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Clean-up work to start at Delaware Court site after gas station leaves

Uniland Development Corp. is planning to start clean-up of its Delaware Court Building site at Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street, now that the gas station on the property is leaving.

The Valero station at Chippewa and S. Elmwood Avenue will be vacating by the end of this week, enabling Amherst-based Uniland to proceed with environmental remediation work to prepare the property for a new use.

The gas station is at the far western end of a property that is mostly occupied by the two-story Delaware Court Building that curves around the corner of Delaware and Chippewa. The building, whose first floor has long housed restaurants, bars and retail, is often discussed as the possible site for a new headquarters building that would be constructed for Delaware North Companies, which is currently the lead tenant at the KeyCenter at Fountain Plaza but is reviewing its options for new space elsewhere in the downtown area.


-- Jonathan D. Epstein




Buffalo Niagara region home sales surge

The action's hot and heavy in the local real estate market. At least, that's the word from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors.

The trade group says both pending sales and closed sales are up so far this year, as are prices. Homes are selling fast, with multiple offers and bidding wars in many cases. And as the demand takes homes off the market, the inventory isn't being replenished as fast because homeowners aren't listing as many homes for sale. So prices are being pushed up.

The result: It's a seller's market, says MJ Peterson's Phil Aquila.

Aquila says he's not worried about the slowing inventory, which has been falling both locally and nationally for months. As long as sales and prices are up, he's happy.

-- Jonathan D. Epstein

College living can be dream or nightmare

If you checked out Monday's MoneySmart edition, you probably read Stephen T. Watson's piece, Living off campus. If you have a child in college or are studying yourself, living arrangement decisions can lead to major headaches or, if you make bad ones, daily nightmares.

In today's institutional structure, students have never had more living options. There are dorms, on-campus and off-campus apartments, and each venue offers a unique environment. It's important to remember that each place offers its own benefits and conveniences. According to a former University at Buffalo graduate, your decision should be based on what you like and what you think you can handle.

Lucas Hammill, a 23-year-old from West Seneca who graduated from UB in 2011, lived in the dorms at UB, off-campus on Merrimac St. in the University Heights, and in an on-campus apartment at Hadley Village during his four years at the university.

He noted the biggest difference between on and off campus living was the level of freedom and the speed of his social life. In the Heights, he was within walking distance of all the Main St. bars that become like a second home to many college students in the area. It's where they meet people and unwind on the weekends. 

The ability to walk to and from the bars takes drinking and driving almost completely out of the equation. It's not a secret that college students tend to get their money's worth when it comes to drinking while in school, but doing it responsibly is not only important for their safety, but the safety of everyone in the neighborhood.

Hammill said the most luring advantage of off-campus housing is the price. While living on Merrimac St. he only paid $250 a month and that's with utilities. Compare that to about $450 a month at the Towne Apartments at Chestnut Ridge and about $400 a month to rent a place at Campus Manor, and you can see why roughly 2,500 students a year choose to live in University Heights.

"Not that I hated living on South [Campus] on Merrimac St., I loved it, but I got a bit tired of cleaning up after parties," Hammill said.

On North Campus there was always less temptation to party and more time to devote to school work, Hammill said.

Off campus can be more dangerous, though. While Hammill talked about always feeling safe during his time in the Heights, he never felt comfortable walking alone. In fact, he said he never walked alone on the other side of Main St., calling the activity on Lisbon St. "much worse." In a report by The Spectrum - the independent student newspaper at UB - in April 2011, former editor in chief Andrew Wiktor chronicled some of the safety issues in "Reaching New Heights," including the hazardous living conditions of some houses in the Heights.

No matter where you choose to live, Hammill said a person's experience will almost certainly depend on his or her roommates. While in the freshman dorms his first year, he said it was the loudest experience he had at UB. After he moved back on campus his senior year to live in the junior/senior-only Hadley Apartments, he said it was much more calm and conducive to a healthy academic environment.

The people you end up spending your time with in and out of the dorm/apartment will shape your college experience. Getting involved in activities and school clubs is a great way to meet people and to learn from others' mistakes. For instance, if you have a friend who lived off campus last semester and has a few stories to tell, that could help you make a decision on where to live.

Wherever you end up living, try and base it off of you and what you like. The last thing you want to do is get stuck living with bad roommates or in a house falling apart around you.




Has government regulation gone too far?


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is in the process of defining a "qualified residential mortgage," which determines what makes a loan safe. It requires banks to retain 5% of the risk on non-QRM loans it securitizes before packaging and selling them to investors.

The risk retention requirements were called for in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The rule is an attempt to correct market practices that led to the housing crisis: allowing people to buy more house than they could afford with no financial stake in whether they were able to repay their loans or not.

But critics are saying the regulation will do more harm than good, cutting perfectly capable borrowers out of the market or into higher cost loans.


"I want to be sure that our government fixes whatever broke the housing market," writes Michelle Singletary, a syndicated columnist who appears in The Buffalo News. "But if borrowers have to wait to save up a 20 percent down payment to qualify for the best mortgage deal, we will be putting home ownership out of the reach of a lot of people, particularly low- to middle-income borrowers."

She's not alone in believing the regulation could negatively affect low-income families and people of color

The Woodstock Institute, a non-profit research and policy organization, said the idea behind the so-called "QRM" is a good one, but that "unfortunately, regulators went overboard in defining [it]."

It sees other problems, too.


"Lenders may raise prices to compensate for having to retain some risk and it may crowd out smaller lenders who can't afford to retain risk, shrinking the mortgage credit market," writes the Woodstock Institute. "More importantly, a 20 percent down payment doesn’t significantly lower the default rate."

The National Association of Realtors is against it. So is the Center for Responsible Lending. The Mortgage Bankers Association, too.

Where do you stand on the issue? If larger down payments aren't the answer, what is?



Elmwood Avenue apartments.

From Business Today:


The Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church will convert its office space and former school into about 23 market-rate apartments. The added income would help support the struggling church, whose congregation has gotten smaller and smaller throughout the years. The church has lined up a construction loan and long-term mortgage from Evans Bank and will also use historic tax credits and invest some of the congregation's money to finance the work.


Check out what real estate sold for in Erie and Niagara counties in today's real estate listings.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?


From MoneySmart:

The lessons people learned during the Great Depression stuck with many of them throughout their lives--even when times got better. The lessons from the Great Recession have been a bit more fleeting. Get a refresher course on thriftiness in today's MoneySmart from a true depression-era pro.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas out there:



Deputies called in.

From Business Today:


Seven sheriff's deputies stood sentinel at the Erie County Industrial Development Agency's board meeting Monday. The board had requested security to discourage outbursts from members of the Occupy Buffalo movement, who have attended and disrupted two previous meetings. Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said the show of force was "overkill." But the sheriff's office said it received an anonymous call saying Occupy Buffalo had planned to create a disturbance, so it sent more deputies in response to the call.


Developer Carl P. Paladino will receive tax breaks on a $5.3 million project to convert the Graystone Building into 42 apartments. The Erie County Industrial Development Agency agreed Monday to approve nearly $213,000 in sales and mortgage tax breaks for the project. Paladino has received a host of financial incentives to restore the vacant building, including including $1.2 million in historic tax credits from the state.


Compared to a year ago, profits were flat for the first quarter at M & T Bank Corp, the Buffalo-based parent of M&T Bank. Per-share earnings fell. Despite higher loan and fee revenues and lower credit costs, the purchase of Wilmington Trust Corp. resulted in higher operating expenses. The company had net income of $206 million. Per-share profits fell by 5.7 percent, to $1.50, from $1.59 a year ago.


 Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst is proposing the Workforce-Ready Educate America Act, which would give employers a $1,000 tax credit for each student placed in qualified training program. The legislation is intended to bridge the gap between unemployed graduates and companies with unfilled positions.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

 Esperanza Spalding will perform at UB tomorrow night:



Solar Liberty extends reach.

From Business Today:


College students looking for off-campus housing are warned to read leases carefully and not succumb to high-pressure sales tactics. One UB student's experience with a misleading salesman is indicative of a larger problem around campuses in Western New York and across the nation, experts said. Critics said housing students is such a lucrative business that some for-profit companies take advantage of inexperienced teenagers.


Solar Liberty was recently named the largest solar power installation company in New York State for 2011, based on its number of systems installed and kilowatt capacity. But the thriving business was actually created out of the owners' desire to bring power to developing nations. The business allows its owners to donate equipment and funds to the Solar Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit serving developing countries.


Benjamin Lawsky is the first superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, tasked with regulating banking and insurance. Business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein was able to sit down with him and ask some pressing questions about his new role in Sunday's BizTalk Q&A.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

From MoneySmart:


Prepaid debit cards are the single fastest-growing non-cash method of payment. But many of them come with so much fine print, even the savviest customers may have a hard time figuring out what the real costs are to use them. In a recent story, Consumer Reports magazine warns of hidden fees that can nickel and dime a user to death.

Happy Dyngus Day!


Making it in Buffalo

From Business Today:


Gary Hydock is taking another shot at the radiant heat business. He has acquired an East Side building, on Northampton Street near Genesee Street, and brought in some investors. Modular Radiant Technologies will market the panels to businesses, which Hydock believes are ready to drastically cut their heating costs. Hydock bet on radiant heat in the past with GCS Radiant, but that company folded in 2009 when customers began cutting back home-improvement spending.


A vacant former food plant in Wilson has a new owner. The former Pfeiffer Foods plant on Lake Street has been sold to Lawta Properties LLC for $419,000. Lawta owns and leases several parcels in Wilson, on most of which it grows corn. It did not respond for comment as to what the new site would be used for. Pfeiffer Foods was Wilson's largest private employer, employing 150 people to make salad dressing. Those jobs were consolidated to another facility in 2009 and the building has sat empty for three years. 


Businesses in Cheektowaga may be eligible for a low-rate loan from the Cheektowaga Economic Development Corp. The agency is offering five-year loans with a 0.5 percent interest rate to manufacturing, warehousing and wholesale distribution companies in the town to help them create jobs. Retail and service trade companies might also be considered. According to the job creation requirements, at least half of the jobs must go to workers who currently have low to moderate incomes. For more information, call 897-7200, Ext. 6, or visit 

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

The weather forecast calls for a high of 57 degrees and mostly sun:


Time runs out for Uniland--again

From Business Today:


A proposal meant to help out Western New York's coal-fired power plants has been left out of the state budget. The proposal would have had the New York Power Authority buy energy from the region's coal plants for three years. Critics said it propped up an outdated, dirty mode of energy, but proponents of the bill said it would provide much-needed help for the region's struggling power plants.


Computer Task Group has landed three new contracts, expanding its reach in the electronic medical records business. Two contracts are with major U.S. health systems, while the third is with one of the largest hospitals in the western United States, the company said. Terms of the deals were not disclosed.


Since the financial crisis hit, the American public has become cynical about the banking industry, to put it mildly. In his annual letter to investors, M&T Bank Corp. Chairman and CEO Robert G. Wilmers calls for the restoration of banking's integrity in order to win back public trust and the industry's good name.


Uniland Development Co. has missed a deadline to hold up its end of the bargain in a deal that landed them $490,000 in federal aid money. But the developer has been given more time to secure a tenant for its Lancaster industrial park and meet job creation requirements. The company has received a series of extensions over the years. The Eastport Commerce Center is located on the corner of Walden Avenue and Pavement Road. The grants it received came through Erie county and the Lancaster Industrial Development Agency.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

What a beautiful morning!


Business confidence increasing

From Business Today:


After 18 months of major renovations, the Genesee Gateway building is officially open with its first tenants. Two investment firms that spun off from the now defunct, 80-year-old Harold C. Brown & Co. investment firm have moved in: Winthrop Financial and Pratt Collard Advisory Partners. Other tenants include the U.S. Passport Office, the Department of State and NBT Solutions. The rehabbed complex is located in a very visible spot at the corner of Genesee and Oak Streets.


M&T Bank Corp. has released its Economic Outlook Survey, in which it posits that the U.S. economic recovery may now be more sustainable. Business confidence is increasing in upstate New York, jobs have grown and there has been an increased output of goods and services, the survey concludes. Among nearly 600 companies that M&T does business with in 7 states, about one-third plan to hire more workers within the next six months.


Check out what real estate sold in Erie and Niagara County for the week ending Feb. 17.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

From MoneySmart:


Want to send text messages for free? Learn how in today's MoneySmart cover story.

Happy Monday!


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