The Amherst Industrial Development Agency, in an otherwise quiet meeting, agreed to allow Zaepfel Development Co. to refinance an existing mortgage on a cluster of eight properties in the Northpointe Commerce Park, reducing the mortgage amount and getting a lower interest rate.
Agency directors backed the plan to obtain a new mortgage of $28.25 million, down from the current mortgage balance of $31.72 million because Zaepfel will pay down some of the loan and refinance the rest at a lower rate.
The new loan, from Variable Annuity Life Insurance Co. or VALIC, will have a seven-year term. There is no new money, tax breaks or tax exemptions involved in the deal. However, four of the buildings are expected to be conveyed back to Zaepfel and returned to the tax rolls as part of the transaction, IDA officials said.
Northpointe is a 52-acre research, development and office park in northwest Amherst. The eight buildings house a range of tenants, including consumer products testing firm Bureau Veritas and a foreclosure law firm that took over space once occupied by the Steven J. Baum PC firm. Baum had been the state’s No. 1 foreclosure firm until it closed a year ago after losing much of its business in the wake of a scandal, government investigations into its practices and widespread criticism.
In other matters, the agency:
• Reaffirmed its mission statement and approved its 2012 performance report. Last year, IDA approved 10 projects totaling $84.37 million in private-sector investment for construction, renovation and equipping of 450,040 square feet of space. The projects will create 495 new jobs, retain 564 jobs and generate $6.4 million in new property taxes. Additionally, the construction itself will produce 492 jobs and $55.86 million in spending.
The projects included Ellicott Development Co.’s conversion of the former Stereo Advantage site on Main Street into a mixed-use building, construction of a new office building for PHH Mortgage Corp., and the Lord Amherst Hotel renovation and expansion project on Main Street. Half of the projects involved redevelopment, with three in targeted “enhancement areas,” and the IDA has approved 53 such projects totaling $200 million in new investment since 2000.
The IDA has also participated in developing the town’s Bicentennial Comprehensive Plan, planning for improvements to the Main Street corridor, and hiring a consultant to conduct a market study of the Main Street retail corridor from the Youngmann Expressway to Youngs Road.
“I see Amherst now as where Buffalo was 30 to 40 years ago, and if we don’t respond, we’ll be where Buffalo is now in 30 to 40 years,” said Amherst Town Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein. “We’re getting criticism for some of the projects, but that’s what’s going to make the difference.”
• Discussed the merits of its business development efforts through consultant Paul Leone, and debated whether the agency is facilitating or encouraging development in the town as opposed to facilitating or encouraging the use of tax breaks to bring business to the agency.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to facilitate tax abatements,” said board member Stuart C. Shapiro. “We shouldn’t be going around saying, ‘Can we give you a tax abatement?’ ”
But IDA Executive Director James Allen said it’s more about letting small businesses and others know what services the agency provides, and how it can help them. He also noted that it’s not always tax breaks, but assistance with obtaining Small Business Administration or bank loans, or advice on getting through the town planning and permitting process.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of what an IDA can do for them,” said board member Edward Stachura. “They’re just educating people.”
• Discussed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s state budget proposal that calls for eliminating the state’s portion of IDA sales tax breaks. Allen said the proposal would harm redevelopment efforts, especially for “adaptive reuse” of outdated buildings, and said IDAs around the state are now mobilizing with local municipalities and chambers of commerce to defeat the plan.
“It’s something that’s not really good for anybody. It’s draconian,” Allen said. “I’m hopeful something will be done with that, but I don’t know.”