September 11, 2008

New Agency to Target Brownfields

By Thomas J. Prohaska

A new public benefit corporation to issue loans and grants for cleanups of abandoned industrial sites is about to be set up, and a decaying factory in Niagara Falls is expected to be Job One.

The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency learned Wednesday that the Niagara County Brownfields Development Corp. is about to start spreading around $900,000 of the $1 million the county received recently in a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Amy E. Fisk, county senior planner and brownfields expert, said Santarosa Holdings, which wants to reopen part of the old Union Carbide plant at Highland and College avenues, already has applied for a loan, although the corporation can't issue one until the final red tape is cleared.

Scott R. Hapeman of the Buffalo firm Personius Melber, already chosen as the corporation's attorney, said intermunicipal agreements have to be approved among the county, the IDA and the City of Niagara Falls.

Fisk said a three-member board -- the County Legislature chairman, the mayor of Niagara Falls and the IDA executive director will govern the new corporation and vote up or down on all the loans and grants. Their actions don't have to be ratified by anyone else, Fisk said.

"Once we have one successful loan out the door, we can apply to EPA for supplemental funding," Fisk said. "There's very limited competition, because there aren't many success stories across the country."

Niagara is the first county in New York to attempt this method of cleaning up brownfields. Fisk said the new corporation's funding may be used only for environmental cleanups, not for new construction.

Loans will have terms of three to five years and market-driven interest rates ranging from 3 percent to 8 percent, she said.

The capital is set up as a revolving loan fund, so loan repayments and interest may be lent out again. The corporation kept $100,000 of the original grant for legal fees and other administrative costs.

Proposed projects will be reviewed in-house. Fisk said the county Health Department will look at environmental aspects; the Economic Development Department will examine planning and development aspects; and the staff of the Niagara County Development Corp., which is simply the IDA under another name, will carry out the financial review.

Santarosa Holdings applied earlier this year for a tax break on plans to move a tire recycling plant from Packard Road to the former Union Carbide plant. However, the IDA has not acted on the request.

The plant, opened in 1910, rests on a 13-acre site that the state Department of Environmental Conservation says is contaminated with petroleum, semi-volatile organic compounds, metals and PCBs.

In other action Wednesday, the IDA board approved a 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement for a $2.5 million, 74-room Comfort Inn and Suites hotel at 9900 Niagara Falls Blvd. Fifteen jobs are to be created.

Calamar Development received a 15-year PILOT for the latest 92- unit phase of its senior citizen housing complex in Woodlands Senior Village off Shawnee Road in Wheatfield. The project is to cost $9.3 million.

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Originally published by NEWS NIAGARA BUREAU.

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