By Justin Sondel firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — A group of developers investing in the 400 block of Third Street are getting a boost from the city.
NFC Development Corp., the city’s nonprofit lending arm, voted to approve $80,000 as part of four separate grants for projects in the business district.
Seth Piccirillo, the director of the city’s Community Development department, gave a presentation in support of the grants before the vote, saying the grants — which are funded through casino revenues — will leverage a total of $1.7 million in investment with the developers having already spent more than $800,000 to purchase the buildings and plans for more than $900,000 in renovations and improvements.
“When you talk about actually being able to transform an entire city block in one construction season with one series of projects, that’s not an overstatement,” Piccirillo said.
The developers all own property in the city and have experience with renovations, he added.
“Each developer we have in front of you has a proven track record,” Piccirillo said.
The approved funds include;
• A $40,000 grant for the renovation of four apartments at 460 Third St. owned by Craig Avery and John Giusiana through the agency’s Rental Rehab Program. Avery and Giusiana have also applied for funding to repair the outside of the building through a facade program administered by the city’s Community Development department funded by a state grant awarded last year. The total projected cost of the renovations is $125,000
• A $20,000 grant for improvements at a pair of apartments above the former Unc’s bar building located at 228 Ferry Ave. at the corner of Third Street. The rental rehab grant was awarded to building owner Paul Stephen. The total projected cost of renovations is $41,000.
• A $10,000 Micro Enterprise Grant was awarded to building owner Michael Lewis for building renovations and system upgrades at 444 Third St.
• A second $10,000 Micro Enterprise Grant was awarded to Lewis and his business partners Joseph Hotchkiss and Kyle Bajor who plan to open a coffee shop in the building that Lewis is renovating. Lewis, who is also seeking a $100,000 grant from the state’s local economic development arm USA Niagara Development Corp., plans to spend a total of $280,000 on building repairs and start up costs for the coffee shop.
Mayor Paul Dyster, who sits on the agency’s board, said the projects represent an increase in government’s ability to leverage greater amounts of private investment through grants and loans in the district than in previous years.
“You’re going to get less leveraging for those that are in the first wave of investments,” Dyster said.
Dyster said that while some investments — like Yvonne’s Bakery and Cafe which closed its doors last fall — have failed others such as Wine on Third have been able to survive despite some of the challenges that Third Street businesses face.
“One of the problems we’ve had on Third Street is that we’ve had a lot of good businesses open there, but in isolation,” Dyster said.
Dyster said that the success of Wine on Third along with the new investments on the 400 block could be a tipping point for the critical mass that various government agencies have been trying to build in the district for more than a decade.
“We’re not there yet. We know that,” Dyster said. “But clearly the investment climate is improving because the leveraging that we’re getting with this latest round of projects is way better than historically we’ve been able to get for projects in this area and I think that’s a positive.”
USA Niagara began investing in the street in 2004 beginning with infrastructure improvements that included expanded sidewalks and signage on the street and has continued with investments in businesses in the district.
The state agency’s president Chris Schoepflin attended Wednesday’s meeting to speak in support of the projects.
“Generally I’d say it’s just really heartening from my perspective to see such a critical mass of investment planned in a strategic area that we’ve been focused on for a long period of time,” Schoepflin told the NFC Development Corp. board before they voted on the grants.
Schoepflin said the state’s investments in Third Street have always been part of a long-term plan to revive the business district after the meeting.
“Third Street has been an ongoing work in progress,” Schoepflin said.
Schoepflin said while there have been success stories in the district over the years there has never been such a concentrated investment.
“Each one project is beneficial to the community on its own,” Schoepflin said. “But when you put three or four of them together it’s significantly more impactful because you get such a more profound effect physically and, I think, psychologically for the community.”
The board also approved a $10,000 Micro Enterprise Grant for Outer Beauty Salon and Boutique owned by Deanna Kindron who plans to purchase equipment and make improvements at her Buffalo Avenue business.
Big Red Number $80K Amount granted by NFC Development Corp., to four separate Third Street projects.
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257