half the building space.

This is occurring on Buffalo’s East Side with life-changing potential for trainees – 300 to 350 low-income residents per year who will learn advanced manufacturing skills – and for the entire neighborhood by breathing new life into moribund buildings.

The primary anchor tenant for the second phase of the project is Buffalo Manufacturing Works. The state has given BUDC a grant of about $25 million to build out the space but there is another 60,000 to 70,000 square feet of space officials have identified for future leases, in hopes that other manufacturing companies will move in. The requested sales tax break will help ensure that BUDC can finish out those other spaces for future rentals.

The goal of the first phase is to prepare students to fill job gaps. Phase II, with Buffalo Manufacturing Works, is meant to ensure that the area businesses can keep themselves up to date, while also creating space for other light manufacturers.

The project also offers wraparound services for students, such as the new location for Gigi’s restaurant. Officials also would like to attract a financial institution to provide neighborhood banking and, as part of the larger vision, to help develop financial literacy through the Workforce Training Center.

The building ranges in age from 106 years old to 30 years old. Because it is a historic preservation project and an old industrial site, there are extraordinary costs: environmental remediation, old machine pits that must be filled, high windows on the side and on the rooftop.

As a historic preservation and brownfield project, the effort could use extra assistance from the industrial development agency. Without the sales tax breaks, perhaps one of the spaces would go unfinished. Window work might be left incomplete or a roof not replaced. It is too soon to know precisely what would have to be removed from the scope of the work but a portion of one of these buildings would go unused. Of the 120,000 square feet in Phase II, 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 of space might go unused.

The Northland project is set to deliver on a multifaceted approach of housing, restaurant and commercial development with an industrial base. It’s the kind of project that deserves public support.

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