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Documents say Savarino defaulted on financial agreements, GCEDC and city work on 'next steps'

By Joanne Beck
ellicott station savarino business closed
File photo by Howard Owens.

The next steps are yet to be determined.

That seems to be the ongoing response from city and county officials in the aftermath of an announcement by CEO Samuel Savarino that his company will be ceasing operations and laying off its employees.

Savarino is the developer of Ellicott Station, the four-story apartment complex touted as an economic lifesaver for downtown Batavia and for working individuals and families in need of an affordable, quality and safe place to live.

That economic vision was blurred earlier this year when the online rental application indicated income requirements of very low to low ranges, seemingly squelching the notion that the units would indeed be for workforce individuals. The Batavian had reached out to Savarino requesting details about a lottery that awarded rentals to 55 tenants. He wasn’t privy to such information, he had said at the time.

Apparently, the Genesee County Economic Development Center had more luck. The agency had, according to its June 29 meeting minutes, “requested “blind” demographic information to ascertain 1) where the lottery winners are from and 2) what percentage of the lottery winners are gainfully employed.

“Despite numerous efforts, there has only been partial information received back from the developer.  On July 13th, a demand letter was issued to provide the information requested to assess if the project meets the requirements of Workforce Housing,” the minutes state.

Savarino finally responded on July 31. After careful analysis, GCEDC determined that the developer remained “in default for performance reasons.”

There is an insufficient number of lottery winners that meet the GCEDC definition of workforce housing, which is aligned with the industry definition as well,” the minutes state.

When reached for comment about the company closure Wednesday, Steve Hyde, CEO of the agency, said that “next steps are yet to be determined.

To clarify, the majority of the GCEDC financial agreements for the project are termed over 30 years that start following the completion of the project. These are structured as performance-based. Additionally, the project was notified in July that it is in default of its GCEDC financial agreements and is currently in a cure period to meet the goals of a workforce housing project,” he said. “In light of the news yesterday, the project being in default to our financial agreements enables the GCEDC to have a greater role in ensuring a positive solution as we work with all parties involved. We continue to work with the City of Batavia towards this goal."

Savarino issued an emailed statement Tuesday, and added that there would be no further comment at this time. The Batavian reached out to one confirmed future tenant of Ellicott Station, who did talk to a Savarino employee. Carla Laird was featured in The Batavian after the lottery happened this past spring, and her excitement hasn’t diminished about moving into Ellicott Station, though she is concerned.

Laird was told to continue planning for her new apartment, with a move-in sometime between December and February. The Batavian emailed Rachel Good of Savarino Companies to confirm this and has not received a response.

On Tuesday, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said that the city had not been contacted by Savarino Companies before the announcement and is, therefore, "reviewing and evaluating all information as it comes forward."

"Over the past month, the City has worked with the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) to demand Savarino Companies provide workforce housing at Ellicott Station as promised in their applications to the State and City.  The City will be meeting with regional and state partners to seek assistance to move the Ellicott Station Project forward," Tabelski said Tuesday. "As more details become available, we will update the community.”

Back in February, city and county officials responded to the news that Ellicott Station was not going to be as workforce-friendly in diverging ways. City Council sent a letter to the state Home and Community Renewal agency seeking assistance to ensure that income levels could be increased to offer a better mix of rental opportunities.

Hyde focused on the longstanding and dilapidated defunct buildings at 30-50 Ellicott St., and how Ellicott Station was designed initially “and continues to contribute to helping achieve the goals of the Batavia Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) and the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI),” he had said in February.

He pulled an excerpt from the DRI application for the Build Ellicott Station Project:

“The DRI program will be a comprehensive approach to boost Batavia’s economy by transforming the downtown into a vibrant neighborhood where the next generation will want to live, work and raise a family.  A key component of the DRI program is to advance strategic private and public investments that will provide catalytic impacts to facilitate downtown revitalization.”

“I believe the Ellicott Station Project, in its current form, continues on this path by making public/private investments, revitalizing a blighted parcel which is helping to transform our downtown into a vibrant neighborhood that offers opportunities for our young adults in the community to live, work, play and raise a family in a significantly upgraded area of downtown Batavia,” Hyde said. 

Savarino had said he wasn’t sure why city officials were upset, as income qualifications hadn’t changed according to his understanding. 

He said that those numbers were fixed in 2019 per 50 to 60 percent of the area median income at the time. The project will have to be up and operating before it can be adjusted, he had said at the time, but that is a possibility. 

“So if wages have gone up in that time, then the income restrictions will go up, and if they’re going down, the income restrictions will go down,” he said.


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