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Big subsidies for a factory rehab in Tonawanda

Tax breaks would cover more than half of construction costs. Only a handful of jobs would be created.

TONAWANDA, N.Y. — The Erie County Industrial Development Agency just put taxpayers on the hook for $1.2 million in tax subsidies to help a private developer rehabilitate the old Wood & Brooks Company factory complex in the Town of Tonawanda.

Developer Michael Wopperer wants a total of $17 million in local, state, and federal tax incentives as part of his $23 million project to turn the old piano key factory and dozens of buildings on the property into a mixed-use business incubator with 55 private apartments. Most will rent at market rates between $1,100 and $1,800, while six units will be set aside at affordable rates for less affluent renters.  

While local leaders may point to such projects as signs of Western New York’s comeback, Jason Knight, an associate professor at SUNY Buffalo State, argued the subsidies raise questions about who is benefiting.

“It’s not really a resurgence of people, or a resurgence of us as a society, it’s really a resurgence in investment in buildings for the developer class, and that [raises] the question of, where’s the benefit of these subsidies going to come from?” Knight said.

But the developer, Michael Wopperer, told Investigative Post that projects like his aren’t possible without the incentives. Wopperer warns the relics of Western New York’s industrial past will continue to blight without tax incentives and breaks like the $17 million he wants to help complete his $23 million redevelopment project.

"Am I supposed to come up with $23 million and never make my way out of it?” Wopperer asked. “You have to incentivize someone who’s going to come in and do something with them. If you want to keep people from demolishing them there has to be some incentive,” he said.

You can read the full story on Investigative Post's website

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