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South Junior High at the Tipping Point

By Frank Parlato

South Junior High has kindled some interest, but do they have the money?.

The former South Junior High School, located on Portage Road between Ferry and Walnut, may be soon under contract with the Niagara Falls School District.

A company called CB-Emmanuel Realty, LLC. is trying to find the funding to develop the 91-year-old junior high which was teaching eager teenagers, spread out over 46 classrooms, or in the auditorium, gymnasium, or pool, from 1923-1986. It was last used as a Community Education Center, 13 years ago, and since then has been mothballed. It lies dark, dank and moldering, with asbestos dust potentially filling the air.

During most of the last decade, the district has been trying to sell the three-story brick and functionally obsolete building.

Three proposals made to the district fell through when developers, with largely fanciful schemes, were unable to obtain enough government money to fund their plans.

CB-Emmanuel Realty LLC, is the fourth potential buyer. It was founded in 2005, and without any track record of note. Emmanuel’s local partner, Ben Upshaw said the company would like to convert it into a mix of apartments and stores.

According to sources in city hall, Mayor Paul Dyster has written a letter of support to the school board, urging them to work with Emmanuel and give them a option or preliminary contract which would allow them to try to find the money to develop the property.

The board, if they agree, is expected to require Emmanuel to maintain and insure the property, while they explore funding options, which may take several years.

Meantime, the roof of the building near the corner of Tronolone and Walnut Street requires immediate repair. Sources at the school board have said that, should Emmanuel fail to obtain funding, or if there is no agreement, the next step will likely be demolition.

Even if there is an agreement, there is no guarantee that Emmanuel will be able to develop the property. Today, because there is little demand and too much supply of housing and retail space, Emmanuel will have to fund its dreams on the backs of taxpayers. Like earlier proposals, this project is not market driven, but developer driven, meaning that the developer makes money off the subsidies, even if the project fails.

The last proposal for South Junior, called the Niagara Falls City Lofts Civic Revitalization Project, was a fictional dream, pitched by something called Newark Niagara Falls, LLC, a company that involved Buffalo architect Clinton Brown, a major campaign contributor to Mayor Dyster, and Syracuse developer Murray Gould.

The fanciful $14 million plan involved a small amount of private bank financing, a lot of investment tax credits, a lot more taxpayer funding from the state, plus a cool $5 million from a taxpayer-funded program called Restore New York, and no private capital.

The deal never materialized.

This latest plan by Emmanuel, at $25 million, will need even more subsidies.

Niagara Falls Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo, resident cheerleader for government doing everything at all times for everyone, said of the Emmanuel plan, “It will have people both living and working in the building.”

Really? Who?

Whoever it is will come from the houses and apartments already here. More houses will become vacant. As subsidized stores open, they will sell products in competition with non- subsidized stores already here.

It is not clear what Emmanuel brings to the community table, but, if they can spare the School District the necessity of demolishing the structure, at least that is something.

The real secret, which nobody in the Dyster administration seems to understand, is that the road to a successful city lies not with more subsidies, more developer driven corporate welfare plans, but low taxes. Then the market will develop itself.

Based on supply and demand.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

OCT 08, 2013