By James Fink
Buffalo Business First Reporter
The developers of the historic, but long-vacant Graystone Apartments in Buffalo received a financial boost to their plans to bring the building back to life.
The Erie County Industrial Development Agency’s board of directors approved the incentive package sought by the 5182 Group LLC, an affiliate of Ellicott Development Co., that the company says helps make the $5.2 million project financially viable.
The 5182 Group wants to renovate the circa-1897 S. Johnson Park building into 42 market-rate apartments with 1,000-square-feet of first floor commercial space.
The ECIDA approved the package by a 12-2 count, following an 85-minute debate. Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz voting against the package, citing concerns that the project will solely include market rate-driven apartments and none will be set aside for those in the low-to-moderate income levels.
“They could have a couple apartments in there at a reduced rate,” Poloncarz said after the meeting.
Ironically, just a few minutes earlier during the final minutes before the board’s vote, the county executive said he was in favor of the project because he was fearful if the 5182 Group project failed because of financing issues, the Graystone, despite its historic status, would sit empty and derelict for “another 20 years.”
William Paladino, Ellicott Development chief executive officer, is waiting for final state approval on a series of tax credits that are deemed equally critical to moving the project forward. That okay is expected in the next two months.
“All of these things need to happen,” Paladino said. “We need everything because the building is in such deplorable shape.”
The project, which has been vetted for more than two years by various city and state agencies, was also the subject of an intense review by the ECIDA’s policy committee, which determined the sales and mortgage tax breaks — roughly $212,900 — were appropriate given its historic stature.
“The condition and ultimate use make it absolutely appropriate,” said Andrew Rudnick, Buffalo Niagara Partnership president and CEO and chairman of the ECIDA’s policy committee.
The project fits into the ECIDA’s adaptive re-use policy. It also follows a new urban renewal strategy governed by the Buffalo Building Re-Use Project, announced this winter.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the project keeps moving an overall downtown housing game plan being. The strategy includes housing options for low-to-moderate income residents as well as those seeking market-rate options.
“At the end of the day, the last thing I want to see is the building sitting there for another 20 years,” Poloncarz said. “One thing I learned, there’s never a perfect project nor is there a perfect elected official.”