Tax breaks sought to turn former St. Paul’s School into apartments

The Buffalo News
By Jonathan Epstein
March 24, 2017

Developers who want to put a “faith-built” apartment community in a former Kenmore church school are seeking $215,000 in tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to support the  conversion.

Developers Lawrence Bicz and Ken Vasile intend to transform the former St. Paul’s School at 45 Victoria Blvd. into 37 market-rate apartments.

The project, dubbed Parish Place, would be geared to the nearby Kenmore community and especially the parishioners of the church, who are the most familiar with the plans. The school building shares a parking lot with St. Paul’s Church.

Renovation of the 50,000-square-foot building – which has been largely vacant since the school closed in 2010 – would create 28 one-bedroom apartments, eight two-bedroom units and one loft apartment. The apartments would average about 700 square feet in size, with rents of about $1.40 per square foot, or about $980.

The school gymnasium will be preserved and made available for use by independent contractors, such as for yoga instruction, group classes or meetings. Plans for the $4.25 million project also include construction of a 2,700-square-foot addition to the current courtyard.

“This project hopes to offer those wishing to live in the village a more affordable living option than many of the expensive, loft units being developed in the City of Buffalo and first-ring suburbs, so that they may continue to enjoy the village lifestyle without the added maintenance of a home,” the developers wrote in their ECIDA application. “Parish Place seeks to be an affordable housing option for area residents looking to downsize their current lifestyles.”

The project costs include the $2.5 million for renovations, $500,000 for the acquisition of the property, $300,000 for the addition and about $1 million for furniture, fixtures and professional expenses. About $4 million in funding will come from a Community Preservation Corp. loan, and the developers plan to pursue $1.5 million in state and federal historic tax credits.

Even so, Bicz and Vasile claim that they can’t do the project without ECIDA’s help under the agency’s adaptive-reuse policy, noting “the high cost of repurposing an old school building into a suitable housing option for area residents.” The developers, through their firm Double Eagle Kenmore LLC, cited the “nearly-total rehab” of the building, the addition of exterior lighting and security systems, installation of plumbing and other infrastructure, and the need for extensive asbestos remediation that they did not realize initially.

“With the agency’s relief, the developer anticipates having enough of the necessary funds to provide the quality demanded of apartment living in today’s market,” they wrote.

Constructed in the 1920s and expanded in 1964, the building has been underused since the school closed seven years ago. St. Paul’s Parish has utilized it only on a limited basis for “sporadic religious education classes,” as well as events that use the gym.

The project was already approved as a “planned unit development” by the village Board of Trustees last year, along with a zoning change. The developers hope to start work by June 1 and finish by yearend, with occupancy by February 2018.

A public hearing will be held 9 a.m. March 29 in Tonawanda Town Hall at 2919 Delaware Ave. Comments will be accepted through April 25.