When it comes to a $490,000 federal grant, the Town of Lancaster’s loss is Springville’s gain. And Lackawanna’s. And Gowanda’s. And the Village of Lancaster’s.
That’s because an award originally intended to spur growth at an industrial park in Lancaster – U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money that was taken back when the park remained vacant – has been reassigned to several “smart growth” projects in Erie County.
The subdivided grants are paying for demolition, restoration and reconstruction work in the various communities, work that provides closure to an job-creation initiative 11 years in the making and illustrates that community development doesn’t always follow a linear path.
“Nobody expected Eastport to go the way it did,” said Kenneth Swanekamp, director of business assistance for Erie County’s Department of Environment and Planning. “The bottom line is all of the HUD funds were recovered and are going into really good projects.”
Uniland Development Co. in 2003 received a $490,339 grant from HUD that required Uniland to create 25 low- to moderate-income jobs at its Eastport Commerce Center industrial park within three years.
The shovel-ready, 128-acre parcel sits at Walden Avenue and Pavement Road in Lancaster. Over the years, the Eastport property has been the rumored future home of a CarQuest distribution center, a Yahoo data center and a national veterans cemetery, among other prospective projects. But none has come to fruition there.
At the request of county and town officials, HUD granted Uniland a number of extensions on the job-creation deadline, but the developer failed to find any tenants. In May 2012, HUD ordered the money paid back and the developer complied that summer.
HUD and Erie County officials said at the time that the money would be reassigned to another community-development project, or projects, within the county but not necessarily in Lancaster.
This month, the county’s Department of Environment and Planning said the money was returned to a pot of economic-development money that included the latest annual allocation from HUD.
It’s impossible to say precisely where each dollar went, but the returned Eastport money bolstered several projects completed or underway last year, according to Swanekamp, including:
• Demolition of the dilapidated, 1870s-era Springville Hotel, at a cost of $100,000.
• Demolition of the badly deteriorated Friendship House in Lackawanna, condemned in 2007, $120,000.
• Renovations to Gowanda’s Hollywood Theatre, a showplace being restored to its 1926 glory, $105,000.
• Facade work in various village and city business districts, $90,000.
• Restoration of West Main Street in the Village of Lancaster, which was cut off in an urban renewal project decades ago. It is a two-part project that involves tearing down a portion of the former BOCES building and extending West Main Street, with $973,000 in total HUD funding.
As for Eastport Commerce Center, the industrial park remains vacant, but Uniland officials continue to market the property.
The developer in 2012 estimated it had spent nearly $8 million of its own money on the project, including the initial purchase price, property taxes and the cost to install utilities and roads at the site.
“We are talking to several parties about utilizing this shovel-ready site for manufacturing, warehousing and light industrial. It is especially appealing given the property’s proximity to major trucking routes,” Jill Pawlik, a Uniland spokeswoman, said in a statement.