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Private-sector funding likely for Buffalo Building Reuse Project

With some developments to showcase, efforts to land $5 million in private sector funding for the Buffalo Building Reuse Project may soon be coming to a successful conclusion.

Led by Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, Buffalo Niagara Partnership president and CEO, and Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.'s Dennis Penman, an effort is underway with several area financial institutions to secure $5 million in additional funding for the project.

Gallagher-Cohen said she is confident some area banks will make verbal commitments towards the $5 million fund raising goal by the end of the November and the money may be in hand by next spring. If secured, it will mark the first private-sector investment in downtown redevelopment.

"If we are successful, we will go from helping one or two projects each year to maybe five or eight each year," Gallagher-Cohen said.

The Buffalo Building Reuse Project, unveiled nearly three years ago, is an effort led by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and Buffalo Urban Development Corp. that targets bringing older city buildings back to life, using the annual allocations as gap financing needed to make the developments financially viable. A report, issued this spring by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp., pinpointed more than 500 Buffalo buildings — many in the downtown/central business district corridor — that might be eligible for the gap financing.

Brown has pledged $11.25 million in Buffalo and New York allocated development funds, spread out over a period of years.

The projects will be vetted by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. staff and the agency will determine how much money is granted annually.

Last year, $750,000 was allocated to TM Montante Development for its Planing Mill project. The Planing Mill, a building that dates back to the 1800s, is home to both commercial office space and market rate apartments.

This year six projects were vying for the Buffalo Building Reuse Project allocation and two were selected.

This past summer, $1.35 million was allocated for a pair of downtown Buffalo projects - Kissling Interests proposal to convert vacant office space in the 298 Main St. Building into 26 market-rate apartments and to Fred LoFaso for renovating seven vacant and under-utilized buildings along Ellicott, Oak and Genesee streets. LoFaso wants to develop 21 market-rate apartments along some restaurant, retail and office space to the buildings.

"We've gone from a building by building effort to save these structures to a wider development plan and it has gotten some positive reaction from the banks," Gallagher-Cohen said.