The Buffalo City Mission, a fixture at East Tupper and Ellicott streets since 1984, plans to renovate a massive former warehouse on the edge of the city’s Larkinville district for use as an emergency shelter, transitional housing and affordable one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Proponents of the plan to relocate and expand the City Mission at 545 Swan St. are hoping the move will not only rejuvenate another historic building but also enable the nonprofit agency to attack homelessness more effectively.
Mission officials said the $42 million project will be financed by a combination of state and federal tax credits, grants and private contributions.
The 246,000-square-foot brick block building is nearly eight times the size of the current City Mission men’s shelter at 100 E. Tupper.
The former Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. warehouse is occupied by Mesmer Refrigeration, which is relocating. Built in the early 1900s as a warehouse for dry goods and meats, the building sits on a block bordered by Swan and Hamburg streets and Myrtle and Jefferson avenues.
It would be gutted and renovated into office and ministry space for the City Mission, meeting and job training space for some of its clients, and a mixture of temporary and permanent housing for individuals served by the mission, as well as others.
Quality, affordable housing will be one of the keys to the new space, said Stuart Harper, the City Mission’s executive director.
Currently, clients have few options to avoid being homeless once they complete the mission’s transitional housing programs. “They graduate from that program, and I don’t have anywhere to send them, because they don’t have any money. This new building will give us an opportunity to house them,” said Harper. “We call it exodus housing.”
Harper announced earlier this year that he was looking to sell the current City Mission location on about 1½ acres near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where real estate values are rising dramatically.
No one has made an offer so far. Harper said the move isn’t contingent on the sale of the Tupper Street building.
But he added, “We don’t think we’ll have any problems selling this building at all.”
Proceeds from the sale will go toward operating programs at the new location, he said.
The mission is trying to build on the success of its Cornerstone Manor, a $10 million emergency shelter and transitional housing program for women and children built in 2006 on Carlton Street. It will remain there.
That facility also relied largely on the sale of state and federal tax credits.
Advocates for the homeless applauded the new plan as forward thinking.
“He’s taking a holistic approach to homelessness,” said Dale Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York.
The alliance has estimated the city needs 400 to 500 more units of quality, low-income housing to help make a dent in the homeless population.
Developer Rocco Termini, who is working with the City Mission pro bono to help with the renovation and move, described the Tupper Street facility as obsolete.
“They use a dormitory-type setting, and that setting is not used anymore,” he said.
“I don’t know that it’s outdated,” said Zuchlewski, “but when it’s open for code blue (old weather emergencies), it’s crowded.”
The proposed project envisions two floors for the City Mission, several floors of one- or two-bedroom apartments, with a mixture of code blue-emergency free housing and permanent apartments with rents subsidized by the tax credits. The goal is to have City Mission clients move from the temporary housing to the subsidized apartments as they get back on their feet. Two floors also will be available for rental to other nonprofit organizations.
“We think with this new building and the additional occupancy, we’ll be close to eliminating homelessness in Buffalo, and that’s the goal,” Termini said.
Although under the aegis of the City Mission, the redevelopment effort is being spearheaded by a team put together by Termini, who has become a specialist in using historic and other tax credits to support building renovations.
He brought in architectural firm Carmina Wood Morris PC, with which he worked on the renovation of the Lafayette Hotel and other projects.
Termini also recruited general contractor R&P Oak Hill and two experts on federal and state tax credits; University at Buffalo Law School professor George M. Hezel, director of the Affordable Housing Clinic; and Steve Karnath, an affordable housing and low-income tax credit consultant who previously worked for the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.
All the partners, except for Termini, are being compensated.
The $42 million project includes $1.3 million to buy the building. It would be funded by a mixture of state and federal historic tax credits, low-income housing tax credits, HOME affordable housing grants, housing trust funds and McKinney Act homeless shelter grants, as well as a mortgage.
The project would restore the building’s exterior brick, concrete and windows while opening a new interior courtyard so that the apartments surrounding it would have windows and natural light, said Steve Carmina, partner in the architectural firm.
“The building is so big that the middle of the building doesn’t have any natural light. The only way to do that is to take away square footage and create space for natural light,” he said.
Before it can proceed, the project needs the approval of the Buffalo Planning Board, a zoning change from manufacturing to commercial and support from the state Historic Preservation Office, National Park Service and the Preservation Board.
The building is surrounded on Swan by townhouse-style single-family homes, and the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the project.
“It’s very ambitious,” said Fillmore District Council Member David A. Franczyk, “but it seemed like a good plan.”
“It’s so preliminary that I’m not going to discourage the guy, and if there’s opposition, we’ll deal with it then,” he added.
“If it’s well-run and well-managed and there’s staff on board, then I don’t think it should be a problem. It’s all in the management.”
Harper said the City Mission has a long history of being an exemplary neighbor at its current site.
Mission officials hope to be in the new facility by 2016, in advance of the mission’s 100th anniversary in 2017, he said.
Carmina estimated 12 to 16 months will be needed to get the financing in place and 13 to 16 months for construction.
Termini first proposed the idea to the City Mission a year ago, urging its leadership to consider moving to a new location because the Tupper Street building is too small and “your property is worth a lot of money.”
The mission building is about a block from the Frey the Wheelman properties that Uniland Development Co. just bought as part of a $5 million redevelopment into a high-technology “innovation hub,” and it’s two blocks from the southern edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.