A Buffalo firm has bought 200,000 square feet of largely vacant buildings and 2 acres of vacant lots with a plan to restore what has turned into a shabby stretch of Main Street in Niagara Falls.
"It's not a short-term prospect, but it can be done," said Bob Richardson, managing partner of Blue Cardinal Capital.
The real estate financing firm acquired 38 parcels for $3.2 million in the largest private investment in downtown Niagara Falls in many years that isn't connected with a hotel project or backed by state aid.
"Our plan is to be a bit methodical and have continuous, slow progress rather than try to make a big splash and do something spectacular," Richardson said. "This is a remediation first and an activation program second. It just takes time to see how the market responds to a neighborhood that's being cared for."
Blue Cardinal Capital signed purchase contracts Tuesday to buy the real estate on and near Main Street from Richard Hastings, the Youngstown businessman who acquired the properties over many years but failed to produce a revival.
"I think the principal difference between Blue Cardinal and Hastings Niagara is Blue Cardinal's access to the capital necessary to carry forward, first, the stabilization of the buildings and then their eventual revitalization," Mayor Paul A. Dyster said Wednesday after a news conference in front of the long-closed Jenss Department Store at Main Street and Division Avenue.
Dyster said the deal wouldn't have happened without the project to remove the Niagara Scenic Parkway, formerly called the Robert Moses Parkway.
The parkway ran parallel to Main Street, between Main and the Niagara Gorge. Parts of the parkway are already gone, and the entire project is supposed to be done next year.
"If we could just succeed in connecting Main Street back to the waterfront," Dyster said, "the investment community, the development community would take notice and now, lo and behold, as the project is underway, that's exactly what's happening."
Richardson said the parkway removal, the new Amtrak station and the neighborhood's proximity to Canada are the three main factors that convinced the firm to invest in the Falls.
Most of the newly acquired parcels are within a four-block radius of Niagara Falls' police and courts building.
Fixing the buildings will send send a positive message, Richardson said.
"They've got to be a quality product. They've got to be repaired and maintained," Richardson said. "We've got to be able to show potential tenants that they're in a safe and cared-for part of town."
Although Blue Cardinal up until now has specialized in helping finance others' real estate deals, Richardson said of his new acquisitions, "We don't intend to sell them."
The plan is to partner with investors to perform the redevelopments.
"We've selected a couple so far," Richardson said, although he didn't want to reveal yet which buildings will be the first to be revived.
Some of the new investors will use the federal Opportunity Zone program, which offers tax deferrals or exemptions on investments in targeted areas. In January, under the terms of that program, Blue Cardinal agreed to provide up to $1 million in funding to match private investments in Niagara Falls' downtown area.
"Dick Hastings spent 20 years of his life acquiring these properties and trying to develop them," said Damon DeCastro, one of his attorneys. "He used his own money without assistance from any governmental agency. As a result, Dick is very happy to see Blue Cardinal stepping up to fulfill his dream of revitalizing Main Street."
"As a member of the State Parks team, the parkway removal team, when that project was being planned, this is exactly the day we envisioned," said Angela Berti, spokeswoman for State Parks.
Dyster recalled that the sorry condition of Main Street was the issue that inspired him to enter local politics 20 years ago.
"We know we've still got a long way to go, but this is an important victory," Dyster said.