Developer Delivers on Promise, Saves South Junior High: The Only Complaint: Windows Don’t’ Open

Developers spent $24 million to rehab the old South Junior High School on Portage Road converting it to 61 apartments, a community center and other amenities.

It comes to almost $400,000 per apartment, so they ought to be nice.

The complex now has a community room and exercise area. The halls are clean. The parking lot spacious. Inside, the apartments are cozy, well decorated, modern, comfortable, clean.

The only complaint we heard is that the windows are painted shut.

They open only 4 or 5 inches. A human being could not escape through the windows. A baby maybe – a cat certainly.  But not an adult.

But this is not a column to criticize the developers, CB-Emmanuel LLC, the Queens-based developer who did the rehab at South Junior.

Nor are we criticizing Emmanuel’s owners, Benathan Upshaw and Richard Bramwell, Jr. Upshaw is native of Buffalo and resident of Lockport.

Most of the $24 million CB-Emmanuel used to rehab South Junior was paid for by taxpayers. That’s how it works in the affordable housing industry. And 51 % of the units will have some or all of the rent paid by taxpayers going forward. Many will toil at their jobs for hours on end to pay taxes for South Junior and the right for two developers to become millionaires from the poverty industry.

The poverty industry is really not much different than any other taxpayer subsidized gig.

So $400,000 in taxpayer money went to these developers for each and every small apartment they wound up developing. Sure, they likely made a fortune. It costs a lot less than $400,000 to buy for a mansion in Niagara Falls.

Sill, let’s give credit where credit is due.

South Junior was owned by the Niagara Falls School District. A three-story, 115,000 square foot brick building, it once had 46 classrooms, an auditorium, gymnasium and a pool.

There were a lot of fine teachers who taught there. A lot of fine brains, still living in this city, went to school there and imbibed a lot of wisdom. Some of these frequently show off their wisdom to me at my local favorites, the Royal Café on Hyde Park Blvd, and at Kelly’s Corner on Cayuga Dr.

For the record, South Junior first opened for classes in 1922, meaning the first students to attend would be more than 100 years old if any are living. The school closed in 1987, meaning the youngest students would be north of 40.

For a time, South Junior was a Community Education Center. About 15 years ago it was mothballed.

Before Emmanuel came and rehabbed the building with taxpayers’ money, the building was dark, dank, moldering. The lower floor flooded. The roof needed to be replaced. It was destined for the wrecker’s ball.

During most of the last decade, the school district tried to sell the building.  Three proposals were made that fell through when developers were unable to obtain enough taxpayer money to fund their plans.

Kudos then to CB-Emmanuel Realty LLC. They knew how to tread the fine and complicated path to abundant taxpayer money.

Still, Emmanuel lived up to its plans. They delivered on what they promised. Their project, developed through Federal, State and City subsidies, likely did not require the developers to invest anything more than their time. They likely made millions in profits.

But they stuck to their plans and did an overall nice job.

Their original proposed financing plan showed they would get an upfront fee of $3 million for doing the rehab, plus own the property going forward, collecting rents on a nearly tax free property with very little debt service [low mortgage].

According to their finance plan, Emmanuel got:

** $5-7 million of Restore New York grant money.

** $7 – $10 million in federal grants from the Home and Low Income Housing Tax Credits Program.

$4 – 6.5 million in New York State Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

The rest [about $3 million] was bank financed.

Pray, let us not be envious. Let us laud even a minor victory in this broken down town that sports the name of a world wonder.

In a city where developers come and go, trundling off bags full of money, leaving behind nothing but footprints pointing in the direction that leads out of town, Emmanuel delivered. They were well paid for their service. But they saved an historic structure and now, instead of rot and decay, people are living in it.

People say they are happy there.

So, why not fix the windows?

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