This time, they got it right. Members of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency regathered this week and approved the critical project that they put on hold last month. With the 13-1 vote, $4.2 million in tax breaks were approved for the construction of Conventus, the Kaleida Health medical health center that will form a nexus for other entities on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who last month called the project a “glorified medical office” – which would have made it ineligible for the tax breaks – was the sole dissenter in Monday’s vote. While he now calls it “an excellent project,” he believes it would have proceeded without the tax breaks, for which the public pays.
Executives with the developer, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., disagreed, citing the additional costs of building in Buffalo as opposed to the suburbs.
The ECIDA made the right decision on Monday, but that isn’t to say that Poloncarz doesn’t have a point. Generally speaking, tax breaks for public projects seem to be a given. So sure were Ciminelli and Kaleida of their ability to win these taxpayer-funded incentives that they began construction on the building before they were approved. That was part of the reason last month’s refusal to grant the tax breaks was so upsetting to backers of the project.
If something useful comes out of this episode, it would be if all IDAs required approval of any tax breaks before construction begins, with a clear understanding that no incentives will be approved retroactively. That will avoid putting unwarranted pressure on IDAs to approve tax breaks for big projects, even if legitimate questions arise.
As to this project, Conventus will bring enough value to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that public investment is worth it. The six-story building will provide 287,000 square feet of space plus two levels of underground parking. Kaleida Health is planning to lease 30 percent of the space, which could offer such services as rehabilitation and ambulatory surgery facilities. UBMD, a medical practice composed of professors from the University at Buffalo Medical School, is also planning to lease about 20 percent of the space.
The new building would also connect to the soon-to-be relocated UB Buffalo Medical School and the new location of Women and Children’s Hospital, which is to be renamed the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital. All of this is expected to enhance training and educational opportunities available to the medical students who will more easily be able to work closely with physicians.
Conventus, itself, might not be a game-changer in Buffalo’s burgeoning health care economy, but it is a critical component of that undertaking, as is the movement of the Medical School and the pediatric hospital and the construction of Kaleida’s Gates Vascular Institute. It’s an important project for Buffalo, though one whose funding should have been handled more thoughtfully.