Niagara Gazette

June 28, 2013

New plan for old Falls school building

By Mark Scheer mark.scheer@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A new developer is considering a plan to revive the old South Junior High School building.

Officials from the city’s community development department joined representatives from the firm, CB-Emmanual Realty, LLC, for a community forum at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center on Thursday.

The session was designed to give residents living in the neighborhood surrounding South Junior information about the company’s plan to turn the old Walnut Avenue school building into a mixed-use structure featuring both apartments and commercial space. 

“I think if this is going to be successful, it’s going to be successful because it’s a mixed-use building,” said Niagara Falls Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo. “It will have people both living and working in the building.” 

South Junior has been the subject of redevelopment talks for many years. The most recent proposal, dubbed the Niagara Falls City Lofts Civic Revitalization Project, was pitched by Newark Niagara Falls, LLC, a company involving Buffalo architect Clinton Brown and Syracuse developer Murray Gould. That project, a $14 million plan involving private bank financing, investment tax credits and financial support from the state, never materialized.   

Piccirillo said CB-Emmanual Realty, a Queens-based firm, will be looking to take advantage of similar public benefits, including low-income and historic tax credits as well as funds from a $5 million Restore New York grant the city received as part of the earlier project back in 2009. 

The company’s portfolio lists renovation and rehabilitation projects in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx and management of rental units in the Bronx, Manhatten, Brooklyn and Queens. Company officials attended Thursday’s meeting in the Falls in an effort to better explain what it is they’d like to see done with the South Junior building. 

Piccirillo said the company is interested in developing market-rate apartments as part of the project and is currently in talks with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center about making use of space inside the building as well. 

He stressed there is ample time for community input to be taken into account as the project moves forward, noting that any deal is contingent upon the company acquiring the building from its owner, the Niagara Falls School District. The sale of the district building will require approval through a public referendum, which Piccirillo said is not expected to be scheduled for at least several months.

In the meantime, Piccirillo said the city is interested in seeing the project move ahead, if possible, in large part because the building, which has been vacant and subject to water damage for several years, is now in a serious state of disrepair.

“The inside of the building is in a state of decay,” Piccirillo said. “I would say this is a tipping-point building.”

with mug of NIA Piccirillo, Seth mug 062813 Seth Piccirillo South Junior at "tipping point"