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New developer sees potential downtown

City Council to consider rehabilitation deal with Queens firm

Jan. 25, 2012 by Ray Finger on StarGazette.com

The emergence of a new developer has rekindled hope of rehabilitating the former Rosenbaum's, Marvin's and Harold's buildings in Elmira into commercial and apartment space.

At their workshop Thursday, Elmira City Council members are expected to discuss a potential development and option agreement with Victory LLC, of Bayside, Queens, for the properties that are owned by Chemung County Economic Development.

Several years ago, developer William Newgent had plans to restore the buildings using a $2.3 million Restore New York grant that was to have been supplemented with almost $6 million in private money, tax credits and other funding.

Newgent intended to use money through his Florida investments to finance the Elmira project. A drop in real estate values in Florida, however, forced him to back out of the project, starting the search for a new developer.

"The project really hasn't changed significantly," said George Miner, president of Southern Tier Economic Growth Inc. "It's just that time has passed, and we have finally found a new developer that's very interested in looking at it."

The development and option agreement would be for six months, with two three-month options, City Manager John Burin said.

The developer plans to clear out the properties, then determine whether a rehabilitation project with the existing buildings is possible, he said. If that is the case, the number and layout of apartment units would be determined, as well as the ratio of commercial space to residential space, he said.

If the developer finds the buildings are too far gone, they will be demolished and the site redeveloped as residential-commercial mixed-use property, Burin said.

"We were going down that road. We thought that the buildings would have to be razed, and then the site cleared and (construction started on) a new development on a cleared site," he said. "But this developer is saying 'No, I think we can do this, and until we get in there and clear it out, we really can't say for sure,' but that's what they would prefer to do."

If the project changes to include demolition, officials would have to ask to Empire State Development for a change in the scope of the $2.3 million Restore New York grant because it was initially awarded for redevelopment of the buildings as they stand, Burin said.

"We've had a lot of that dialogue, and they've been very supportive of the project," Miner said of Empire State Development.

Bloomfield/Schon Partners, of Cincinnati, was interested in the project and sent an architect and structural engineer to study the Rosenbaum's building. But the firm lost interest when it was determined that Rosenbaum's was built on a lime rubble foundation that could require reinforcement of the building, potentially increasing the project's cost.

One of the principals in Victory LLC is Uri Kaufman, a seasoned developer based on Long Island who specializes in residential housing, Burin said. He transformed an abandoned garment factory situated on the Mohawk River in the City of Cohoes into Manhattan-style loft apartments known as The Lofts at Harmony Mills, he said.

Kaufman also is involved in restoring the former Marshall Ray Building in the City of Troy into residential property, similar to the Cohoes project.

"They have a track record. They're good. They're for-real, there's no doubt about it," Burin said of the developer. "They believe in this community, so they're excited about this project."

Calls to Kaufman at his home in Lawrence and to Troy city officials seeking comment were not returned Wednesday.

According to the development and option agreement, the purchase price of the properties would be $1. After renovation, the upper floors of the buildings would be luxury loft apartments, while office, retail, residence and parking space is planned at the street level, the document says.

City Council will vote on the proposed development and option agreement when it meets 7 p.m. Monday on the second floor of Elmira City Hall, 317 E. Church St.


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