Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Success by Serendipity: Commercial Real Estate- Building Business

On March 24, 2009, The Landmark Society of Western New York organized an event at the headquarters of Animatics Corporation- a Silicon Valley based motion control manufacturing company in St. Paul district. The intent of the program was to educate real estate agents, developers and their clients, architects and planners about the available historic commercial properties for sale in the City by means of a map. In addition to it, break the myth about investment in historic properties by informing about the monetary benefits involved in such properties by the horses’ mouth and create awareness about the tax credits benefits program for the rehabilitation of historic properties.

The highlight of the event was the presentation by Robert Bigler, CEO of Animatics Corporation talking about why he chose to have an office in Rochester out of all the places. He had a very interesting story to share and I would like to share it with all of you. He was looking to hire people for his company on one of the job search engines and one time by mistake he forgot to limit his search to Silicon Valley. He started getting resumes of people with highly technical backgrounds, clustered in one location - Rochester! He was extremely impressed by the enormous talent pool here.

Within a week of his search, he boarded a plane and flew down to Rochester. He hired an office assistant and went on to explore the properties for setting up an office in Rochester. How unreal can you get! However incredible it may sound, this is the fact. This is how Robert Bigler found a new home to his company. He said, “Ours was a desperate company trying to solve its developmental road block and Rochester seem to be our answer”. He made a very valid point about the retention of employees in Rochester: being a neighbor to big companies like Google and Cisco in Silicon Valley; it is extremely hard for a small company like Animatics to keep their employees in California, while in Rochester people are here to stay for reasons like family roots.

All these years Rochester has never touted its assets like riverside city with 12th largest lake in the world, affordable real estate and low cost of living, but I think Mr Bigler’s success story could be the starting point to invite more investors and business people to the City which will help re-vitalize our economy and bring a vibrant set of people and life to the City.

Overall the event was extremely successful and was attended by a varied audience pool of over 60 people from different backgrounds like real estate, architecture, local municipalities, construction, development and preservation. Landmark Society was generously applauded by all the attendees. It must be noted that this program was a new effort on the part of LSWNY and we would welcome inputs from all of you, on how can we improve our programs and what all topics would you like to have for our forthcoming events. We very much appreciate your feedback as it forms the backbone for our event planning efforts. Also if you are the owner of any historical property and would like us to organize an event at your property, we would love work with you.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate, LSWNY

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Buffalo News editorial supports rehab tax credit

From today's Buffalo News:

Pass a rehab tax credit

Program benefits aging neighborhoods without immediate cost impact on state

Now is the time to expand the state’s Rehabilitation Tax Credit program, a move that would spur job-creating house and business reconstruction while initially costing the state little in the way of revenues. The legislation—introduced again by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and Sens. David Valesky and Antoine Thompson—has been honed through years of effort, and the latest version should overcome the objections voiced by the governor when he vetoed last year’s bill.

The bill language this year makes significant changes in response to the cost issue, limiting the program to distressed areas for both commercial and residential historic properties and sunsetting it in 2014. The bill still caps per-project funding.

There is no cost to New York State in the 2009-10 budget cycle from this program, which would start providing meaningful state-level building rehabilitation tax credits at the beginning of next year. Just knowing that the program would be available in 2010 would let developers launch new projects based on the financial promise that the program holds.

The key piece in Gov. David A. Paterson’s veto message was that the program needed to be included in budget negotiations. That pitch was made during the fall in an accelerated budget process, to no avail. So, attention turned to persuading the Legislature to add this program. The result is a stronger bill with more effective incentive levels, which at the same time gives more fiscal cost certainty to New York State. One of the key points is the offering of a five-year sunset, making it easier to approve a program that works in terms of the credit rate and the other key components while setting a time to evaluate the effectiveness of the program before considering a renewal.

The rehab tax incentive concept holds promise for renewing time-damaged neighborhoods in places like Buffalo and some of its surrounding communities. That rejuvenation means not only jobs but economic redevelopment at very local levels through construction starts, job creation and putting buildings back into reuse. This year’s bill does a good job of meeting economic stimulus goals while not making the program too expensive for the state.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reinvest New York!

The Landmark Society is part of a statewide coalition advocating for the creation of a viable New York State tax-credit program to stimulate the rehabilitation of historic buildings in our communities. The state's first-ever rehab credit was enacted in late 2006, but unfortunately has proven to have several limitations that make it ineffective. Our coalition, led by the tireless efforts of the Preservation League of New York State, continues to work for this credit, which we strongly believe offers the best hope for helping our communities see true revitalization, even in difficult economic times, and a necessary investment in our future.

The following is a public policy update by Daniel Mackay, Director of Public Policy at the Preservation League of New York State.

-Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services

Reinvest New York!

A public policy update reporting on efforts to pass an expanded New York State Rehabilitation Tax Credit

Revenue, spending and stimulus issues are dominating deliberations in the Governor’s Office and Legislature in New York State these past months, and hopes and timeline for an early budget agreement have passed. The next date to hit – or miss – is April 10th, on the eve of a legislative recess and religious holidays, as well as 2009 first quarter revenue reports. New York State is currently facing a $15 billion dollar revenue gap, and there are forecasts for that gap widening further. Staffing changes in the Governor’s Office and the change in majority party in the New York State Senate have made for interesting politics in Albany in 2009.

In the midst of New York’s political and budgetary remaking, a new partnership has formed to secure budget inclusion of expanded rehabilitation stimulus program legislation. Reinvest New York is a partnership among a wide range of economic development groups, developers, financial institutions, architects and other organizations that supports expansion of the New York State Rehabilitation tax credit programs for historic commercial properties as well as owner-occupied residential housing. The New York State Senate and Assembly have responded to Reinvest NY by introducing a new preservation stimulus bill that will expand New York’s 2006 rehabilitation tax credit program to make it a far more effective economic and community redevelopment tool.

Details follow, and we’d welcome your involvement – both advocacy and financial support -- in efforts to secure this rehabilitation stimulus program in New York State.

S.2960 (Valesky)/A.6471 (Hoyt)

Senator David Valesky (D-Syracuse) and Assemblymember Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo) have introduced legislation that expands the New York State Rehabilitation Tax Credit program to provide economic stimulus and community revitalization to distressed communities throughout the state. The legislation will direct rehabilitation stimulus to distressed areas, increase the rate of rehabilitation credit available in New York, and increase the size of the per-project cap. See below for a comparison of the existing and proposed expanded NYS programs:

Existing Commercial Program:

6% credit rate (30% of federal credit value)

$100,000 per project cap

No transferability (can only be taken by party claiming the federal credit)

Available statewide

Proposed Commercial Program:

20% credit rate (100% of federal credit value)

$5 million per project cap

Credit transferability within business partnerships

Limited to distressed areas, defined as census tracts at or below 100% State Median Family Income and Targeted Area Residences

Implementation date of 1/1/2010

Program sunset of 1/1/2014

Bill language and bill memo are available here. The legislation makes additional changes to the residential (owner-occupied) rehabilitation program as well.

Supporters feel the proposed new program will deliver an effective credit rate and stimulus to appropriately targeted municipalities and census tracts, striking a balance between program cost concerns and delivering meaningful incentives and stimulus to downtowns, main streets and older residential neighborhoods across New York State.

Meetings to secure support for this program have been on-going with Governor Paterson’s office, Empire State Development Corporation, other state agencies, and Senate and Assembly members – we would welcome your participation in this advocacy – see below for contact information for Reinvest NY.

Economic Benefits Study – Underwriting Needed

The Reinvest NY Partnership is seeking to raise $40,000 to fund an economic impacts analysis of the proposed legislation, in order to project the economic stimulus and fiscal costs of the proposed legislation. We have been discussing this study with several firms and are seeking to green light this project as soon as possible to inform our advocacy with the Governors Office and NYS Legislature. We’ve been promoting the economic and revenue impacts of programs in Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri and elsewhere, but feel we will gain more traction with a NYS-specific study of the proposed legislation.

At this time, we are seeking pledges of $2500 - $10,000 toward the cost of this study, and will not request your pledge until the full amount is raised. Please contact Daniel Mackay at dmackay@preservenys.org or 518-462-5658 x18 to discuss a potential pledge – your support will be much appreciated.

Upcoming Advocacy

Our best hope for securing this program in 2009 is to see the program language in S.2960/A.6471 included in the enacted 2009-2010 New York State Budget. The timeline for budget action is early April, and we are seeking commitments from both the NYS Senate and Assembly to advocate for the program during budget negotiations.

If your firm has business or clients in New York State, we ask that you join the Reinvest NY partnership and our advocacy efforts. Further details, and sample outreach letters to Senate and Assembly leadership, will be posted shortly for your use.

We are also looking to identify potential rehabilitation projects around New York State that will showcase the need for this program. Please let us know if you have a rehabilitation project that needs an enhanced rehabilitation tax credit program to proceed toward construction.

Rehabilitation Stimulus Summit, Syracuse New York

Earlier this year, a wide range of businesses and organizations convened at National Grid headquarters in Syracuse New York to support enactment of an effective rehabilitation stimulus program for New York State. The meeting launched the Reinvest New York partnership and reached agreement on bill components and the need for a diverse statewide partnership to advocate for legislative and gubernatorial approval of this much-needed program.

In 2008, the NYS Legislature passed legislation to expand the rehabilitation tax credit program, but that bill was eventually vetoed by Governor Paterson, citing, among other concerns, the need for such a program to be included in budget discussions, not passed as a standalone bill.

Sponsors of the Rehabilitation Stimulus Summit included:
NYS Urban Council
Metropolitan Development Association of Syracuse and Central New York
National Grid
Cannon Heyman & Weiss, LLP
American Institute of Architects – NYS
Clinton Brown Company - Architecture/Rebuild
Preservation League of NYS


Monday, March 16, 2009

What do we mean by "safe?"

City Living Sundays is coming the weekends of March 21 and March 28! The City of Rochester, Landmark Society, Greater Rochester Area Association of Realtors team up each year to host a comprehensive "expo" for those thinking about city living: dozens of open houses, city neighborhood information, home buying resources and assistance, neighborhood bus tours by the Landmark Society, and more! Click here to learn about City Living Sundays events on March 21, 22, 28, and 29.

Here at the Landmark Society we understand that "restoring the core”— revitalizing our city—is critical not only to preserving our architectural heritage, but also to the current and future vitality and prosperity of the entire region. Our RochesterCityLiving.com initiative, which promotes city real estate, neighborhoods, and city living as a whole, is our constant effort to extol the many virtues of city living and contribute very strategically to regional "smart growth."

With no shortage of real and perceived problems experienced by our city, we inculcate our city living work with a combination of candor and correction of misperceptions. Sure, there are some areas of the city where walking alone at night probably isn’t a good idea. Sure, there is major industry in the midst of the city. And for sure, there are some boarded up homes and blighted blocks.

But many perceptions of urban living are unfairly distant from reality.

Let's discuss the issue of safety for a minute. The statistical truth is that the chance of being hurt or killed in an auto accident in suburban or rural locales far exceeds the chance of being hurt or killed by a stranger within the city limits (assuming you’re not involved in drugs, gangs, or other kinds of dangerous relationships).

Dr. William Lucy is a colleague of mine and an urban planning professor at the University of Virginia, and has conducted important research that necessarily throws a wrench in the conventional (and erroneous) notions about ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’ communities. Frustrated and motivated by "safest city" surveys that get oodles of press nationwide but use formulas that irresponsibly and ironically include auto theft but not auto accidents, Lucy crafted his own formula that factors in the most dangerous thing any of us can do in this society: operate or ride in a motor vehicle. When he ran the numbers, he determined that rural areas are more dangerous than the cities. See this link: http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=7593

Ironically, people have been moving in droves away from cities, to places they perceive are safer but most likely are not. This goes especially for parents seeking safe living for their children. But these suburban/rural children end up more dependent on the most dangerous thing they can do. Auto crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in this country, and 40% of 16 year-old drivers have accidents severe enough to file insurance claims. Also, there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that suburban and rural cul-de-sac neighborhoods—which are marketed by real estate agents as the safest setting—are safe at all. (In fact, tragic accidents--such as parents backing over their own children in driveways or cul-de-sacs—are occurring in these settings all too often, perhaps because of a combination of poor design and a false sense of security.)

Of course we believe that reality checks are as important as dispelling myths about city living, and we are here to tell you the whole tale. We do promote city living unapologetically, but our promotional work will not be at the expense of the full picture. With this said, though, we firmly believe that the full picture of city living is overall a pretty one!

See you at City Living Sundays.

Evan Lowenstein is the Coordinator of RochesterCityLiving.com at the Landmark Society.

Photo credit: Glenn Sperling, Bluffton (Indiana) News-Banner



Friday, March 13, 2009

Challenges and opportunities in the federal stimulus package

We’ve been hearing so much about the federal stimulus lately, but what does it mean for historic preservation?

Last week, I took part in a conference call for preservationists in the northeastern U.S. who are grappling with what the National Trust for Historic Preservation is calling “the perfect storm:” money pouring into new public works projects at the same time that budget cuts are affecting state agencies – including State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs), which are charged with reviewing the impact of publicly funded projects on historic resources.

It was interesting to hear how preservationists in the various northeastern states are dealing with these issues, which present both challenges and opportunities. Whether in the form of public works projects that threaten (or, in some cases, offer opportunities to rehabilitate) historic resources, cutbacks to SHPO staff and programs, or pressures to streamline project reviews, each state is facing a different scenario, and it’s clear from what the northeastern preservationists had to say that we face a huge challenge in trying to get a handle on the positives and negatives.

The National Trust has set up a very helpful website called “The Perfect Storm” where they are tracking stimulus-related issues in all 50 states, explaining how we can help support projects that are positive for preservation and offer alternatives to policies and projects that are detrimental to historic resources.

If you have any thoughts about how new stimulus funding might (or should?) affect historic resources, we’d love to hear them!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Exemplary Edmonton -Learning from our neighbors

I just came back from my trip to the City of Edmonton, Canada. After visiting the city, I just could not help but make comparisons to our home city of Rochester. It is rather surprising that two different cities in two different countries can have so many similarities in terms of geography, terrain and climate, but vastly different city life and culture.

If we look at the map of Edmonton and Rochester, they are uncannily similar. River Saskatchewan bisects City of Edmonton, Genesse River bisects City of Rochester, they both have continental climate, pretty much the same elevation, although Edmonton is a little higher. Also the placement of the downtown relative to the University is quite similar.

If the similarities are profound, the contrast is even more startling. I explored the city of Edmonton on a winter morning in February in temperatures as low as -10 ° F. If it was Rochester, I would not imagine even getting out of my car. The reason I was able to navigate Edmonton and the University of Alberta with relative ease is because of the city’s wonderful public transportation network. It is a very well organized system with a combination of bus service, a Light rail transit system and well designed pedway systems. The place seemed thriving and active even on a brutally cold day.

Rochester too has a lot to offer in terms of its culture through its festivals, music scene and sporting events, but the amount of people seen on the roads is fairly small owing to the lack of a comprehensive public transportation system. Clearly, that is an area of priority investment for it should help the economy by creating jobs and also bring back life and vitality to Rochester.

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate