Tonawanda News

October 5, 2012

People Inc. plan stalls

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The future of the former Highland Elementary School building is in doubt again after a People Inc., plan to turn it into a low-income senior housing development fell through.

The nonprofit’s plans to rent out the building from the owner, S. Spoth, LLC, all hinged on necessary funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development denied three months ago.

“It was not approved,” Kevin Horrigan, director of public affairs at People Inc., said. “It’s not that there is not a need, it’s due to (a lack of ) funding at the federal level.”

And since then, a new for sale sign has adorned the property’s lawn. 

Horrigan said People Inc., is pursuing other options for the building and the nonprofit is currently submitting a grant application to New York state for funding. The grant create a housing development at the school, but Horrigan would not specify what type of housing People Inc., would provide. 

He said an agreement with S Spoth LLC won’t be made until funding is made available for a project. 

The company’s representatives did not return numerous phone calls, but the property’s realtor, Joseph Deck, of Realty USA, said he has received other inquiries concerning the property since it was put back on the market.

“There was a period of time they were working with a prospective tenant,” Deck said. “It’s a very good building and we are trying to get some response now.” 

Along with residents who live closely to the school, City of Tonawanda Mayor Ron Pilozzi also seemed somewhat concerned about the property. 

“I hope we can resolve it,” Pilozzi said. “Because like any other vacant property that’s not occupied, there might be broken windows, trash and a complete degradation of the property itself.” 

The school’s sale price is presently listed at $325,000 — quite a hike from the school district’s sale price of $152,000 to the company last year. 

Before People Inc.’s plan emerged, many residents hoped the 28,000-square-foot building could potentially bring in more tax revenue for the city. But if People Inc., does use the structure, the property will remain tax exempt due to the organization’s nonprofit status. 

Apart from funding hurdles, the nonprofit will also need to change the current general residence zoning ordinance for the property to allow for parking and setbacks. 

City of Tonawanda Building Inspector Kevin A. Rank said People Inc., hasn’t started that process yet. 

The nonprofit’s Chief Operating Officer Rhonda Fredrick said last year the senior housing apartments would have housed residents over the age of 62 who earn less than $21,500. 

At the time, residents were concerned about low-income housing coming into the area, but Fredrick said most tenants would come from a 5 mile radius around the school and the development would have provided an affordable place for seniors who can’t afford high-end retirement homes. 

But the funding denial will likely increase the time the building is vacant — which it has been since the district closed the school in 2009.  

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.