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Developers behind Richmond Avenue church conversion seek tax breaks

The developers seeking to convert the former Richmond Methodist Episcopal Church on Buffalo's West Side into a performing arts center are now seeking tax breaks to support the renovation project.

Rachel and Ryan Heckl, who are leading the initiative at the former church at 467 Richmond Ave., have applied to the Erie County Industrial Development Agency for more than $382,000 in subsidies for their $10.8 million adaptive reuse project.

Plans call for renovating the historic 36,000-square-foot, two-story church on 0.27 acres into the Rosanna Elizabeth Visual & Performing Arts Campus, with recording facilities, corporate and business meeting space, and rehearsal, performance and event space. According to the application, the goal is to create a home for performing arts groups and individuals, while helping them to be self-sufficient and more productive in creating new pieces for performance or display.

"Dancers and movement artists are challenged when it comes to space for rehearsal and performances in the city of Buffalo, and currently there are no performance spaces specifically tailored toward dance and movement artists," the application said, calling that "a growing need in our city that has become increasingly difficult to accommodate."

As part of the work, the Heckls said they will put on a 1,000-square-foot addition to the building. They also plan to use high-efficiency equipment with a focus on "green technology" to "enhance this remarkable space that will retain its historic character." The project is expected to receive $3 million in historic tax credits as part of the financing, and has also been awarded a $1.5 million low-interest loan through the Buffalo Billion's Better Buffalo Fund.

The project will also include a single 404-square-foot residential apartment, renting for $800 per month. That's a new component of the plan – in order to obtain a property tax break through the city's 485-a program that requires a mix of commercial and residential space to qualify. That program's property tax breaks last longer and are more lucrative than the property tax incentives available through the IDA.

The facility has also been accepted into the Start-Up NY program to provide tax-free benefits to other potential new tenants, through an affiliation with SUNY Buffalo State.

"The project seeks to provide a facility that does not currently exist in Erie County, that allows for job creation and expansion of business activities in art and music production," according to the application.

The total cost of the project includes $5.8 million in renovation expenses, $1.25 million for furniture and fixtures, $1.24 million for professional services and other "soft costs," nearly $2 million for preconstruction and stabilization work, and $300,000 for the addition.

The developers have already invested $1.3 million, and are planning on $4.26 million in bank financing and $4.9 million in mortgages, according to the application.

The Heckls said the ECIDA tax breaks would "help defray the extensive cost of renovation" after years of neglect. The 131-year-old church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been vacant for 12 years and underused for most of the last two decades.

While the Heckl family has put in "significant investment" into the project, the ECIDA's help would allow them to start construction over the summer.

"Without the assistance the ECIDA could provide, it will take longer to get to the point of construction," the Heckls said. "And the facility will carry more dollars into permanent financing than desired."

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