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Buffalo News: Steretscape upgrades planned for Seneca corridor to Larkinville

Published: November 18, 2015, 02:55 PM

Fund to pay for streetscape upgrades along Seneca Street corridor

BY: David Robinson (mailto:drobinson@buffnews.com)

The Seneca Street corridor linking Larkinville with downtown Buffalo is in line for a series of streetscape improvements aimed at sprucing up the neighborhood around one of the city's fastest-growing districts.

The improvements will range from new sidewalks and improved street lighting to tree plantings and better drainage along a several block corridor that connects Larkinville and the Hyudraulics District with

downtown.

The upgrades will be paid for out of a $2.6 million fund that will use tax payments made over the next 10 years by Savarino Cos. on its $40 million project to convert the long-vacant factory at 500 Seneca St. into

a mix of offices and 100 apartments.

Under the funding arrangement, the tax payments that Savarino makes under its payment-in-lieu-oftaxes agreement with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency will be funneled into a special fund that will be created by the IDA to pay for the improvements. The IDA approved the funding arrangement on Wednesday.

"This is a creative way of financing the infrastructure improvements," said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

The corridor now is unattractive and lacks many of the amenities needed in a district that is seeing a spurt of new development, said Kevin Hays, Savarino's director of development. He said the streetscape

improvements are "desperately needed."

"This is an important project because it's going to make it so that area is not an island anymore," said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, the president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Savarino could have avoided paying any property taxes on the 500 Seneca property had it applied for a tax exemption program that the City of Buffalo offers. But instead, the developer agreed to make its full

payments under a property tax abatement program offered by the IDA, which will pump almost $300,000 a year into the improvement fund. The city is expected to issue bonds, backed by the Savarino payments,

to speed up the pace of the infrastructure work.

The arrangement, however, isn't costing Savarino any money. Its tax payments will be reimbursed through the state's Brownfield Tax Credit program.

"This is an innovative project," said John Cappellino, the IDA's executive vice president.

The improvements will be made in a corridor that runs from Oak and Exchange streets to Clinton and South Division streets to the north and Smith Street to the east. Brown said the city is likely to expand the

scope of the district to include some additional neighboring streets.

Erie County isn't participating in the funding initiative and will receive its full $65,800 annual share of its property tax payments.

The IDA also approved $531,000 in tax breaks for Flexovit USA to rebuild its Eden-Evans Center Road factory and warehouse complex as part of an $8 million project that will restore nearly 40 jobs.

The Evans industrial abrasives manufacturer had to cut back its local operations after its facility collapsed during last November's record snowstorm, causing an estimated $30 million in damage to the company's

62,000-square-foot facility.

The storm delivered a major blow to Flexovit that the company has yet to fully recover from. Its sales are only about 56 percent of what they were before the storm, with many of its customers forced to switch to

competitors after Flexovit's production was disrupted.

Flexovit also is seeking $900,000 in Excelsior Tax Credits from Empire State Development, as well as an allocation of low-cost hydropower through the New York Power Authority.

The $8 million project will help the company restore about 35 jobs that were lost following the storm. The company, which employed 90 people before the storm, now has 45 workers.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com

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