Tax Credit Spotlight

Two longtime Allentown residents have been dedicated stewards to their home for nearly 20 years. That love was tested on December 27, 2015 when fire struck destroying the first-floor bathroom and causing smoke and fire damage throughout the house. Attributed to an electrical short, the fire began and the fire department immediately responded. “They were there within minutes and saved the house putting the fire out with extinguishers eliminating water damage.”

As the smoke and water remediation was completed, the couple started the rehab plans. Because the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located in an eligible census tract, the project was eligible for the NYS Historic Homeowner Tax Credit. They had considered using tax credits in the past but it wasn’t until they realized the magnitude the post-fire rehab plans that they decided to pursue them. “The tax credit is so liberating. You know that everything you are doing is appropriate to the home and you get the benefit of the tax credit which ensures you will go the extra mile.”

After years of living with inherited dark finishes, heavy antique wallpaper, and non-original built-in units, the rehab of the house allowed the owners and their interior designer/project manager Mark Taylor, to put the historic character of the house on display. “You never saw the incredible artwork in the moldings and woodwork. The radiator in the kitchen- it’s a piece of art! And in redesigning the kitchen, the plans were done around this incredible radiator.”

After receiving their building permits and Certificate of Appropriateness from City of Buffalo’s Preservation Board and tax credit project approval from the New York State Historic Preservation Office, rehab work began in January 2016 and finished in April 2017. In addition to completely remodeling the fire damaged bathroom, they also removed and updated wallpaper throughout the house, underwent a major kitchen remodel, and refinished and/or replaced damaged flooring.

While the project evolved into more than just repairing fire damage, it was all worth it for the owners. “There’s a sense of stewardship when owning an historic house. It’s so meaningful to have contributed to the well-being of this house and the neighborhood and now we have contributed to its longevity.”

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 where abandoned or under-utilized structures in and around Western New York are set to be revived.

Northland Corridor

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.”

Richardson Complex

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.

Anatomy of a Preservation Success Story


Historic preservation is a tricky business, and one that is almost never “finished.”  An iterative process that involves complex social, regulatory, and financial processes, each preservation project is unique to its place, but also can inform other projects.

We at Preservation Buffalo Niagara are giving continued thanks to Mr. Rocco Termini for his role in saving the pair of boarding homes at 68 and 72 Sycamore Street. Not only is this a successful addition for his own endeavors, this is a victory for the community at large. The new discoveries made within these homes provide us with an opportunity to learn about this style of architecture, the lives of the people who lived here, and Buffalo’s development and ethnic population changed over the city’s history.

Their preservation also gives us a window into the preservation process and how we might succeed at saving other important buildings and sites throughout Buffalo and Western New York.  We hope that sharing this journey will lead to future preservation successes.


1)    Identify buildings in need of protection

The deteriorated state of these obviously older buildings are what first drew our attention.  Some quick research showed that the City of Buffalo and the New York State Historic Preservation Office had previously identified them as historic and worthy of the National Register.  The two residential buildings at 68 and 72 Sycamore are distinctive for two primary reasons. The first is that they are among the few buildings pre-dating the Civil War still standing in Buffalo, both dating back to the 1840’s. Second, these are the few Federal-styled buildings, the architecture of their time period, that are still well intact in the City. Many other Federal style buildings lost their original integrity through a series of alterations before falling into neglect and demolition.

Both buildings serve as a living timeline for how Buffalo’s neighborhoods have changed over time.  Since the buildings were clearly historic and already identified, they were prime candidates for a proactive preservation approach, even though at the time, there were no plans for demolition.


2)    Contact the building owners

Determining that the buildings were historic, but also being neglected, we reached out the existing owner to let her know that the buildings were considered valuable and that there were potential incentives for their redevelopment.  We wanted to start with the current owner to find out what their intentions were and what the barriers were to redevelopment, in case we could be of assistance.  Unfortunately, the owner never responded, so in this case, we were unable to help her.


3)   Research the buildings

While a straight forward process, researching a property involves consulting a variety of different sources, including recorded deeds, tax assessment records, city directories, maps and atlas, newspapers, and census records, just to name a few. This isn’t just to confirm the details of a building’s construction and ownership history, but to provide a fuller context for its history and function.

After detailed research, we discovered that 68 Sycamore was built in 1843 by Joseph Staub, a German immigrant who worked as a shoemaker and 72 Sycamore was built by Eliza Quirk in 1845. In studying the information available about the original and subsequent owners and their tenants, 68 and 72 Sycamore provide a unique glimpse into the societal and cultural changes of Buffalo from an early Canal town to the present day. With this information, we’re able to see the broad pattern of development in the neighborhood, as it evolved from an enclave of newly arriving working-class European immigrants with some racial integration to a working-class African American neighborhood.  Which is even more fascinating when you consider that the Sycamore-Michigan-Broadway area had been a small Black neighborhood dating back to the 1820’s and was home to the famed Michigan Street Baptist Church (511 Michigan Avenue), was visited by abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.


4)   Propose local landmark status

Listing properties on State and National Registers of Historic Places is an important step towards commemorating a property’s history and establishing eligibility for tax credits and other funding opportunities. But unfortunately, it isn’t enough to save endangered structures. Legal power to protect our historic buildings rests chiefly with the local preservation ordinance.


Buffalo adopted the Preservation Ordinance as Chapter 13 of the City Charter in 1974. The stated goals include, but are not limited to: promoting intellectual and cultural well-being, enhancing visual and aesthetic diversity, and stabilizing and improving property values throughout the city. More specifically, the Preservation Ordinance establishes the Preservation Board and provides the framework and process for the Preservation Board to designate local landmarks and historic districts and to review permits for alterations to those properties.


Properties under consideration for local landmark status must meet one or more of the nine Criteria for Designation, which speak to the property’s or district’s historical, architectural, and/or cultural significance. Submitted applications are then reviewed by the Preservation Board and if approved, is forwarded to the Common Council’s Legislative Committee for review before moving on to a vote before the full Common Council.


Because 68 and 72 Sycamore easily exceeded the minimal requirements, and because we worked hard with our members to convince the Common Council to support our application, the landmarking process took about three months. The application was immediately approved by the Preservation Board after its March 2017 submission, then unanimously approved by both the Legislative Committee and the full Common Council in May.


5)   Intervene in housing court

Aside from a 2016 fire that struck 68 Sycamore, both boarding homes were still fairly intact and structurally sound. While we were working through the local landmarking process, the owner made a demolition request through Housing Court, seeking to show that demolition should be permitted as the structural issues constituted an “emergency.”  PBN brought engineers to Court and worked with attorneys to make sure that the Judge had a complete picture not only of the historic nature of the buildings, but also of the legal landmark process that was concurrently underway, as well as the true structural condition of the buildings and options for making sure they didn’t pose a safety hazard.


6)   Identify a new owner

When it became clear that the current owner had no willingness to save the buildings, we began to reach out to potential new owners, and Rocco Termini had the vision to take on the project if PBN committed to assisting. “Do I want to do it? No. But someone had to step forward,” Termini said. “These are the oldest buildings in Buffalo … They’re part of the (Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor), and they’re important to Buffalo. To have them torn down would be a travesty to the city.”


7)   Identify funding sources

Every project is different in terms of what funding sources may be available to assist with redevelopment.  Although this project is still in the planning stages, it is eligible for several different funding sources, including Historic Tax Credits, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and several New York State grant and low interest loan programs. PBN can work with developers across Western New York to help identify sources of funds.


We will continue to update the community as this particular project moves forward.  We hope that you have found this article informative, and that it inspires you to identify, protect, and promote the historic resources in your community!