Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Falls School District will be shedding some real estate in the coming days.
City voters approved plans to sell off several school district properties in a four-part referendum vote Wednesday night. All four proposals were approved by measures of 5-to-1 or greater, according to unofficial tallies from district officials.
"The residents voted overwhelmingly against vacancy, against blight," said Niagara Falls Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo after hearing the unofficial results late Wednesday.
The proposals tied to the vote are as follows:
• A former school district administration building and adjacent garage on Walnut Avenue will be sold to Housing Visions Inc., a Syracuse not-for-profit, for $20,000. The agency plans to convert the administration building into apartments and office space and demolish the garage to make way for infill housing. Housing Visions has also agreed to buy several vacant houses on Walnut Avenue and Seventh Street, which it plans to demolish and replace with more housing. The project would see 41 new units made available to low- and moderate-income residents with a particular focus on supplying housing for women in programming with the agency's local partner Carolyn's House, which helps women escape abusive relationships.
• The former South Junior High School building will be sold to CB Emmanuel Realty for $66,000. The developer plans to convert the former high school into 62 apartments and approximately 23,000 square feet of office space that could be used by Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. The Hospital's President and CEO Joseph Ruffolo sent a letter of intent to the developer, saying the hospital would be interested in opening offices in the building. The city has committed a $5 million Restore New York grant it secured in 2009 for the purpose of rehabilitating the building.
• A group of lots on Jerauld and North Avenues will be sold to the city for $1. The city is looking at the possibility of restoring or replacing play equipment on the 11-lot plot, Mayor Paul Dyster said.
• A storage building near Legends Park will be sold to the city for $1. Dyster said the city has plans to use the building to store equipment used at the basketball courts.
Piccirillo has been working with Housing Visions Inc. and CB Emmanuel Realty to move their projects forward for months. He said he was glad to see voters were in favor of the projects.
Piccirillo said properties that were collecting no taxes, were falling into disrepair and would eventually need to be demolished by the school district or city at an estimated cost of more than $2 million will now be tax-producing properties.
"It's just common sense business," Piccirillo said.
Piccirillo said he spoke with representatives from both Housing Visions and CB Emmanuel Realty Wednesday night to let them know the measures had passed.
Both agencies have applications for low-income tax credits due to the state's Homes and Community Renewal offices today, and their eligibility for those credits was dependent on the approval of the respective measures.
"They're both very happy about this because without this vote they wouldn't have an application to be submitting," Piccirillo said.
Earlier in the day, Anne Ward, a city resident who works as a teacher in the Amherst school district, said she voted yes to all four measures.
Ward, who has two boys that attend Maple Avenue Elementary, sat in on a presentation where school district superintendent Cynthia Bianco advocated for the measures in recent weeks, she said.
"I think it's important to try to move ahead, especially in this district, with limited funding sources," Ward said. "I think it's important to get what we can."
Ward said she also was concerned about the condition of the former school buildings, which would be restored under the developers' plans.
"I think to maintain a good image and certainly to attract tourism and other development we need to have a community that looks prosperous and well cared for," Ward said.
Ward's husband, Tom Chambers, said he voted no to all of the referendum measures. An associate professor of history Niagara University, Chambers said he was concerned that the school district wasn't getting enough money for the property in question.
"It seemed like they weren't getting the actual retail value," Chambers said. "Are they really getting the money that they need and are the properties going back on the tax rolls?"
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257