Plans for Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.'s $100 million medical office, research and clinical facility on the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus hit a snag Tuesday, after Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and three other directors blocked the Erie County Industrial Development Agency from approving $4.24 million in tax breaks.
Calling the proposed project just “a glorified medical office,” Poloncarz opposed any incentives for it because he said it doesn't qualify for or deserve taxpayer assistance. He asserted that the development and growth of the medical campus itself should serve as enough of a draw and an incentive to ensure that projects like this happen anyway.
“We have invested millions of dollars on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus under the premise that private developers will invest their money and we don't have to,” he said.
The vote does not mean the project will not, ultimately, receive incentives through the IDA, which is expected to consider it again at its March meeting. But it caught many in the room by surprise, especially the project's developer, Paul Ciminelli. A shaken and visibly angry Ciminelli, speaking to the media after the meeting, denounced the vote and particularly the characterization of the proposed building as just medical offices.
“Clearly, the county executive has to get a better understanding of what's going to happen in the building,” he said. “Anyone who thinks that this is just another doctor's office is not understanding what this is all about.”
The developer's project – called Conventus, which is Latin for “coming together” – calls for construction of a 287,000-square-foot, six-story medical office building that would be physically linked to the planned new John R. Oishei Children's Hospital and University at Buffalo's medical school.
Most of the building would be devoted to clinical, practical and research space, with key tenants including Kaleida Health, with 85,000 square feet of space, and medical practice UBMD, with 60,000 square feet. Both are nonprofits that would not have paid taxes if they built a facility on their own. Plans are also in the works for a medical research collaboration on the upper floors between UB and East Aurora-based aerospace company Moog, which also has a medical devices division.
The first floor would include retail space to support the medical campus, such as a First Niagara Bank branch, a pharmacy and limited food service, while the building would also have two levels of below-ground parking for 332 vehicles, totaling another 120,000 square feet.
But Poloncarz, who was joined by World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara President Christopher Johnston, said it's just another example of local industrial development agencies “moving pieces of the chessboard around” since the jobs already exist elsewhere in the county and are being moved downtown.
“It's our role to incentivize a project that isn't going to occur. It is not our role to incentivize a project that's going to happen anyway, he said.
They were joined by Amherst Town Supervisor Dr. Barry Weinstein and Buffalo Urban League president Brenda McDuffie. Frank Mesiah, president of the Buffalo branch of the NAACP, abstained from the vote because of inadequate information, after criticizing the lack of assurance of jobs and opportunities for residents of surrounding neighborhoods and even the city overall. As a result, supporters were able to muster only nine votes in favor, one short of the tally needed to approve the incentives.
ECIDA Chairman John J. LaFalce then moved to table the resolution until the next meeting, to allow for more time for Ciminelli officials to meet with their critics and address concerns.
The vote by the county economic development agency represented a broadside to developers, a warning that they shouldn't take for granted that they'll get tax or other incentives just for proposing a project.
“It's not an automatic green light,” Poloncarz said. “Any developer who automatically thinks they're going to get tax incentives should reconsider. Anyone who thinks they're entitled to pay no taxes needs to seriously reconsider the impact on the entire community [of what they're proposing]. They have to sell themselves. No one is entitled to receive tax breaks.”