Close your eyes, bend an ear to the wind. You can almost hear them calling.
“I’m waiting,” moans the soul of the long-empty AM&A’s building.
“Help me,” whispers the threatened Trico structure.
“For God’s sake, do something!” screams the Millard Fillmore complex on Gates Circle, which, owing to its relative youth, tends to be impatient.
It is a tough life, waiting for resurrection. Rain seeps through the roof. Snow blasts through every crack and crevice. The structures start to crumble. Some, too far gone, fall prey to the bulldozer. The ones left standing – to take this fever dream one step further – see the demolitions, get anxious and pray that this is will not be their fate.
It’s not easy, being empty.
Which is why a handful of grand Buffalo buildings are calling Andrew Cuomo’s name. On the backs of the old structures rest the dreams for downtown’s continued revival. The brick-and-mortar gems got an injection of hope last June. State legislators unexpectedly raised the ceiling on historic tax credits for developers who resurrect big, old buildings. It was a milestone moment. Once the governor signed the bill, edifices that had been too financially risky to resuscitate would became savable. Glory, hallelujah!
Hold the hosannas.
Four months later, Cuomo still has not put pen to paper. What many people – given the governor’s pro-Buffalo sensibility – thought would be a formality has now become a frustration.
Developer Rocco Termini’s stunning transformation of the former fleabag Lafayette Hotel had an ascendent effect on communal hopes and surrounding property values. In the wake of the tax-credit bill, Termini announced he would pull the trigger on downtown’s longtime bête noire, the decades-vacant AM&A’s building. Just up the block from the Lafayette, a revived AM&A’s would transform the street, add jobs and rid downtown of its longest-standing eyesore.
Frustrated by the delay, Termini recently said he is no longer interested.
“I want to do it,” he told me Wednesday in the lobby of the reclaimed Lafayette. “But I cannot jeopardize myself financially unless I know I have backup [from the tax credits].”
I think I know what’s going on. The tax credits are an expense to a state that just filled a $3.5 billion budget hole. The bean counters are nervous. But seriously: The scant millions the tax credits add are pocket change in a $132 billion budget. The revived buildings – and the jobs, prosperity and taxes that come with them – more than repay the investment. Beyond that – and this is the puzzling part – it was generally thought that the tax-credit bill passed only because the mighty Cuomo pushed it behind the scenes.
Four months later, he still hasn’t signed it. Granted, the AM&A’s building has been empty for decades. A delay – if that’s all this is – shouldn’t make a huge difference.
But nothing in Albany is ever certain. Termini wants to leapfrog from his Lafayette success. A half-dozen other buildings – Trico, the Statler, Millard Fillmore-Gates Circle, Richardson Towers, the Central Terminal, the soon-vacant Women & Children’s Hospital – desperately need the tax-credit boost.
Turn your ear to the wind. You can almost hear the cry for help.