Back from a cruise, Sal Zambito and Tim Sick had a chance to catch up with BR concerning their wish to purchase the Fairfield Library from the City of Buffalo and restore it. They are the private developers who were mentioned in last week’s post on the Fairfield, but their names were withheld pending their return to town and confirmation.
Zambito and Sick say they are “certainly interested in doing business again” with regard to the former library. “We’re interested in making a single family home with an in-law apartment,” Sick says. “Using the main building as the main home,laid out just as it was when it was a church, with no additional partitions or walls, and making the addition that was built in 1959 into a separate house.”
As a point of reference, Zambito and Sick have rehabilitated homes and apartment buildings throughout Buffalo – properties that even the City told them to run away from – to dramatically beautiful and liveable results. There was The Whitney, 255 Huntington, 328 Summer, 111 Richmond, (and several other homes on Richmond), and the list goes on to the tune of between 35 and 45 houses, Sick says. “We don’t keep count, but there have been at least 30 in the 9 years since Sal and I have been doing this together.”
With that kind of track record, there is surety that Zambito and Sick can get the job done, and done well. Neighbors who know of the interest the two have shown want them to have the Fairfield, and quick. Sick says they plan on having another meeting with the city about the property soon.
“We’ve already sunk some money into this property, and now we need to get a commercial assessment that will cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000, but we’d like to know we’re not throwing good money after bad. It was our wish to get the house closed on by spring.” And the house has problems. Sick quotes $30,000 for the heating system that was drained, but not properly blown out. Add in another $40,000 for the asbestos removal, and add to that the patching of the hole in the roof, along with fixing the damage it caused to ceilings, walls, and the floor, and Sick says the $100,000 to do those things pushes the house that the City currently has assessed at $75,000 into a negative value.
Why then, would anyone take this job on? Sick says that at some point the house will be fixed, they’ll just about break even, and the neighborhood will have what the two call a “King of the Hill”. He says that not only will the house itself bring good tax dollars to the City, but the neighborhood around it will appreciate. He also says that he and Zambito have never taken one favor from the City to do a rehab, that it’s unnecessary and not worth the politics of it.
“We do this because we really, truly have fun doing it,” Sick says. “And it’s what we do. We really like to restore old homes with character.” He makes note of the fact that, often, the homes surrounding their projects are not comparable in value, but that “the restoration of a gorgeous house pulls up the value of those around it.”
From there, Sick has plenty to say about assessments, noting that his own just rose by 100 percent after being raised 300 percent in the last round of assessments three years ago. He says it’s the price of renovation to a house that wasn’t even on the tax rolls when he took it on, though he doesn’t agree with the methods used by assessors. “It’s all a game of mathematics; they should throw out the high and the low and then use the same parameters for whole neighborhoods, even on the high side, but it should be fair and it shouldn’t be based on individual houses.” As it stands, Sick believes the cost of keeping a house aesthetically beautiful costs the owner in taxes, and it worries him with rehabs like the Fairfield.
Then again, Sick and Zambito have taken houses out of the City’s hands and made them into $5,000 yearly tax sources. If the assessment of the Fairfield goes well and passes the City’s review board, they’ll do it all over again. “Yeah, we’re going to schedule a walk-through soon,” Sick says.
Can the City afford not to get this potential King of the Hill into the hands of Sick and Zambito?
Exterior Fairfield Image: Buffalo as an Architectural Museum