Historic Preservation: A Vital Economic Engine for Western New York
Protecting and utilizing our historic building stock is key to Western New York’s quality of life, has strong environmental benefits, and is critical to helping us build community through an accurate and shared sense of history. However, in recent years, investments in our historic buildings have emerged as something more: a cultural economic driver for the region.
Investments in our historic building stock have become a much-needed job creator and economic development engine, not just in the city of Buffalo, but throughout Western New York. Just the projects involving historic tax credits have created a whopping 6,000 new jobs, which generated $17 million in State and local tax receipts, and over $500 million in total investments through 2017.
Historic Tax Credits have become one of Western New York’s most important assets in recent times. In just the past decade alone, it has become an effective way to improve the local economy while encouraging private investment and promoting small business growth, all while keeping tax rates stable. Far from being a drain on public resources, Historic Tax Credits bring a high return on investment. For every dollar invested in a tax credit-supported rehabilitation project, $1.25 returns to the US Treasury.
Twenty-four states have customized historic rehabilitation with their own state-level programs. New York has both a commercial program that mirrors the federal program, as well as a homeowner program to help people invest in their historic houses.
The following are just a few examples of works in progress were abandoned or under-utilized structures in and around Western New York are set to be revived.
This 50-acre factory complex is bounded by Fillmore Avenue, East Delavan Avenue, Grider Street, and East Ferry Street. Many of the factories within this area have been dormant since the 1980s. The neighborhood where this complex is located was largely shaped by the Buffalo Belt Line, which covers a 15-mile radius around the city. This rail line was where factories (such as the Trico Plant #2 and Pierce-Arrow Factory Complex) took advantage of their product trading and shipping through the city’s railroad service.
Although some of the Northland factories are still active, they are largely underutilized, having changed ownership multiple times since the 1970’s. The 1.5 square mile neighborhood surrounding the complex was one of many across the city that was once reliant on the jobs provided by nearby factories.
The Northland Corridor project will be centered on 683 Northland, which is still used for minor storage space. Following a 2014 brownfield study, the building will be rehabilitated as a new business and training incubator, catering to job and career development for surrounding residents.
The plan is to generate long-term reinvestment in the surrounding neighborhood, addressing long-held concerns about unemployment on Buffalo’s East Side. According to David A. Stebbins, Vice President of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation:
“This project will bring much needed investment and good paying jobs to an economically distressed area of our community.”
According to Monica Pellegrino Faix, former Executive Director of the Richardson Center Corporation:
“Simply put, reuse of the Richardson Olmsted Campus was made possible by the Historic Preservation Tax Credits. Federal Historic Tax Credits have been crucial to the success of our work to date to eliminate blight, rehabilitate these historic buildings, and to create construction jobs and long-terms jobs at this National Historic Landmark site in Buffalo.
“500 construction jobs, and 75 new long-term jobs are being created at the Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center which has just opened. Hotel Henry will attract visitors from across the globe who will be attracted to visit the College, the Albright Knox Art Gallery or just stay in a fine historic hotel, all to the benefit our entire region.
“And the best has yet to come as we move forward on the reuse of the rest of the buildings. However, we are finding during our discussions with potential developer partners who we need to finish our work that Phase 2 will probably be infeasible without the federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit program continuing. The continuation of the Historic Preservation Tax Credit program is crucial to the reuse of the remaining 300,000 square feet of this property and the strong economic development and community development impact that will result from this success.”
Buffalo Public School #77
Buffalo Public School #77 was built in 1927. Located in the North Prospect Hill neighborhood, it was designed by Ernest Crimi using bricked Neoclassical architecture.
The building was designed according to early 20th Century requirements for public schools in New York State. With a maximum enrollment of 1,100 students, School #77 was used as an English-speaking facility for Buffalo’s Italian immigrants and Italian Americans that were predominant in the North Prospect Hill neighborhood at the time. It was also used temporarily as a science lecture facility, to coincide with the opening of the Buffalo Museum of Science at then-Humboldt Park in 1929.
In 2007, School #77 was decommissioned. Since then, PUSH (People United for Sustainable Housing) Buffalo has sought to revive the building as a community-oriented facility. Plans include senior housing and a community performance theatre.
According to Jennifer Kaminsky of PUSH Buffalo, “PUSH and its development entity Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Company, Inc. led a multi-year planning process into the reuse of School 77. The community wanted affordable housing for seniors and space for youth programs, arts, and culture.”
Improving Access to the Benefits of Historic Preservation
It is clear that historic preservation is an important component of building healthy and vibrant communities in Western New York. What is also clear, unfortunately, is that these benefits are not reaching across all neighborhoods and all communities. PBN is committed to working to ensure that historic preservation makes a positive impact on all Western New Yorkers. Our 2017/2018 Advocacy and Technical Services agenda includes:
1. Advocacy around the Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act (H.R. 1158/S. 425): This bill will improve access to historic tax credits, an important financing tool, to neighborhood commercial centers and our rural towns and village centers;
2. New York State Tax Credit Advocacy: The New York State Historic Tax Credit has been a key component of commercial projects, and has added incentives for homeowners in low income census tracts. This important program is set to sunset in 2019, so the 2018 Legislative Season will be an important time to not only make sure that this program continues, but to make needed changes that will ensure that this program is benefiting our entire area, not just a select few communities;
3. PBN will continue its commitment to doing proactive survey work to identify and protect our regional historic assets. The Broadway Fillmore survey should be completed this year and then we will begin to implement results, and the Fruit Belt survey should wrap up in the spring. We have provided technical assistance to the University District to begin survey work, and we will be conducting a survey on Buffalo’s West Side from Richmond to Niagara Street, from West Ferry to Forest. Finally, we will be partnering with community members to revisit older surveys done in Cold Spring and Black Rock to begin to implement recommendations;
4. We will continue to provide technical preservation services to communities and individual building owners across the region;
5. We are exploring ways to bring more direct funding and assistance to our lowest income historic homeowners. Watch for more news and ways you can support this effort in 2018.