National Grid is one of the unsung heroes when it comes to helping development teams come up with resources they need to get their projects off the ground and to completion. I recently learned about a few of the projects, including the rehab of 436 Amherst Street and 516 Amherst Street (lead image) – projects that directly benefitted from an economic development grant that was approved by National Grid that “offset electrical upgrades at the two separate mixed-use renovation projects – both longtime vacant buildings.”
I was so happy to hear about these additional resources that helped to get these two Amherst Street projects underway. Unlike Elmwood or Hertel, Amherst Street is crucially impacted by these relatively small scale developments. They have the ability to ripple outwards, which is exactly what is needed to reenergize the historic, and mainly intact street. Unfortunately, while there is a high density of buildings, many of them need significant interior and exterior work, that wouldn’t be possible without some incentives.
Since 2013 National Grid has paid out more than $27.1 million in economic development grants in western New York.
“Our commitment to western New York is reaffirmed through our relationships with our customers, who can benefit from our grant programs because this funding can help them achieve their ambitious goals,” said National Grid Regional Director Ken Kujawa. “We take pride in supporting growth across the region, and whether it’s a small family-owned farm or a large industrial business, our full suite of economic development programs can suit a variety of needs.”
Curious about how National Grid interacts with movers and shakers in Buffalo, I reached out to Mary Grace Welch, Lead Economic Development Representative at the energy company, which is “not simply about wires and poles.”
I mostly wanted to learn more about $760,000 in recent economic development grants, to support seven western New York initiatives that are listed below. I was also curious about the wide range of businesses that were accessing the program, from small family-owned farms to National Grid’s largest commercial and industrial customers.
‘It’s all under one big umbrella – our economic development initiative that encompasses 18 programs, from large scale brownfield cleanups (such as developer Rocco Termini’s Chandler Street projects) to smaller Main Street Revitalization projects (such as the ones on Amherst Street),” said Welch, who is in charge of the Program in WNY. “There is a wide ranging diversity in the projects, and our ability to help. I take care of all 9 counties – I’m very busy these days. My job is to listen to the stories, to see if we can help, and to figure out the best fit. We’ve participated in the Riverbend cleanup, and getting the Bethlehem site ready. Our company supplies support – new life breathed into buildings and sites that might not have had a chance otherwise.”
As I spoke to Welch, I was found it interesting that while she is busy fielding the influx of calls, there is still untapped potential because many project leaders are not aware of the various economic development grants that are available. “Every day I get inquiries, but it’s mostly word of mouth,” Welch explained. “Currently, there are 50 inquiries that I am working on. Certain developers have me on speed dial. One of my biggest rewards however, is hearing from smaller project owners that tell me that they couldn’t have done it without our support – they take the award letters to the bank, which help to get them financing on their projects.”
When I asked how COVID-19 had impacted the flow of requests and recipients, Welch told me that her workload has not decreased in the slightest. “I am hearing from developers that I’ve never heard from before,” she told me.
That makes sense. At a time when the world seems upside down, more people are looking for financial incentives and relief in places that they might not have looked before the pandemic struck. Following are a handful of projects that are currently underway, which have benefitted from National Grid grants.
Tonawanda Street projects boosted by nearly $400,000 in grants
The Projects: Two grants were approved for 31 Tonawanda Street LLC. The first grant is for up to $300,000 and will be used to offset a portion of multi-million-dollar remediation costs at 31 Tonawanda St., a 140,000 square-foot building that is being converted into a multi-use facility. The second grant, for $86,000, will be used to offset remediation costs of abandoned railway property at 150 Tonawanda St. Plans there also include debris removal and construction of a 17,000 square- foot storage facility (see projects).
Grant Program: Funding was made through National Grid’s Brownfield Redevelopment program, which funds utility-related infrastructure improvements and other costs necessary to progress the redevelopment of a brownfield site or building.
North Tonawanda agribusiness expansion planned
The Project: Wheatfield Gardens specializes in sustainably-grown produce and is retrofitting its controlled climate, 12.5-acre greenhouse. The retrofit will allow Wheatfield Gardens to become a year-round regional supplier of lettuces, herbs and other greens to area retailers, schools and food service operators. To offset the customer’s costs related to upgrading electricity service, which is part of the retrofit, National Grid approved a $170,000 grant.
Grant Program: Funding was made through National Grid’s Electric Capital Investment Program, which offsets customer costs associated with electricity infrastructure upgrades needed as part of business expansion or new construction projects.
Family-owned restaurant to reopen
The Project: The popular, family-owned DiTondo’s opened in 1904 and closed in 2018. Since closing, fourth-generation family ownership has developed a new menu and has a vision to reopen the restaurant, which for decades attracted customers from all over the region. Building owner DiTondo’s LLC plans to convert the building, which dates to 1890 and has been vacant since it closed, to a mixed-use commercial project. National Grid approved a $50,000 grant to offset costs related to utility upgrades and new electricity service.
Grant Program: Funding for the project was provided through National Grid’s Main Street Revitalization program, which is used to revitalize main streets and commercial corridors in villages, towns and cities within the company’s service territory.
Industrial hub planned at former Bernzomatic Building
The Project: The former Bernzomatic factory in Medina has sat vacant since 2011. Dating to the 1940s, the site had been used to manufacture hand-held torches for soldering, brazing and welding. The building is being converted into a 160,000-square-foot industrial hub. National Grid approved a $55,000 economic development grant for B360 Holdings, which will be use the investment to offset some of the costs related to demolishing a portion of the building.
Grant Program: Funding for the project was made through National Grid’s Brownfield Redevelopment program.
Two Amherst Street projects each receive $50,000 economic development grant
The Projects: National Grid approved two economic development grants for $50,000 that will offset electrical upgrades at two separate mixed-use renovation projects at longtime vacant buildings. The first grant was approved for Jackal Holdings of Bflo LLC, which plans to convert 436 Amherst St. into a 1,400-square-foot storefront with four housing units. A second $50,000 grant was approved for Mark Kubiniec, whose renovation of 516 Amherst St. (lead image) calls for a 954-square-foot storefront and two housing units.
Grant Program: Funding for both projects was provided through National Grid’s Main Street Revitalization program.
“My partners in the project – my sister Judy, her husband John and our father Richard – are lifelong Amherst Street residents and businesspeople committed to this revitalization,” said Mark Kubinec, who is renovating 516 Amherst Street. “Thank you to National Grid for shepherding us through this part of our financing; it sure helps us get through the big projects.”
More information about National Grid’s suite of programs is available at www.shovelready.com.