New Home for Buffalo City Mission

July 9, 2013 Updated Jul 9, 2013 at 10:46 PM EDT

By WKBW Internet
By Allen Leight

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July 9, 2013 Updated Jul 9, 2013 at 10:46 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW/BUSINESS FIRST) - The Buffalo City Mission could be moving to a new home in next few years if all goes as planned.

The mission plans to move its headquarters inside a massive 240,000 square foot industrial building that would allow it to provide permanent housing and expanded programs for the city's homeless population.

Here is more from Buffalo Business First:

With plans for permanent housing and expanded programming to help eliminate the homeless population, the Buffalo City Mission hopes to join the ongoing development taking place in the Larkin District.

Mission leaders confirmed Monday the nonprofit agency will be the primary tenant at 545 Swan St., the site of a $42 million renovation project being overseen by the Buffalo architecture and engineering firm of Carmina Wood & Morris P.C.

A development team headed by Rocco Termini is handling the project.

The project includes transforming the former Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. on Swan Street into a mixed-use project anchored by market-rate apartments.

The Buffalo Planning Board is set to begin its review of the project when it meets on July 16.

Stuart Harper, CEO at the Buffalo City Mission, said the site would replace the agency’s existing men’s shelter at E. Tupper Street, while creating additional housing options for individuals participating in the agency’s education and job training programs.

“One of the challenges we’ve been having is when our men and women graduate from our transitional housing unit,” he said. “The only place they can afford to live is a rooming house, where there’s prostitution, violence, crime and addiction. Can you imaging coming home after school and you come home to all of this stuff all around you? Their chances for success are pretty much zero.”

Located on the edge of Buffalo’s Larkinville District, the building is best known for housing the A&P Tea Co. warehouse for many years. The 240,000-square-foot building is now home to Mesmer Refrigeration Inc., which is close to finalizing a deal to move to a new site in Buffalo, said company president Bob Mesmer.

Tentative plans call for the bulk of the building to house apartments, a mix of 150-200 one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. An expanded men’s shelter with 150 beds would be housed at the site as well, with additional rental space within the facility for other agencies that focus on the homeless, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Harper said.

“We think with that building we can end homelessness in Buffalo,” he said.

Besides approvals from the planning board along with other Buffalo municipal agencies and environmental remediation concerns, the project hinges on the ability of the agency to land historic tax credits from the state. Work is expected to start next year and the building may be tenant-ready by early 2016.

In late May, Harper acknowledged the Mission was open to leaving its longtime home at E. Tupper St. and Ellicott, located at the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The shelter was built in 1984 before the development of the medical campus.

In the past few weeks, several developers have come in to see the 32,000-square-foot site, though no deals have yet been signed. Any proceeds from the sale would likely support programming and operational costs at the Swan Street site, Harper said.

The Mission also used tax credits to build its women and children’s shelter, Cornerstone Manor, a $10 million project that opened in 2006.

Another challenge: Helping developers and tenants in the neighborhood see the development as a positive addition to the community. Harper has already secured letters of support from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus community, as well as Buffalo Place Inc. and the local police substation.

A meeting with Larkin District founder Howard Zemsky is also in the works. Zemsky declined to comment until he met with Harper.

Harper recognizes that people currently living or working in the neighborhood might be reticent about the project, but the reality is there’s already at least six camps nearby the Swan Street site where homeless live, either in abandoned buildings or under bridges.

“We need to inform them and take some of the fright away,” Harper said.

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