Building something on the former Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital site moved a little further along Monday, after the Buffalo Planning Board recommended to the Common Council creation of the Linwood Lafayette Urban Development Action Area. That would give developer TM Montante some property tax breaks to make the financing numbers work.
Montante officials said there have been two significant problems with its $150 million plan to build on the old hospital site: one revolves around high property taxes and relatively low rent limits, while the other is the developer's involvement with indicted Rochester developer Robert Morgan.
If the new action area makes it through the City Hall process, that would clear the way for financing by lowering property tax payments. The company said it can then buy out Morgan and will.
"Without the property tax benefit, like a 45A program for adaptive reuse, the construction cost, development cost and long-term carrying costs are high enough where even with the rents you can pull at a site like Gates Circle, we still can't attract private financing," said TM Montante Development Director Byron DeLuke.
Neighbors want something visible on the site beyond construction debris and the half-finished Lancaster extension. Stuart Shapiro, a resident of Cantebury Woods already on the site, was skeptical Montante will build.
"The assumption is, as soon as it gets declared an Urban Development Action Area, then people can acquire parcels within that area," Shapiro said, "and it's the obvious intention of TM Montante to acquire the parking garage and then...and then...and then develop it at the same rate as it has been developing everything else."
DeLuke said if this all falls into place, there will be work on a new building and rehab of an older one late this year. Key to that is buying the city parking ramp on Linwood Avenue.
Planning Board Member Cynthia Schwartz said the company has created a mess on the site.
"It's a difficult site and at the same time, the fence is down, the screen is flapping in the breeze. There are some issues about general maintenance of the site and there's balanced areas that I am very sympathetic to, for those of us who live in the neighborhood and go up and down Delaware Avenue," Schwartz said.
DeLuke told the Planning Board there will be a major cleanup of the site and its construction debris after the snow melts.
Montante sold off two sites to other developers - Canterbury Woods and People Inc. - who built.