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Ellicott Station

Eyesore becomes safety concern as property sits unprotected

By Joanne Beck
No fence at ES
File Photo by Howard Owens of Ellicott Station in downtown Batavia.

Within one day of the fencing down around Ellicott Station property in downtown Batavia, someone was found on the premises during a search Tuesday by Batavia Police.

“BPD officers observed an individual who had an outstanding misdemeanor charge in the area of Ellicott Station this morning. Officers searched the remaining portion of the original Della Penna building and located the male subject,” Assistant Chief Chris Camp said to The Batavian later Tuesday. “While we were on location, we decided to conduct a property check. BPD did locate an area where a lock was cut in the new construction. We continued to search the area and did not locate anyone else on the property who did not belong. The owner of the property was contacted and advised of the cut lock. We cleared and will have our officers monitoring the area for criminal/suspicious activity throughout their tours of duty.”

Property owner Sam Savarino has officially ceased work on the property since announcing the closing of Savarino Companies in the summer of 2023. He had previously subcontracted work crews to shore up the apartment complex’s exterior and perform routine maintenance; however, time has slipped by as weeds have grown up and around the premises. 

It’s a situation the city of Batavia is not tolerating, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said.

“Savarino has been cited for grass, weeds and debris, and the city has sent a third-party vendor out to cut the tall grass,” she said, which explains Monday’s landscaping activity and the dismantled fencing. “Yes, I’m very concerned that the construction site is unsafe and that the buildings are not properly secured. The city will continue to try to work with the owner to have the buildings re-secured and the site fenced off for safety reasons.”

The Batavian also asked Chief Shawn Heubusch about his concerns about the safety of the property and the potential for transients to enter and stay inside the vacant building.

“First, it is not the Police Department’s responsibility to secure the site. We will patrol the area of the building as we do with all other areas of the city, looking for anything suspicious and addressing it as needed,” Heubusch said. “We obviously will be paying some special attention to it due to its state of construction. Of course, we are concerned with any vacant properties in the city as they can become targets for trespassing and vandalism, among safety issues that come from having an unfinished property being left vacant. We hope the owner will take the necessary steps to secure the property as soon as possible.”

Savarino has yet to respond to requests for comment sent to him on Monday. 

Ellicott Station gets much-needed maintenance, left without fencing Monday

By Joanne Beck
No fence at ES
Ellicott Station left unprotected after the fencing was removed on Monday.
Photo by Howard Owens

The fencing has been removed around Ellicott Station in downtown Batavia and a small work crew was spotted Monday on the premises performing some landscaping -- weed-whacking and the like -- to remove overgrown grass and weeds on the Ellicott Street property. 

City Manager Rachael Tabelski has recently said that property owner Sam Savarino would be cited for lack of property maintenance as the area "is an eyesore" with overgrown weeds and grass. She did not respond to The Batavian's request for further comment Monday about the fencing being removed, and whether there's any concern about anyone getting onto the property during the time period the fencing is down, including later this year when the weather turns colder and the vacant site might be a tempting resting spot for transients. 

Savarino likewise did not return a request for comment about the fencing, how long it was expected to be down, concerns about anyone getting onto the property, and how secure the building is at this point. 

The Batavian will update this article when/if responses are received.

Previously: Documents reveal Ellicott Station built on foundation of misunderstood housing terms

Documents reveal Ellicott Station built on foundation of misunderstood housing terms

By Howard B. Owens
ellicott station ground breaking may 2022
May 3, 2022, the groundbreaking for Ellicott Station.
Photo by Howard Owens.

What is mixed-income housing? Workforce housing? Low-income housing? Affordable housing? Market-rate housing?

These terms appear frequently in thousands of documents obtained from government agencies by The Batavian for an investigation into how the 55-unit apartment building under construction at Ellicott Station transformed from “luxury” units to apartments eligible for Section 8 rental vouchers.

How did this once promising project go from a complex where all tenants hold down jobs to one where potentially as few as 36 percent of the potential tenants are gainfully employed, and finally, one where the project's actual completion is in doubt?

As it turns out, the terms bandied about were seemingly often interchangeably in many cases over the years by the developer, Sam Savarino, and representatives of the city of Batavia, the Genesee County Economic Development Center, and NYS Office of Housing and Community Renewal.

In fact, Savarino, in an email about a prior story by The Batavian, suggested the reporter didn’t understand the terms.

"This journalist doesn't seem to realize that workforce, affordable and low-income housing are all pretty much the same thing," Savarino wrote in an email to GCEDC CEO Steve Hyde on Feb. 23, 2023. 

But Joanne Beck’s reporting in The Batavian was correct. The terms are not interchangeable; perhaps this is why this critically important community project has become a concern for residents and local government officials.

Housing and Urban Development, the Federal agency that determines which housing projects are eligible for various levels of development and occupancy assistance, has specific definitions for each of these terms.

  • Affordable Housing is housing with a monthly rent or mortgage that does not exceed more than 30 percent of a household's income. The definition of “affordable” is entirely dependent on a household's monthly income, whether $2,500 or $5,000.
  • Very low income is a term for housing intended for households earning 30 percent or less of the Area Median Income.
  • Low income is a term for housing intended for households earning from 30 to 50 percent of the AMI.
  • Workforce housing is housing intended for people earning 80 to 120 percent of the AMI. HUD programs are available to subsidize workforce housing.
  • Market-rate housing has no income limit and no government assistance. The property owner sets the rent based on the landlord’s assessment of a unit’s worth in a particular market.
  • Mixed-income housing is a housing development that aims to accommodate households with income levels from very low income to those who can afford market-rate units without assistance. In a multi-unit complex, there would be tenants with a household income at or below the AMI, those earning 50 percent, 80 percent or more of the AMI, and those potentially with earnings off the charts.
sam savarino, steve hyde, ellicott station groundbreaking
May 3, 2022, Sam Savarino and GCEDC CEO Steve Hyde, now retired, at the Ellicott Station groundbreaking ceremony.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Who are the key players?

  • Sam Savarino, CEO of Savarino Companies
  • Steve Hyde, the now-retired CEO of the Genesee Economic Development Council
  • Rachael Tabelski, currently City Manager for Batavia, but was marketing director of GCEDC when the project first started, then director of the Batavia Development Corporation during much of Savarino's efforts to obtain financing for the project
  • Jim Krencik, marketing director for GCEDC

What the records show
Here is a timeline of how the project came to fruition, concentrating on the terms used by officials as they discussed the project and in their promises to others and the community.  We've included links to The Batavian's coverage to help provide context to how the project was proceeding.

March 16, 2016, The Batavian, Big plans unveiled today for portion of Ellicott Street, aimed to create 24/7 consumer demand Downtown

Oct. 18, 2016, The Batavian,  Local officials trying to spur fast action from ESD on funding for Ellicott Station

Nov. 14, 2016, The Batavian, Developer: Production brewery, 32 apartments comprise Ellicott Station plan

May 25, 2017, The Batavian, Photos: Work begins on Ellicott Station

May 31, 2017, The Batavian, Ellicott Station redevelopment advances with official application for anticipated financial assistance

June 1, 2017, GCEDC board minutes, the board approved a resolution to authorize a public hearing on the project, described as "48 modern market-rate apartments." 

June 9, 2017, The Batavian, Developer says the complicated financing for Ellicott Station coming together on schedule

In July 2017, Batavia's Zoning Board of Appeals approved an area variance for the project, which states that the apartment complex will consist of market-rate units.

Sept. 19, 2017, The Batavian, Developer waiting on financing for Ellicott Station project, deal now expected to close in November

Nov. 16, 2017, A memo prepared for a Restore NY grant states the project will be funded in part by a New Market Tax Credit ($9.6 million). The total project cost at that time is $17,745,667.  The plan then was for 47 apartment units, not 55.

Dec. 29, 2017, The Batavian, BDC and Savarino finalize transfer of Ellicott Station property

Jan. 24, 2018, The Batavian, Financing on Ellicott Station project expected to close in March

Aug. 10, 2018, The Batavian, Ellicott Station keeps inching toward construction

Aug. 29, 2018, email from Rachael Tabelski, BDC, as a follow-up to a previous day's meeting. "We knew that the Batavia market was untested in terms of a 'market rate' residential development projects of this scale, but we felt there was enough anecdotal evidence, pent-up demand, and small scape comparable upper floor new apartments that we were renting at what we considered market rate (or in this case, around 90 percent of AMI) to support the Ellicott Station Projects rents." She asks for a copy of the market study completed on behalf of Savarino.  She would like to set up a meeting to address the $1.8 million funding gap. She offers help with the HCR process and would like to better understand the new potential income mix and rental rates.

Aug. 29, 2018, email from Steve Hyde to Sam Savarino. Hyde notes that there are modest two-bedroom apartments in Batavia of 1,100 square feet in the town of Batavia that are renting for $1,250 a month.  "There would be a willingness to pay that more for a brand new contemporary apartment in downtown," Hyde writes.  He thinks there might be a way to challenge HCR's market-rate assumptions. "We may need your team's help in interpreting the study as we are by no means housing experts, but I am not sure Lenny's (Lenny Skrill, with HCR) market rate assumptions apply here if the housing stock you are proposing is significantly different than what the basis of housing that was used to calculate market rate rents per study."

sam savarino
Sam Savarino speaks during the groundbreaking for Ellicott Station on May 3, 2022.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Oct. 3, 2018, email from Sam Savarino to Steve Hyde and Vincent Esposito, Empire State Development, references a summit meeting where all parties agreed a unified application for funds should be made to Homes and Community Renewal.  "The HCR requirements, related loss of New Market Tax Credit allocation and attendant leverage debt mean that the project requires $5.4 million of HCR debt. The HCR programs we would be applying for have an aggregate limit of $4.4 million. This leaves us $1 million short. We need a gap filler."  There is an attached memo from Savarino CFO Melissa Acquard noting "HCR wanted lower rents," which means "we lost debt service coverage as well as the ability to support the debt." She's estimating there is still a $1 million funding gap.

October 2018, GCEDC board minutes note the complex is being increased from 51 units to 55 units. The square footage has increased from 26,011 square feet to 73,000 square feet.  The minutes also discuss the difficulty in making the project viable, given that Batavia's market rents "are depressed compared to nearby metro areas." It states, "Given this, business case adjustments have been made recently, which is impacting the final funding piece of the project. Despite an exceedingly complex capital stack needed to fund this project, all pieces of the funding finalized but one." 

Oct. 7, 2018, The Batavian, GCEDC to consider revised assistance for Ellicott Station to help secure state loan

Oct. 18, 2018, email from Rachael Tabelski to City Manager Marty Moore, noting there is still a $1.5 million funding gap that Savarino must close to start the project.  She says BDC will work on communication to the community that the project "still remains a high-end 'market-rate' or near 'market-rate' project."

Update in October 2018, a memo from Sam Savarino outlining a possible application to HCR for $3 million, which, if granted, would still leave a $1.5 million funding gap. Savarino's equity is $3.2 million, which includes a discount for construction costs. Savarino is providing guarantees on loans totaling $7.7 million. Resurgence Brewing has stuck with the project up to this point despite the delays.

Oct. 11, 2018, email from Sam Savarino to Steve Hyde, noting that his equity investment in the project is up to $3.8 million.  There is still a $1.5 million funding gap.

Nov. 1, 2018, GCEDC board meeting agenda, Ellicott Station is described as "55 new upscale modern near market-rate apartments."

Nov. 19, 2018, Rachael Tabelski, BDC, to Sam Savarino in preparation for a closed session with the City Council about the HCR funding application. Tabelski covers anticipated income levels, which at that point include three market-rate apartments. "This is not a Section 8 'very low-income' project," Tabelski writes.

Nov. 26, 2018, email from Sam Savarino to Steve Hyde and Rachael Tabelski. The memo covers efforts to close the funding gap for the Ellicott Station project. The initial funding gap was $6,154,935. Empire State Development grant of $2.4 million and New Market Tax Credits raised the "gap fillers" to $5.2 million. Savarino's equity investment increased to $850,000 and that was mostly in money already spent or committed. The annual cash flow (profit) has fallen to $42,688, a fraction of what was previously anticipated. Savarino is seeking approximately $3 million from Homes and Community Renewal. Savarino Companies is providing "bridge" financing on all grant funding and full guarantees on all loans. 

Feb. 12, 2019, email from Earl Wells with E3 Communications, to Rachael Tabelski, noting that Steve Hyde is concerned about Savarino having the "financial wherewithal to finish the project." He suggests a media strategy of rolling out the project in stages, starting with Phase I, groundbreaking for the brewery.  That would be predicated on a meeting Savarino was having with the owners of Resurgence that day.

Feb. 12, 2019, email from Sam Savarino discussing Resurgence (the brewery once slated to occupy the brick building on the west of the property).  He has two primary concerns. First, a "drop dead comment date of November, which will be difficult to meet. Second, the project will be 65 percent complete before the Resurgence lease starts. Items he thinks he can offer the owners in return for changes in the lease, such as an opaque temporary barrier wall to minimize construction disturbance from the residential building and offering additional work, such as shade trees, in the beer garden.

March 19, 2019, letter from Sam Savarino to Steve Hyde requesting consideration for a $925,000 Downtown Revitalization Grant. "As you are aware," Savarino writes, "there have been several challenges to getting this project closed and underway. The most recent -- and most considerable -- challenge has been the provision for funding for the residential project. This has forced us to subdivide the project to allow a separate site for the residential project and forced us to abandon the New Market Tax Credit."

May 31, 2019, email from Jim Krencik to Steve Hyde summarizing a conversation about plans for Ellicott Station. Income levels from $30,000 to $51,000, $36,000 to $61,000, and $43,000 to $61,000, depending on unit size, with three units carrying no income restriction. "No knuckleheads," it states. "No subsidies to housing/HUD (all direct pay), no supportive mental health/substance abuse units (already served in public and supportive housing modes), a 'no tolerance' policy for drug use/malfeasance."  The goal is to attract and retain talent. The target market is millennials, young professionals, and downsizing empty nesters. "The folks who will be enjoying an IPA at Resurgence!"

July 11, 2019, The Batavian, Hyde calls upon Cuomo to jump-start Ellicott Station

Sometime before July 2019, memo planning for groundbreaking from Steve Hyde. The memo describes the housing as mixed between 50 to 60% AMI, 60 to 80%, and three units at market rate. Hyde states that the main factors in communicating to local leaders, "Project is not a low-income development -- has income minimums," and that "renters are direct pay -- no subsidized payments/vouchers from government."

On or about July 22, 2019, Joe Quinn, an intern with Savarino Companies, supplies a sample letter of support for local officials to send to HCR that describes the project as "mixed-income" with a "predominance tragedy at low and moderate-income tenants."  The background informs officials, "Our project will include funding from Low-Income Housing Credits, State Low-Income Housing Credits, Housing Trust Fund, and Middle Income Housing Program.  It also describes the project as "mixed-income/workforce housing." 

July 22, 2019, an email from Steve Hyde to Savarino Companies said, "Guys, who is Joe Quinn? This email he just sent flies right in the face of the position we've talked about all along and the reservations over more affordable housing in Batavia. Hyde notes prior conversations said the complex would include market-rate housing, is mixed-income, and "is not open to certain populations has income minimums."

July 23, 2019, email from Sam Savarino to Rachael Tabelski, and Steve Hyde.  "Not sure who was contacted but I recognize the timing is bad on this. Joe is following the direction of the HCR consultant and is gathering pro forma letters of support required for the application."

July 23, 2019, email from Jim Krencik to Courtney Cox, Krenick seeks clarification on income levels, stating that his notes from a May conversation, the majority of the one-bedroom suites were set for a minimum income of $30,000 and a maximum of $51,000, with two-bedroom suites set for $36,000 to $61,000 in annual income.

July 24, 2019, email from Rachael Tabelski to stakeholders, including all council members, and states, "The rent plan has been carefully crafted, with the assistance of HCR, utilizing professional third-party market analysis to meet the affordability needs of the broader Batavia community, not just those that earn the most, and to ensure the long-term success of the project." The average rent will be $897 a month. Income levels:

  • 7 units at $25,600 to $51,000 annually
  • 26 units at $30,000 to $51,000 annually
  • 2 units at $33,800 to $51,000 annually
  • 2 units at $30,600 to $61,200 annually

Aug. 13, 2019, The Batavian, Ellicott Station project status, condition of the property have City Council members speaking out

Fall 2019. A report by Joseph Sievert, a senior appraiser with Newmark Knight Frank Valuation & Advisory, a company based in Buffalo.  The project is described as mixed-use, 55 apartments, targeted to households at or below 50 and 60 percent AMI. The project will "replace blight with affordable workforce housing."  It states that the IDA (GCEDC in this case) has advised the projects are consistent with its economic development plan, which involves the creation of jobs paying $15 to $18 an hour. The report states Batavia needs more affordable housing. It states that 45 percent of renters pay more than 30 percent of their gross income in rent. "There remains an extensive unmet demand for affordable housing for the income groups and population served by this project," the report states.  "All of the existing affordable options in the PMA have extensive waitlists, limited turnover and extended wait times. (NOTE: A prior housing study by the County found there is also a shortage of market-rate housing).

Fall 2019, Savarino application to HCR. The application narrative refers to the project as "workforce housing." It states, "The project will create affordable workforce housing to serve the unmet housing needs of the low-income/entry-level workforce." And that it "affords ordinary workers (an opportunity) to live near jobs." It notes that the IDA advises that rent is set at levels consistent with the local economic development plan, with pay in the range of $15 to $18 an hour (note: for a full-time job, that is $31,200 to $37,440 annually). 

Sept. 4, 2019, in an email, Steve Hyde informs city officials that "GCEDC is actively engaged with Savarion Companies in support of efforts to secure HCR funding for the mixed-income housing portion of Ellicott Station."

Oct. 9, 2019. Courtney Cox, with Savarino Companies, requests a waiver from Michael DeBonis with HCR for the size of two-bedroom units. The completed architectural plans call units that will exceed HCR's 970-square-foot limit. "These units exceed the maximum allowable area because the building was originally designed as market-rate housing over a year ago," Cox wrote. "During the course of the development, the program shifted to affordable housing as we recognized the need for new, quality affordable housing in this Downtown Revitalization Area."

Nov. 5, 2019. In an incentive proposal document, Savarino Companies lays out project costs, which total $19,852,873. That includes $60,000 for property purchase, $13 million for construction and renovation, $2.6 million for site work, and $3.7 million in other project costs. 

Nov. 22, 2019, The Batavian, DEC opens comment period on Ellicott Station site cleanup

Nov. 25, 2019, The Batavian, Developer hoping for construction start on Ellicott Station in the spring

Nov. 26, 2019. In a certified mail letter to Batavia City Manager Martin Moore, Sam Savarino informs the city of his company's intention to apply to HCR for assistance. He states the company will seek assistance under the Low-Income Housing Credit Program and the NYS Low-Income Tax Credit Program. He notes that under IRS rules, Savarino can't make the application without notifying the local jurisdiction's chief executive officer and notes that the local jurisdiction has an opportunity to comment on the project.

Nov. 27, 2019. HCR approved the request for a waiver on the size of the two-bedroom apartments.

Dec. 6, 2019. A letter from Steve Hyde to Sam Savarino. The letter notifies Savarino that the GCEDC board of directors has approved $3.25 million in tax incentives for Ellicott Station. This includes a 30-year PILOT for the workforce housing portion of the project and a 10-year PILOT for the commercial portion of the project. The letter acknowledges that Savarino Companies is applying to Homes and Community Renewal for 9 percent multifamily housing assistance.  

Dec. 9, 2019, The Batavian, Ellicott Station update: Savarino Companies to file funding application with HCR on Friday

Dec. 10, 2019. In a letter from HCR marked "confidential," Hunt provides Savarino with a letter of agreement to form a partnership. Hunt would receive 99.99% of the new corporation. Hunt would acquire financing for Federal Low-Incoming Housing Tax Credits ($12 million), State Low-Income Housing Tax Credits ($5 million), and State Brownfield Tax Credits ($2.3 million). 

Jan. 27, 2020, The Batavian, Council perplexed over Ellicott Station situation

March 5, 2020, the GCEDC board approves a resolution authorizing an agreement with Savarino Companies to build 55 mixed-income multifamily residential apartments.

June 2020, GCEDC board meeting minutes refer to Ellicott Station as "55 new modern workforce housing apartment units (max incomes $32,000 to $38,000)."

July 30, 2020, The Batavian, BDC board members speak out over lack of security, activity at Ellicott Station site

Sept. 16, 2020, The Batavian, BREAKING: NYS Homes and Community Renewal approves $5,691,573 award for Ellicott Station

Sept. 17, 2020, The Batavian, Savarino says HCR low income tax credit allocation is vital piece to moving Ellicott Station forward

Oct. 26, 2020, The Batavian, State grants earmarked for Ellicott Station enhancements give Council members a ray of optimism

April 2, 2021, The Batavian, Ellicott Station developer: Deal could close in May; paving way for demolition, construction

July 8, 2021. HCR is notified of a project delay. Because of COVID-19, there is market uncertainty and the original equity investor, Hunt Capitol, was unable to secure an investor at the monetary amount described in the HCR application. No investor was willing to buy Brownfield Tax Credits at all.

July 16, 2021, The Batavian, With key closing dates in place, Ellicott Station developer says remediation work will begin this fall

Nov. 17, 2021. According to a document obtained from HCR, the total development cost is $20,597,736, with a total construction cost exceeding $14 million. It lists a developer fee of $2.3 million and working capital of $209,620. HCR financing is $5,691,573 from the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund Program, an ESD Restore NY loan of $500,000 at 3% interest, and a state Downtown Revitalization grant of $425,000.  It states there are to be 16 one-bedroom units for residents with an income not to exceed 50% of the AMI, 19 one-bedroom with income not to exceed 60% of the AMI, and 20 two-bedroom with rent to not exceed 50% of the AMI.

Oct. 15, 2021, The Batavian, Pre-construction work, environmental testing taking place at Ellicott Station; demolition could begin in November

Oct. 25, 2021, The Batavian, City Council voices displeasure with lack of progress at Ellicott Station as it approves grant to help developer

Nov. 3, 2021, The Batavian, And the walls come tumbling down. Demolition is underway at Ellicott Station

April 25, 2022, Mark Masse, then VP of operations for GCEDC, signs a regulatory agreement that refers to Ellicott Station as a "low-income" project.

May 3, 2022, The Batavian, Local leaders and developer celebrate groundbreaking for 'affordable' Ellicott Station in Batavia

May 3, 2022, a statement by Sam Savarino at the groundbreaking: "We discovered the hard truth. We went out and did a market study, which indicated that, well, people in Batavia are not going to be able to come out here and spend over $3,000 a month in rent for apartments. And on top of it, those aren't the types of apartments that are needed. A lot of time, attention and resources are being directed to bringing jobs to this community. But it's not going to mean half as much if the people that come and work at those jobs and then have to go to Buffalo or have to go to Rochester to find a place where they can afford to live. Better to keep them in this community participating in this community."

In a separate interview with The Batavian, he said, "It’s difficult for people to afford to house, and then there’s a shortage of quality, affordable housing. In any event, the market study showed that there was a top end of the market that people could afford to pay in this area; otherwise, it wouldn’t be successful.” He said tenants would be making $20 an hour and below. “The idea being that nobody should be expected to pay more than a third of their income for occupancy that includes rent, or a mortgage, and their utilities,” he said. "Part of the idea was if you’re creating jobs here, you want to have safe, modern quality housing for those workers that they can afford.”

Oct. 24, 2022. Jim Krencik to Courtney Cox at Savarino Companies, asking if the AMI levels for the projects can be increased. She responds that the limits "remain the same as when the project agreements were approved."

Jan. 5, 2023, The Batavian, In the market for affordable housing? Ellicott Station is taking names

Jan. 13, 2023, email from Jim Krencik, marketing director for GCEDC, to Tammy Hathaway, BDC director, with guidance on how to answer questions from The Batavian's Joanne Beck.  Beck was trying to clarify, after getting a bit of a runaround from local officials, what kind of housing was planned for Ellicott Station, whether it was a workforce or low-income. She asked specifically if it would be subsidized housing. The narrative, he says, is that students graduating from Cornell in High School, new at a company, will be among the tenants, and they won't be kicked out when they get promoted. He shares that income will be based on Area Median Income, with 60% for 30 units and 50% for 25 units being the income levels. "Focus on that, not technical terms," he writes. "It's hard to 'see it' until your friend, your niece or nephew, your co-worker is living there."

Jan. 16, 2023, The Batavian, New apartment complex to serve entry level workers as viable housing option

Jan. 31, 2023, minutes from a meeting of local officials with Sam Savarino. Tammy Hathaway, Batavia Development Corp., provides background on Section 8 housing and affordable housing. Steve Hyde raises the issue of whether "affordable housing" becomes low-income housing, noting GCEDC has worked to promote workforce housing. Courtney Cox, with Savarino, notes that rental rates are set at 2021 income levels, and can't change until one year after the complex is operational. Jim Krencik, with GCEDC, wanted to know how the agencies and Savarino can work cooperatively with new, young workers. Sam Savarino suggests a collaborative effort to tell the story of what the building is, to use "poster child" tenants. Sam apparently notes, "can't afford to stub our toe." Also present, Rachael Tabelski, city manager.

Feb. 18, 2023, The Batavian, Apartment application reveals for first time, Section 8 vouchers accepted at Ellicott Station  The Batavian reported at the time that no official would confirm that Section 8 vouchers could be used for the project.  The Batavian reported:

As it turns out, a single person living alone making $18 an hour is making too much to qualify for an apartment at Ellicott Station, though that same person with two or three dependents, meaning no additional income, would qualify. 

Whereas two people each earning minimum wage, $14.20 an hour, are not eligible for a two-bedroom apartment at Ellicott Station because they would be earning too much (the maximum household income for two people in a two-bedroom apartment is $34,600, and two people working full-time at $14.20 would gross $59,072).

Feb. 18, 2023, The Batavian, OPINION: Ellicott Station is not looking like a 'Pathway to Prosperity

Feb. 19, 2023, email from Rachael Tabelski to Sam Savarino. Tabelski notes The Batavian's coverage and the concern it has raised among community leaders. "They believe this will be run-down 'project' housing in no time, and we're sold workforce housing and got extremely low income, not middle income."

Feb. 19, 2023, email from Steve Hyde to Sam Savarino with a screenshot of the flier being used to market Ellicott Station. Hyde states, "Nothing about workforce housing ... implies largely the opposite in many respects."

Feb. 19, 2023, email from Steve Hyde to Sam Savarino. Hyde notes that weeks before, there was a meeting to discuss managing the narrative of the rental marketing. "That opportunity has come and gone with info published recently on the state website about the project that characterizes this project completely differently than how I understood it."  He says that several GCEDC board members are feeling misled. He hopes the project can be reframed to be truly workforce housing. "The first I heard of Section 8 vouchers was at our meeting two weeks ago."

Feb. 19, 2023, email from Sam Savarino to Steve Hyde. Savarino says he and his colleagues hear Hyde "loud and clear." He says, "We will do what we can to ensure that the project is accurately portrayed. "I would also note that Ellicott Station is no different than any other property/landlord when it comes to complying wth fair housing laws and Section 8 vouchers."

Feb. 21, 2023, The Batavian, City leaders surprised by Ellicott Station's income levels, ask developer to raise them

Feb. 23, 2023, in a letter from Sam Savarino to Steve Hyde, he states, "The fact that incomes have recently risen dramatically and income restrictions are static to 2019 -- and cannot be updated until next year -- might be evident in a detailed analysis of the income restrictions versus potential workforce tenants."

Feb. 27, 2023, The Batavian, Ellicott Station developer, GCEDC excited about project for tenants to 'live, work and play'

Late February 2023 (letter undated), from Steve Hyde to Sam Savarino. The letter addresses some requests from area officials that there will be on-site management, that there be a preference in selecting tenants from Genesee County, the renting process includes background checks, an annual report on whether the project is meeting workforce housing goals, and statistics on occupancy. The letter states, "The current flier and website, along with the HCR brochure, have not effectively messaged the strong commitment you've shared to accomplish a workforce housing model for working residents. This has created some real concern for several elected officials and community leaders who were expecting a powerful marketing effort to attract working residents with modest incomes to Ellicott Station."

March 7, 2023, Sam Savarino responds to Steve Hyde's letter. Savarino says the project is important to the community and to his company and states, "We remain confident that Ellicott Station will be a true asset to the community and help address identified housing needs and demands in the marketplace." He states all tenants will  be screened and go through a "rigorous vetting process within the bounds of New York State and federal law and regulations." He states the company has been diligent in trying to get the word out about the complex to lower-income workers and that the company will produce an annual report on meeting workforce housing goals. He attached the "Ellicott Station Apartments Tenant Selection Plan." The plan discusses advertising and "postings at Section 8 rental assistant offices and that it will be listed in "Affordable Housing Opportunities," which is distributed widely in Erie and Niagara counties. For applicants, income will be verified, credit history will be reviewed, and criminal background history will be included.  Reasons for rejection of applications include not meeting income requirements, conviction for product meth, and lifetime registrant on the state sex offender registry. 

March 13, 2023, City Council sent a letter to RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner and CEO of HCR, asking HCR to modify the income requirements for Ellicott Station, expressing the view that it was the council's understanding that when Savarino turned to HCR for financial assistance, it was to construct a mixed-income complex but that HCR directed Savarino to provide a low- and very-low-income complex.  The letter states that Savarino said this income level would align with the area's emerging manufacturing workforce, college students, and active seniors.  "The city of Batavia supported the application of Savarino Companies to HCR as a mixed-income workforce housing project that closely aligned with the City's DRI strategy."  It states that HCR required changes to the project, and the project no longer aligns with that vision.  The letter notes rising wages as a further barrier to attracting workforce tenants. It also notes that other HCR-backed projects in other communities in Upstate New York have been allowed to set rents at 80 to 120 percent of AMI. "We feel this (income level) will encapsulate the workforce housing that we were promised," the letter states.

March 14, 2023, The Batavian, Ellicott Station is going up, city leaders ask for income levels to do likewise

March 15, 2023, Steve Hyde emails city and county officials along with GCEDC board members a copy of a letter signed by City Council members petitioning HCR to modify that calculation of Area Median Income so that inflation is taken into account.  Hyde writes, "... capping incomes at pre-pandemic levels for a workforce housing project just limits the ability of our working residents with modest incomes to meet the criteria to live there. That undermines the nature of the project, which was to target and provide quality workforce housing for entry-level workers for area manufacturers."

April 6, 2023, Rachael Tabelski's email to Sam Savarino to ask for a conference call that would include other stakeholders, including Lenny Skrill from HCR, to explore options for increasing the project's AMI.  She said she would also like to hear how Savarino can "keep your promise that all tenants will be employed." She also expresses concern that there have been material changes to the building, such as eliminating ceramic tile, washers and dryers, and metal ramps into showers for handicapped residents.

May 3, 2023, email from Steve Hyde to Kylie Gordon, development operations manager for Savarino. Hyde requests information on lottery winners, including total number of applicants, a blind list of addresses of lottery winners, numbers per household, number of disabled and not working, number retired, wages of employed and self-employed winners, lottery winners currently unemployed, and number of winners eligible for Section 8 assistance.

May 5, 2023, The Batavian, Lottery drawing selects 55 tenants for Ellicott Station, Savarino says

May 9, 2023, The Batavian, One woman's dream comes true as first one chosen for Ellicott Station

May 17, 2023, Sam Savarino informs Rachael Tabelski in an email that HCR has informed him that they will not agree to reset the AMI.

May 22, 2023, email from County Manager Matt Landers to Steve Hyde. "Vicky and Tammie participated in the monthly Genesee County Housing Initiatives Committee meeting this morning, and the representative for Ellicott Station participated and definitely wasn't giving answers that made the group feel good. My understanding was that there would be a genuine attempt to get Genesee County residents into Ellicott Station, where Kylie was adamant that they cannot and will not give Genesee County residents priority. Secondly, I was under the impression there would be a real attempt to vet candidates before the lottery process to try and get people that were gainfully employed and Kylie said any type of vetting would be done AFTER the lottery."

May 23, 2023, email from Steve Hyde to Sam Savarino. Hyde had previously requested information on the lottery winners and found the response insufficient. "We are trying to determine if the large majority of 'lottery winners' are gainfully employed and the related demographics. That information,  he says, would help him report to his board and the city if the project is meeting the goals of 'workforce housing' as portrayed in the Savarino project description of Dec. 20, 2019.

June 21, 2019, an email from Kylie Gordon to Steve Hyde provided some demographic information on lottery winners. Of the 53 winners who are still interested, 42 are from Genesee County.

June 2023, GCEDC board minutes.  The board approved a resolution directing attorneys to send a demand letter to Savarino for information previously requested about lottery winners. It passes unanimously. The discussion notes the project morphed from market-rate to mixed-income to workforce and that workforce would mean "affordable housing for those at the 50-60% of area median income, essentially those working at our Main Street businesses and entry-level manufacturing positions."

June 23, 2023, email from Steve Hyde to Sam Savarino on residential application status. Savarino notes that 79 percent of the lottery winners are Genesee County residents and mostly from Batavia. Only 10 percent are from outside the GLOW region. Hyde characterizes this as "good news." There are 13 applicants on disability. Hyde would like to know how many of those on disability were also employed. 

July 13, 2023, letter to Sam Savarino from GCEDC attorney Russell E. Gaenzle. It is a notice of default for not complying with the terms of the project agreement to provide workforce housing and provide GCEDC-requested documentation related to the composition of potential tenants who were selected in the lottery. 

July 31, 2023, letter from Sam Savarino to GCEDC attorney Russell E. Gaenzle. Savarino makes the following assertions:

  • "Our examination of the documents you have provided us indicates that we are developing and constructing exactly what we applied for, and that was considered, approved, and resolved by GCEDC and what was formally provided and received by the city of Batavia."
  • "We have followed regulations and laws in advertising for and selecting tenants who have yet to go through the screening and vetting process."
  • "That we actively solicited 'workforce' tenants in conjunction with local workforce development agencies and targetted advertisements."
  • "That we ought not to be held to arbitrary and malleable standards to determine whether the goals have been met."
  • "That we cannot impose restrictions or standards for selecting tenants that do not comply with regulation and law."

August 2023, GCEDC board minutes recapping a June 29 board action on Ellicott Station. The board declared the project in default for failing to provide sufficient information about the housing lottery. The board also found that the information that Savarino provided on July 31 indicates there is an insufficient number of lottery winners that meet GCEDC's definition of workforce housing, "which is aligned with the industry definition as well."

Aug. 22, 2023, The Batavian, Savarino Companies going out of business, leave Ellicott Station up in the air

Aug. 23, 2019, letter from Russell E. Gaenzle, attorney for GCEDC, to Sam Savarino. It is a second notice of default under terms of the project agreement. It alleges that Savarino Companies are not meeting the goal of providing quality workforce housing for working residents of Batavia. "The term 'workforce' generally includes those who are not typically the target of, or eligible for, affordable housing projects (such as those at or above the median income). This usually includes essential workers in the community, such as firemen, nurses, and medical personnel."  The letter notes only about 36 percent of the lottery winners are gainfully employed. GCEDC intends to recapture incentives under terms of the agreement "when 'the company has made a materially false or misleading statement, or omitted any information which, if included, would have rendered any information in the application or supporting documentation false or misleading in any material respect."  The letter demands that Savarino cure the default by petitioning HCR to increase the AMI to 80% to 120% of AMI, and if that isn't feasible, demand HCR increase the AMI so the 50% to 60% threshold includes higher wage earners. 

Aug. 23, 2023, The Batavian, Documents say Savarino defaulted on financial agreements, GCEDC and city work on 'next steps'

Aug. 24, 2023, The Batavian, Savarino explains reason for business closure

Aug. 24, 2023, The Batavian, Dealing with communication shutdown: 'a long process,' city manager says

Aug. 25, 2023, The Batavian, HCR's role for Ellicott Station: to 'deliver 55 affordable homes to Batavia'

Sept. 1, 2023, The Batavian, Apparent construction office for Savarino Companies removed from Ellicott Station site

Sept. 12, 2023, The Batavian, Developers are interested in Ellicott Station, a 'complex situation'

Sept. 17, 2023, The Batavian, Prospective Ellicott Station tenants advised to explore 'alternative housing'

Sept. 19, 2023, email from Douglas Randall, city code enforcement, to Sam Savarino about concerns that "defects in the building envelope may result weather deterioration of the wood frame structure and freezing damage to plumbing and/or mechanical systems."

Sept. 22, 2023, The Batavian, County officials optimistic about Ellicott Station while prospective tenants mull legal action

Oct. 4, 2023, The Batavian, Photo: Workers stop by Ellicott Station project

Nov. 20, 2023, notice of recapture sent to Ellicott Station, LLC by GCEDC, stating the agency seeks to recapture $831,577.23 and $281,518.40  in incentives. 

Nov. 29, 2023, The Batavian, GCEDC terminates agreements with Savarino, asks for $1M back

Dec. 1, 2023, letter from Sam Savarino to Steve Hyde, objecting to the "recapture" proceedings and termination of the agreements between Savarino Companies and GCEDC. He says there is "no basis for the termination." He denies Savarino Companies is in default and rejects the assertion that his company made "materially false or leading" statements. He states, "... the 55-units were to be 'workforce' housing, which the agency claims 'generally includes those are are not typically the target of, or eligible for, affordable housing programs" and with income of 80% to 120% of AMI. 

 "The agency cannot credibly claim that the company made a false or misleading statement in its application. Numerous emails between you and myself or Oxford Consulting reflect your and the agency officials' knowledge and agreement that the 55 units of housing would be limited to occupants with income below 60% of the area median income." Later, he states, "The agency's awareness and acquiescence to this income restriction is further reflected in the Low-Income Housing Regulatory Agreement, dated April 15, 2022, among the company, the agency, and DHCR."  Later, "Nor could any such promise be made or enforced. As you are well aware, the company cannot legally discriminate against unemployed applicants who otherwise meet the income requirements or otherwise ensure that the units go to a certain percentage of employed occupants." 

He notes that the project's income levels cannot be increased to 80% to 120% of AMI and still qualify for housing tax credits.  He concludes, "There is simply no basis to contend that the company in any way misled the agency, which is the only claimed cause for termination of the agreement. we respectfully request that the agency reconsider the termination of the agreements and revoke its demand for recapture of benefits thereunder."

Dec. 16, 2023, The Batavian, Some tidying up, holding out hope, at Ellicott Station

Jan. 11, 2024, The Batavian, Contractors seek payment through liens against Ellicott Station LLC for nonpayment of goods, services

Feb. 8, 2024, The Batavian, Photo: Workers install siding on Ellicott Station

Feb. 11, 2024, The Batavian, Developer hints at current, possible future involvement with Ellicott Station project

May 24, 2024, The Batavian, Housing study shows need for low income, workforce, or market rate? Yes to all, consultants say

July 4, 2024, The Batavian, As time marches on, grass grows, taxes compile and answers remain for stalled complex

ellicott station july 3 2024
July 3, 2024. The Ellicott Station project is on indefinite hold after Saravrino Companies completed requested work to button up the building.
Photo by Howard Owens.
ellicott station july 3 2024
July 3, 2024, an incomplete Ellicott Station apartment complex, in limbo during legal disputes and the announced closure in 2023 of Savarino Companies.
Photo by Howard Owens.

As time marches on, grass grows, taxes compile and answers remain for stalled complex

By Joanne Beck
ellicott station july 3 2024

It’s been more than a year since Savarino Companies announced it was closing, altering the Ellicott Station plans for dozens of prospective tenants, city and county officials, downtown businesses, and the community at large. And although officials sounded hopeful out of the gate, there's still a lack of answers for who will take care of this mess one year later.

Recent work at the site was a tease, at least for some, that the company would continue with the project at 50-56 Ellicott St., Batavia. But in the latest response to The Batavian’s ongoing coverage and questions, Savarino indicated that the work was to satisfy a city request.

“Owner Ellicott Station LLC, its lender and Contractor Savarino Companies LLC continued work to complete the exterior and secure the residential building as requested by the City and HCR, among others,” company owner Sam Savarino said by email Tuesday.

It was apparently not nearly enough, according to City Manager Rachael Tabelski, who noted the overgrown shrubs and foliage surrounding the property.

“Property is an eyesore,” she said. “As owner of the site, they need to cut the grass. They will be cited.”

When asked if he would possibly continue work or do so with another developer, he went back to July 13, 2023, when the Genesee County Economic Development Center served him notice that “the project was in default of its agreement for sales tax exemption and PILOT” and the agency “refused to extend the extant sales tax exemption.”

“The GCEDC reaffirmed its declaration on July 31, 2023, and is attempting to claw back funds. Without the sales tax exemption and PILOT, the project is imperiled and endangered. This includes the commercial project as well as the residential project,” he said. “Ellicott Station LLC has formally and vigorously opposed the basis of the GCEDC action and reserves rights for resulting damages.”

To date, Savarino has not paid the 2023 school taxes or 2024 city or county taxes, and owes $20,000 on the three Ellicott Street parcels, Tabelski said. She did not reply to the question about whether the city has any leads from interested developers for the project. 

But then again, as the property owner, Savarino really remains the one who has the question, and he, too, has declined to answer it.

The Batavian asked newly promoted GCEDC CEO Mark Masse if there was any possibility that, given the time and money already invested by Savarino, if his agency would consider working with him to complete the Ellicott Station project.

 “So the board made its decision based on the factors presented before them to terminate those benefits,” Masse said. “If there was a change in the project or there was going to be something different, he's more than welcome to submit another application for the board's consideration. We have not received any applications from him or any other companies.”

And as far as that or any other project on the Ellicott Street property, do you have any leads? Are you working with any developers at this point?

“We have not received any applications from any companies looking to participate in that project,” he said.

Are you actively leading the charge or involved in it, or who would you say is at this point?

“That I don’t know. You’d have to talk with Sam,” Masse said.

As far as the clawback, at what point are you in that process?

“So we took the necessary steps to terminate the agreements, and then we submitted the information to the necessary agencies, who would be the ones to consider potential clawback on the funds,” he said.

He said that EDC is out of the situation now. The Batavian asked him, as CEO of the agency that touted this project as a boon to the city and county, for an overall comment about what it means to see the complex sitting there and the property’s surroundings not in great upkeep.

“At this point, it’s a private project, and we generally don’t comment on private projects,” he said, adding that to his knowledge, the agency has not been in contact with the Office of Homes and Community Renewal, which also provided tax credits to Savarino.

As for the city’s focus, housing certainly has been on the list by providing grants for rehabilitating current eligible homes and seeking ways to fulfill its designation as a pro-housing community. One way is to apply for a grant, along with Batavia Development Corp., to prepare for the redevelopment of Brisbane Mansion into a future boutique hotel or small-scale apartment complex. The city wouldn’t actually be doing the renovations, but rather, some developer with the right project proposal would hopefully take on that work and expense.

The grant application also covers a portion of Batavia City Centre — the concourse in particular, with a goal to increase the usability of public space by making it “more inviting and functional for the community.” The stage that has been in the concourse for years has been removed as one measure toward updating the site’s interior. Four of the centre’s entrances, known as silos, are being replaced. 

Now, if only the multi-level, 55-unit apartment complex smack in the middle of downtown could get some attention from somebody.

Photos by Howard Owens.

ellicott station july 3 2024
ellicott station july 3 2024
ellicott station july 3 2024
ellicott station july 3 2024
ellicott station july 3 2024

Housing study shows need for low income, workforce, or market rate? Yes to all, consultants say

By Joanne Beck
Home ownership rate slide
Home ownership rates for 2022 that is part of a Genesee County housing needs assessment report from Urban Partners.

Contrary to what city and county leaders said they would have wanted for the type of housing complex in the heart of downtown Batavia, Ellicott Station’s low to very low-income levels are warranted according to the latest housing needs study, says Chris Lankenau of Urban Partners.

While Lankenau did not specifically mention the south side apartment complex, he said, in response to questions from The Batavian, that “it appears there is a need for all of those housing types,” which would include the Ellicott Station project, which has been gradually making construction progress throughout the winter and into spring. 

Lankenau and his partner Isaac Kwon presented their study this week as an updated version of the 2018 county housing study in which they took “a deeper dive”  into the current for-sale and rental housing markets than most studies, Lankenau said.

This current study used “real-time data that we acquire, while certain demographic and employment trends are gathered from typical sources such as the U.S. Census,” he said.

The city of Batavia, though short on home ownership — 53% compared to the town of Batavia at 88% — edged out the other municipalities in showing a slight uptick in housing growth, at .2%, versus the town’s 7% decrease, he said.

Who’s moving to Genesee County? There's a trade-off, with folks moving in and out of both Erie and Monroe counties, to the tune of more than 250 a year. There were 254 per year, or 21.6%, of all new households in 2021 came from Erie County and 247 from Monroe County, versus 218 that went to Erie County and 279 to Monroe County.

The latest data show that the median household income is $68,178, and housing is considered affordable when rent or mortgage plus utilities are no more than 30% of a household’s gross income, Lankenau said.

Just over 22% of residents were considered “cost-burdened,” with nearly half of them earning less than 80% of the annual median income. Ellicott Station was set up for occupants earning between 50 and 60% of the AMI for low-income households and less than 50% for very low-income households, and Section 8 housing vouchers are available.

Workforce housing, which is 80 to 120% of AMI, according to HUD definitions, is not included in the Ellicott Station project.

Not far from the Ellicott Street complex is the Carr’s Reborn site on Main and Jackson Streets. That will provide the opposite end of the scale with 10 market-rate apartments—which also falls within the needed housing types, Lankenau said. The landlord sets the market rate, and it is not dependent on any type of income level, as a low-income housing unit would be. 

“We do think the city is on the right track in this regard. In fact, the city is the only submarket in the study that is increasing both its for-sale and rental housing stock,” he said. “Continuing this trend of expanding housing opportunities that focus on Batavia – the county’s center of commerce and transportation – is a good policy for growth. 

“In addition to new construction, we think it will also be important to support the rehabilitation of the county's existing older housing stock, especially in Batavia, to accommodate more homeowners and renters,” he said.

The city has announced programs to supplement qualifying homeowners and developers with grant money for projects that meet guidelines for particular housing types and for improvements to boost the value of one’s property and overall neighborhood.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday that Batavia was one of 61 local governments that have already been certified for the state's Pro-Housing Communities Program, launched last year as part of a package of Executive Actions to increase the housing supply.

As part of the 2025 Enacted Budget, the governor secured an agreement to require Pro-Housing Community certification for up to $650 million in state discretionary funding.

“Across our state, local leaders are joining our Pro-Housing Communities program to take a stand against New York’s housing crisis and commit to building the homes New Yorkers deserve,” Hochul said in a press release. “My administration is ready to work with any community that shares our determination to build safe, stable, and affordable housing, and I encourage even more local leaders to launch their applications, get certified, and help us achieve our housing potential in every part of the state.”

Growing jurisdictions slide

So it certainly seems that pursuit of new housing is the trend moving forward. Along with that, Urban Partners will be determining more detailed housing needs as part of the next steps of the study. The Batavian asked if and when other elements will be part of the bigger picture, such as zoning, utilities, and availability of land for building.

“We will conduct an assessment of existing and future demand for housing in Genesee County for the next 20 years based on long-term projected growth for the county, detailed in five-year increments,” Lankenau said. “Which will lead to a series of recommended policies and actions to meet those needs. While examining available land, zoning, and utilities in detail goes beyond the scope of this study, we will suggest when and where these factors will need to be addressed to accommodate future housing.”

 The Batavian also asked about other works in progress in the towns of Pembroke and Batavia, and how they fit into the study’s findings.

The study discusses the completed part of Brickhouse Commons in the Rental Market section and identifies the future phases of that development as well as the additional new project in Pembroke and Town of Batavia in the Home Building Activity section. The total future housing needs quantities will take into account those projects under construction or in the development pipeline.

 During the past five years, 2022 was the hot one for home sales, with 783 homes sold in the city, compared to 539 in 2019. That has fallen down to 626 in 2023, and now “homes are nowhere to be found,” he said. The median house price jumped from $115,000 to upwards of $200,000, thanks to the continuous ballooning of home sizes, which incidentally haven’t seemed to accommodate either end of the shopper's list: a young family just starting out and looking for something affordable or the senior wishing to downsize, he said. 

As for those senior citizens, a survey of 540 people found that 61% preferred to age in place, but of those, 32% said their homes weren’t suitable to do so due to stairs and maintenance issues. Of those respondents, 95% lived in a single-family home and 44% of them have lived there for more than 20 years.

More than a third of those people said they were planning to purchase a new home, which is promising news for realtors, and unsurprisingly, the biggest barrier is cost. Nearly 40% of those answering said that they had difficulty paying for their basic needs.

The Batavian asked how the respondents were chosen and how the survey was administered. It was an online Google document with a survey link provided on the county’s website, he said. 

“In addition, we encouraged county staff and key stakeholders to share the survey with colleagues, employees, and all members of their communities,” he said. “Results of the survey were automatically tabulated in a spreadsheet of raw data from which we highlighted specific relevant questions and responses.”

 To view the entire presentation, go HERE

Median household income Genesee County slide

Photos: Work continues on Ellicott Station

By Howard B. Owens
ellicott station

Contractors, as they've did through most of the winter, continue to make progress on construction of the Ellicott Station apartment complex.

For prior coverage, click here.

Photos by Howard Owens.

ellicott station

Developer hints at current, possible future involvement with Ellicott Station project

By Joanne Beck
Ellicott Station 2/9/24

When Samuel Savarino said he was closing his Savarino Companies and work halted at the Downtown Batavia Ellicott Station apartment complex in the summer of 2023, it seemed a given that the Buffalo-based developer was done with the project.

However, Savarino recently indicated, in responses to questions from The Batavian, that such a conclusion may have been premature. Work is being performed on the Ellicott Street property by “subcontractors of Savarino Companies LLC,” Savarino said Thursday. 

Contractor vehicles could clearly be seen at the site throughout the past several days, along with crews that apparently installed exterior siding and completed other construction tasks. 

The work is to both button up the property’s exterior to protect it from the wintry elements, and to further proceed with project construction, Savarino said.

He made an abrupt announcement in August 2023 that his company would be closing after a sticky financial situation involving the state Dormitory Authority and claims that not being paid for completed work created what Savarino said at the time was enough of a financial constraint, compounded by pandemic shutdowns, to keep some of his other projects afloat. 

After he backed off from Ellicott Station, city, county and state officials weighed in on the situation, proffering optimism that another developer would eventually step in and continue on. 

When asked if he had walked away completely from the project and if there was any possibility that he would work with another developer here, Savarino simply replied “No and Yes” to those two questions in that order. He did not wish to speak by phone and offered to answer questions by email. 

Savarino said that he’s been in communication with the city, Genesee County Economic Development Center, and the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal, with no elaboration or specifics as to when. City Manager Rachael Tabelski said on Thursday that she has “not had any communication on Ellicott Station from Savarino or the state.”

Savarino declined to answer further questions about the liens filed against his company by a handful of contractors that had already invested labor and materials into the project or whether he had any plans to file any type of financial protection, namely bankruptcy. 

When asked if he had any hindsight about what happened with the Ellicott project and if issues were about more than the Dormitory Authority, he did not reply. 

The project at 50-56 Ellicott St. became embroiled in a wrangle with city and county officials about how an initial market rate-turned-affordable workforce housing apartment complex became an unwelcome low to very low-income housing complex. 

Savarino qualified for state housing tax credits with a low-income strategy, but city and county leaders wanted to see the project accommodate higher salaried tenants to bring in more wealth and bump up the local economy and spending for what was being touted as “a pathway to prosperity.”

Much of it fell apart when GCEDC gained access to tenant demographics and discovered that Savarino was using a lottery method to select tenants and that income levels were much lower than anticipated. However, Savarino had also missed two October 2023 payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) installments of $25,312.26 for Ellicott Station and $11,743.90 for the adjacent property that was to be a brewery/restaurant, according to documents provided to The Batavian.

By the time that letter from Harris Beach was sent to Ellicott Station LLC on Jan. 3, 2024, GCEDC was demanding immediate payment of $833,021.26 as part of “its right to capture agency benefits,” plus late payments and interest.

The recapture schedule includes $23,868.23 for a PILOT payment, $637,500 in sales tax exempt savings for 2023, and $170,209 mortgage recording tax exemption savings for 2021, for a total of $831,577.23 in October 2023 for Ellicott Station LLC, plus a PILOT of $10,964.29 for the adjacent Ellicott Street property, $212,500 in sales tax exemption savings in 2023 and $57,274.50 in mortgage recording tax exemption savings in 2021, for a total $280,738.79 in October 2023. 

The Batavian asked Savarino if he is planning to pay the “clawback” request of more than $1.1 million and about his response to the GCEDC. 

“Ellicott Station LLC has responded to the GCEDC. No further comment at this time,” he said. 

In a letter dated Dec. 1, 2023, Savarino contested the agency’s claims of recapture as being “without merit” since Ellicott Station LLC only received notices of default in July and August, and “all of the information request in the July notice, however, was provided by July 31, 2023, as acknowledged in the August notice,” Savarino said. 

He also disputed the discrepancy of income requirements since “numerous emails between you and myself or Oxford Consulting reflect your and other agency officials’ knowledge and agreement that the 55 units of housing would be limited to occupants with income below 60 percent of the area median income.”

“There is simply no basis to contend that the company in any way misled the agency, which is the only claimed cause for termination of the agreements,” he said. “We respectfully request that the agency reconsider the termination of the agreements and revoke its demand for recapture of benefits thereunder.”

A response from GCEDC to Savarino's letter was unavailable prior to publication.

Meanwhile, Steve Hyde, CEO of the economic agency, has given the community a whiff of optimism by stating that he believes the project will end up better in the end. There’s just no telling when and by whom that ending will happen. 

To read all about Ellicott Station, go HERE

Photo: Workers install siding on Ellicott Station

By Howard B. Owens
ellicott station crew
Photo by Howard Owens

While the pace of work at Ellicott Station has slowed to a crawl since August, when Sam Savarino announced he was closing his development company, there continues to be the occasional contractor on the site doing some work.

On Wednesday, there was a two-man crew putting more siding on the front of the apartment building under construction.

There has yet to be an announcement from local officials or Savarino about the future of the project.  There is reportedly a search underway to find a new contractor to complete the project, which is potentially hampered by a very low-income requirement for renters from the Office of NYS Homes and Community Renewal, but officials have yet to reveal any progress on that front.

For previous coverage of Ellicott Station, click here.

Contractors seek payment through liens against Ellicott Station LLC for nonpayment of goods, services

By Joanne Beck
savarino ellicott station
2023 File Photo of a construction trailer being removed from the premises of Ellicott Station on Ellicott Street, Batavia as it sits uncompleted and in limbo. Several contractors have filed mechanics liens against businessman Samuel Savarino for nonpayment of goods and/or services.
Photo by Howard Owens.

A recent peek at legal filings in Genesee County shows that five contractors have filed mechanics liens against Ellicott Station Commercial LLC, owned by Samuel Savarino, for labor and materials totaling more than $243,000 as of early September of 2023.

Ellicott Station, the four-story, 55-apartment complex at 56 Ellicott St. in downtown Batavia, has been left idling since Savarino shut down his Savarino Companies this past summer. Tenants were chosen, tax credits were promised, and paperwork was signed, yet he walked away from the deal, leaving the unfinished property in limbo. 

One of those liens, filed by Carter Lumber Co. of Pennsylvania for $49,015.79, was later discharged or dropped. The lien was filed for several supplies, including framing lumber, Tyvek house wrap, anchor bolts, Simpson Hangers, and other framing materials that were installed beginning in September 2022, according to lien documents.

As of Sept. 13, the lienor, Carter Lumber Co., “does hereby consent that any notice of pendency/Lis Pendens filed against the private improvement be discharged of record,” a document states. 

Available documents indicate there is a remaining $194,094.10 unpaid to the other contractors, including:

  • Truax & Hovey, Limited, of Liverpool,  which filed a lien for $63,000. The unpaid sum was for labor performed on Gypsum Cement underlayment.
  • AmBuild Supply, LLC, of Fairport, for $89,746.30. The company provided materials valued at $235,974.89, of which $146,228.59 was paid for, documents state. 

    The remaining unpaid amount was for “labor and materials were performed and furnished for and used, and that the professional services rendered in the improvement of the real property hereinbefore described.” The date when the first time of material was supplied was Aug. 4, 2022, up to the last item being supplied on May 19, 2023, documents state.

  • Triton Mechanical, Inc., of Rochester, for $39,118.40. The company provided its first labor or materials on Sept. 20, 2022, up to Aug. 8, 2023, it states in related documents. 

    The contract was for HVAC installation with Savarino Companies LLC, and the lien is against Ellicott Station LLC.

  • DV Brown & Associates, Inc. of Tonawanda, for $2,229.40. The company supplied materials that were installed in the building on July 20, 2023, for linen chutes and carts, according to documents.  

Documents also include a signed and notarized copy of Samuel Savarino’s agreement as grantor, to “hold the right to receive such consideration as a trust fund to be applied first for the purpose of paying the costs of the improvement and will apply the same first to the payment of the cost of improvements before using any part of the total of the same for any other purpose.”

That agreement was signed on April 25, 2018. Savarino was grantor of the merged properties of 40 and 56-70 Ellicott St., which he completed with a quitclaim process for a dollar. 

“The intent of this deed is to combine the described parcels into one tax map parcel,” which merged the former utility and Della Penna properties under Savarino’s ownership for what was originally described to be a microbrewery, restaurant, office/retail and market-rate-turned-affordable apartment project on the two commercial lots. 

Due to wide gaps of delay before the project began, Savarino said his intended tenant from Buffalo for the brewery backed out. Savarino Companies would either find a replacement vendor or do it themselves, he said. That did not materialize, along with the anticipated completion of Ellicott Station by the summer and then the end of 2023. 

Since the stalled apartment construction, officials from Genesee County Economic Development Center and the city have hinted that there are developers interested in picking up where Savarino left off, and Steve Hyde, CEO of the EDC, has promised that a good ending is possible.

“And you know, what I could say about Ellicott Station is I've been in the middle of discussions with the developer, general partner, the investors, and state housing. That's all in the sorting-out phase. But what I can say to you is it's likely we'll see a different general partner coming in at some point,” he said during a county meeting in September. “And I think what we'll end up with is a project that will be better than what we currently had or what was previously designed. 

"I think there's some additional willingness by the housing HCR to work with us and be a little more flexible. It may not be perfect, but we'll end up with a better situation than we had," he said. "I can’t say any more than that right now. But at least it's in the sorting out phase, and there's quite a bit of interest.”

Toward the end of November, EDC officials severed their ties with Savarino Companies and asked for more than $1 million of tax benefits back.

The lien documents were obtained by The Batavian through December 2023.

Some tidying up, holding out hope, at Ellicott Station

By Joanne Beck
Ellicott Station winter prep 2023
Signs of life, albeit temporary tidying up before winter, at Ellicott Station in downtown Batavia. 
Photo by Howard Owens

There have been signs of life at Ellicott Station, if for no other reason than to button up the property just before it officially becomes winter. 

Construction vehicles have been parked on the premises, and Public Works Director Brett Frank confirmed that staff has observed a few subcontractors who were “closing up the building and moving materials in preparation for winter weather” the past week or two. 

The Batavian has been regularly checking in with City Manager Rachael Tabelski for any updates about the property, and she was told by investors that "the building would be winterized," she said.

"HCR, the bank, and the investors continue to work on a takeover/transition plan with other interested housing developers/operators," Tabelski said. 

HCR is the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal. 

The Ellicott Street property has been fairly dormant since late August when former developer Sam Savarino announced that he was closing his Savarino Companies. There apparently won't be any further construction on the apartment complex until a new developer is in place, and tenants that were chosen for the 55 rental units have been advised a while ago by Savarino's management company to find alternative housing. 

The Batavian had also asked Tabelski for a response to how Ellicott Station seems to be representative of what some communities are fearful may happen to them -- the town of Pembroke as one example -- and is named as some type of icon of doom that other developers don't wish to be compared to. 

"Respectfully, I think the characterization of Ellicott Station as the 'icon of doom' is overdramatic," Tabelski said. "I understand there is disappointment with the project, but our strong hope is another developer will see this as an opportunity to invest in our city.  The final verdict on the success of this project is still out. 

"The city is focused on moving forward, working on creating housing that adds tax base and gives middle and higher earners the products they demand, as well as active seniors, who want to move to apartments/condos with less maintenance," she said.  "The (Batavia Development Corp.), with participation from the GCEDC and city, hosted a very successful developers tour on (in late November).  There remains a lot of interest in developing projects in our city."

GCEDC terminates agreements with Savarino, asks for $1M back

By Joanne Beck
ellicott station
Ellicott Station in Batavia
Photo by Howard Owens

Genesee County Economic Development Center officials have severed their ties with Savarino Companies and asked for more than $1 million of tax benefits back, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications Jim Krencik says. 

“This action includes cancellation of the lease leaseback agreement, the tax agreement (payment in lieu of taxes) and the sales tax exemption agreement, and have returned the three parcels involved back to the taxable side of the tax rolls,” Krencik said Tuesday. 

The EDC officials sent Ellicott Station LLC and Ellicott Station Commercial LLC related legal notices due to their “lack of curing of the default on our local tax agreement,” Krencik said. 

He referred The Batavian to an explanation CEO Steve Hyde gave The Batavian in an Aug. 23 article

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,” Hyde said in the August article. “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."

On Tuesday, Krencik said, “Additionally, we have issued a demand letter to Savarino Companies demanding repayment of the sales and mortgage tax benefits enjoyed by the project to this point, and we are attempting to claw back $1.1 million of those benefits.”

One of Savarino’s Ellicott Street properties was also fined for neglected property maintenance, along with a number of others, to the tune of an extra $30,000 for city cleanups of grass, weeds and debris, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said this week.

During Monday's City Council meeting, Tabelski asked council for a budget amendment to increase the expense line for “multiple grass, weed, and debris violations” this year. While 85 percent of the time, residents will take care of the issue once they’re cited, she said, other times, “we do have to go in and either cut the grass ourselves or remove debris.”

Tabelski gave The Batavian a list of citations for Savarino Companies earlier this year that included lack of property maintenance, including overgrown weeds, debris on the premises, and rank vegetation, for Ellicott Station and not securing the partially finished apartment complex on Ellicott Street. Savarino halted work on the project this summer after shutting down his company due to financial issues. 

Councilman Bob Bialkowski asked her if the city can recoup the expense of cleaning up these properties, which also included a larger site of the defunct Days Inn at 200 Oak St.

“We bill them at 30 days, we bill them at 60 days, and we bill them at 90 days. And we will bill them again until it's time to put it onto the tax bill. At that time, Heidi's office, the city clerk, will go ahead and levy that amount onto the tax bill,” Tabelski said. “And a lot of times, it'll get paid in conjunction with the late tax bill. So we need to increase the expense line this year by about $30,000. And we are done, with snow on the ground, for grass, weeds and debris. So I don't feel like this will go any higher than where it is this year.”

Photo: Workers stop by Ellicott Station project

By Howard B. Owens
ellicott station work
Photo by Howard Owens

Three trucks were spotted at about 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning at the Ellicott Station construction project, which has stalled after developer Savarino Companies announced it was going out of business six weeks ago.

A supervisor said a work crew was on the roof completing a project. He said the work was being done because it needed to be completed and not in response to building code citations issued by the city, which The Batavian first reported about this morning.

At 11 a.m., the workers were seen departing the construction site.

There's also recently been some weed removal on the property.

County officials optimistic about Ellicott Station while prospective tenants mull legal action

By Joanne Beck
ellicott station ground breaking may 2022
File photo of Ellicott Station groundbreaking with city, county and company officials in Batavia.
Photo by Howard Owens

While a few prospective tenants of the stalled Ellicott Station strategize their next move, folks at Genesee County Economic Development Center apparently believe they are making headway.

A few of the tenants chosen for the Southside apartment complex are considering possible legal action against Savarino Companies for pulling out of the project that has left them dangling with hope that they might still have a new home come 2024. As one tenant said, it’s about “what Savarino did to all of us, ‘cause it’s not fair to us.”

Meanwhile, Steve Hyde, CEO of the county’s economic center, gave a brief yet vaguely optimistic statement this week that his agency has been working with Sam Savarino and the state Office of Housing and Community Renewal to get Ellicott Station back on track.

Hyde and his lead staff reviewed this past year’s activity during the county’s Ways and Means meeting. As noted in prior articles on The Batavian, City Manager Rachael Tabelski has said that developers have expressed interest in Ellicott Station, and Hyde provided further confirmation that talks are progressing.

“And, of course, our favorite project sits here, nearby. And you know, what I could say about Ellicott Station is I've been in the middle of discussions with the developer, general partner, the investors, and state housing. That's all in the sorting-out phase. But what I can say to you is it's likely we'll see a different general partner coming in at some point,” he said. “And I think what we'll end up with is a project that will be better than what we currently had or what was previously designed. 

"I think there's some additional willingness by the housing HCR to work with us and be a little more flexible. It may not be perfect, but we'll end up with a better situation than we had," he said. "I can’t say any more than that right now. But at least it's in the sorting out phase, and there's quite a bit of interest.”

As for GCEDC’s remaining portfolio, there were 75 projects that “committed $937 million of capital investment” versus the prior 76 projects at a $162 million investment, demonstrating what Mark Masse said was “just a much larger scale.”

After celebrating her 10th year on the Legislature, along with Marianne Clattenburg as EDC liaison, it’s been amazing to watch “the incredible investment that helps our local taxpayers,” Chair Shelley Stein said.

“By having these opportunities for the creation of these businesses, the careers, it enhances our entire foundation of our economy here and careers. Our schools benefit from it. Our communities benefit from the investment,” she said. “So some days are hard, some days are, you know, celebratory days. But this work is important to us here in Genesee County. Thank you.”

Some of those hard days have been dealing with and enduring the lag of that Ellicott Station project, which stopped in mid-August when Savarino announced the closing of his company due to a financial snag with a project at Alfred State College and a loss of more than $3 million. 

Since then, city and county, along with HCR officials, have said they are working on moving forward, potentially with a new developer and financial agreements and construction schedule.

Tenants that were chosen in May for the 55 apartments received word earlier this month that they might want to search out alternative housing options since there’s no guarantee about when Ellicott Station will be ready for occupancy.

Prospective Ellicott Station tenants advised to explore 'alternative housing'

By Joanne Beck
ellicott station savarino business closed
File photo of a padlocked Ellicott Station property as the Batavia apartment complex-in-progress grinds to a halt indefinitely due to Savarino Companies' closure. 
Photo by Howard Owens 

An email was sent out from Savarino Companies to those 55 tenants selected this past May for one of the Ellicott Station homes that had been in progress until a month or so ago. 

And, no, it was no longer congratulatory in nature about the tenants’ good luck in being chosen for one of the safe, quality, affordable rentals on the city’s Southside.

It was one of regret.

“You are receiving this email because you were chosen to be considered for an apartment in Ellicott Station Residential Apartments,” it began. 

“We are writing to inform you of the status of Ellicott Station Residential Apartments. Regrettably, we must convey that, as of today, there is no clear answer for when the Ellicott Station Residential Apartments may be ready for occupancy,” it stated. “Due to this unforeseen circumstance, we highly recommend that you begin exploring alternative housing solutions. We understand the uncertainty and inconvenience this situation may cause. We apologize for any inconvenience to you. 

“We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available,” the company said. “Thank you for your understanding and your cooperation.”

Up to now, there have been few if any answers as to the plight of those tenants and the fate of the four-story apartment complex that now sits idle at 50 Ellicott St. 

City Manager Rachael Tabelski has said that developers have expressed interest in the property, but the city doesn’t own the property and has no say in how it proceeds from here.

The Batavian reached out to her Friday about this latest development and with additional questions. She said that “this week there has been multiple conversations with Savarino Companies, investors and lenders about how best to move forward.”

There are two main options, she said, one is to find a general contractor to complete the work and a new property manager, or pause the project completely and reboot with a new developer/operator.    

For any observant spectators passing by the apartment site this past week, you may have seen some people there — city inspectors — who will be issuing notices to the owners, construction lenders, and investors “to provide better site security, remove any grass, weeds and debris, and winterize the building,” Tabelski said.

“The construction lenders and investors have been extremely responsive to our requests and I look forward to working with them through this process,” she said.

Tabelski was aware that the letter went out to tenants but had no further information or comment about it. One of the tenants who has been communicating with The Batavian will remain in her current apartment and is hopeful that one of those new apartments will be hers one day.

For those looking for an apartment with similar income qualifications of Ellicott Station, Genesee County has a website with subsidized housing.

Pathstones also has resources for housing assistance and education, Tabelski said. 

The Batavian asked Tabelski if obtaining a new developer would mean starting all over with selecting new tenants, but since it was not a local lottery under Batavia’s control, “I cannot say how this will work,” she said. She referred The Batavian to Savarino and the state Office of Community Renewal for those answers.

HCR has stated that promised tax credits are tied to the project’s completion and that it will continue to oversee the project to ensure it reaches that end, similar to Genesee County Economic Development Center’s financial incentives. 

A bulk of the money promised to Savarino has a contingency that the project and/or stipulations within the project must be met in order to receive funding. This includes the $500,000 state grant from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative fund, which is attached to completion of rehabilitation of the electric building on the Ellicott Street property. 

Tabelski said that “the building was not completed and there has been no grant funds issues from New York State to Savarino Companies for the project that I am aware of.” It’s a similar scenario for a $250,000 National Grid grant for work to be done on Ellicott Trail.

“There are multiple grants supporting the project and they are all reimbursable upon completion. There was some Ellicott Trail work completed, however, the enhancements of lighting and benches have not been installed yet. The majority of the brownfield work has been completed, and more than 50 to 75 percent of the residential building work is complete,” she said.  “The work to the electric building, that was to become a brewery, was not as far along, and significant rehabilitation and restoration need to be completed.”

Developers are interested in Ellicott Station, a 'complex situation'

By Joanne Beck
savarino ellicott station
What may be the last activity on the property of Ellicott Station for awhile, the construction trailer gets loaded up and hauled away in late August. 
Photo by Howard Owens.

There are “several interested developers” working with Sam Savarino, president of the now-defunct Savarino Companies, after he announced closing about a month ago, City Manager Rachael Tabelski says.

In response to a request for an update, Tabelski said Tuesday that Savarino and banking institutions have been involved in talks with those developers, though she did not have or divulge anything “official.” 

“As of last week, the construction leading bank confirmed there were no liens on the project, meaning (subcontractors) were paid up to that point,” she said.  

When asked about the role of the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal, the agency that granted Savarino $5.7 million of low-income housing tax credits for the project, Tabelski said that “HCR is actively working with any/all developers interested in the project and has promised flexibility in their approach with AMI’s, etc.”

The city had hoped to negotiate the current AMI — area median income level — that had been set at a low to very low versus a higher workforce level, and it appears that it will fall to the next developer to take on that task.

Areas of concern for any construction project would include preserving the structural integrity so that nothing deteriorates or is damaged during the pause in work, and Tabelski said that “the City would like to see the investment winterized first and foremost and remain secured while the project is unwound.”

Savarino Companies celebrated a groundbreaking last year, and chose tenants for the 50 Ellicott St. site in May. It was to open up 55 homes between December of this year and February 2024.

Later this year, Savarino announced financial difficulties stemming from a deal gone wrong at Alfred State College, and shut down operations of his Savarino Companies, with the stipulation that Savarino Management would remain open. He did not contact city officials about the announcement or provide details about what that would mean for Ellicott Station, Tabelski said. Since then, the construction trailer was seen getting hauled off the property. 

Since the project is not merely a privately funded one, and involves county and state funding, the process will likely start over with a new developer, which will also likely delay the entire timeline. It’s not up to the city as to who and how it proceeds from here.

“We do not have a say as to who the developer will be to take on the project; it’s a private transaction,” Tabelski said. “This is a complex project and complex situation, and whoever takes on the project will need to be a seasoned and skilled developer who can make the project and finances work. The City remains encouraged by the interest.”

Apparent construction office for Savarino Companies removed from Ellicott Station site

By Howard B. Owens
savarino ellicott station
A worker for A-Verdi Storage Containers loads what was apparently the on-site construction office for Savarino Companies at Ellicott Station onto a flatbed before removing it from the site at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Photo by Howard Owens. 

Just before 5 p.m. on Thursday, a worker with A-Verdi Storage Containers removed an apparent mobile unit that seemed to have served as the on-site office of Savarino Companies at the Ellicott Station construction site.

The Savarino sign that had been on the unit was removed, and a metal desk and storage cabinet sat on the ground outside of it.

The driver confirmed he was removing the unit from the site and was later seen hauling it west on Ellicott Street.

More than a week ago, Developer Sam Savarino announced he was shutting down his company, citing massive losses from a dispute over a dormitory project at Alfred State College.

While at times it has appeared that work has continued this past week on the $22 million Ellicott Station apartment complex, the project is supposedly without a general contractor with the closure of Savarino Companies.  Sam Savarino has said his management company is still in business, still running the project, and will seek a new general contractor.

City Manager Rachael Tabelski has said there has been no communication from Savarino regarding the status of the project, which is subject to multiple financial agreements involving the city, the state and GCEDC. 

Reached on Thursday evening, Tabelski told The Batavian that there have still been no updates from Savarino. She said she has heard that other general contractors and developers are contacting Savarino, expressing interest in the project.

"The city and GCEDC have been talking with potential developers who have initial interest in taking over the project, but there will be a lot of financials to unwind, if this is in-fact possible to reassign grants and pay off lenders, etc."

She said there is nothing concrete to report at this time, and there is a meeting with NYS Housing and Community Renewal, a major government funder of the project and has expressed a commitment to The Batavian in seeing the project completed.

HCR initially awarded Savarino $1.2 million per year of low-income housing tax credits for 10 years based on his ability to secure investors and more recently awarded Savarino $5.7 million in low-income housing tax credits for the downtown apartment project.

"HCR has been actively monitoring the progress of the construction of Ellicott Station and will continue to do so as we work to ensure completion of this critical project and deliver 55 affordable homes to Batavia,” a spokesperson for HCR told The Batavian a week ago. 

For all of The Batavian's previous coverage on Ellicott Station, click here.

savarino ellicott station
Photo by Howard Owens

HCR's role for Ellicott Station: to 'deliver 55 affordable homes to Batavia'

By Joanne Beck
ellicott station savarino business closed
A photo of the apartments at Ellicott Station under construction from earlier this week.
Photo by Howard Owens.

The state Office of Homes and Community Renewal has and will be involved with the Batavia-based Ellicott Station project, which has been thrown into some doubt recently after developer Sam Savarino announced he was shutting down his development firm, Savarino Companies.

An agency spokesperson responded to The Batavian’s request for comment, given that HCR initially awarded Savarino $1.2 million per year of low-income housing tax credits for 10 years based on his ability to secure investors, and more recently awarded Savarino $5.7 million in low-income housing tax credits for the downtown apartment project.

"HCR has been actively monitoring the progress of the construction of Ellicott Station and will continue to do so as we work to ensure completion of this critical project and deliver 55 affordable homes to Batavia,” the spokesperson said Friday. 

The Batavian had asked HCR about its role in the Ellicott Station project, the requirements of receiving the tax credits and if they could be transferred to another developer if Savarino walked off the job. 

The agency further added that:

  • No tax credit funds are disbursed until a project is 100 percent completed.
  • As with any HCR-financed affordable housing development, a new sponsor will be required to implement the terms of affordability in the existing regulatory agreement. 

It is unclear as to whether the apartment complex will remain in the current very low to low-income level, as per application guidelines on the Ellicott Station website, as city officials have been discussing the possibility of getting those levels raised to include workforce income levels. 

City Manager Rachael Tabelski said Thursday that city officials will be meeting with HCR to further discuss the current situation of Savarino’s company closing and the apartment complex’s income levels and future at a meeting in September. 

Savarino has not responded to requests for further comment since issuing a statement regarding the closing on Tuesday. As is posted on the company website, Savarino Companies, LLC, a full-service construction firm located in Buffalo, New York, will be winding down and ceasing operations.

"The primary factors governing the firm’s decision are ongoing and increasing costs related to a project the company’s surety was forced to complete at Alfred State College, a recent termination of work and the company’s inability to obtain surety bonding or acceptance of alternative performance guarantees for $110 million of 2023 work which the company would otherwise have had underway at this time," the site states. "Without that work, it would not be possible for the company to operate profitably.

"Savarino Properties, LLC, which is an independent company and provides property management services throughout Western New York, will not be impacted."

As of late Thursday afternoon, no one from Savarino Companies had reached out to the city about the fate of Ellicott Station, though there has been some apparent work activity noted at the 50 Ellicott St. site.

Dealing with communication shutdown: 'a long process,' city manager says

By Joanne Beck
sam savarino
File photo of Sam Savarino, president/CEO of Savarino Companies, which he announced he was closing this week, during the groundbreaking of Ellicott Station.
Photo by Howard Owens

Suffice it to say that the name Savarino will be the word of the day for some time to come, as working through the recent company’s closure and what that means for Ellicott Station will be “a long process,” City Manager Rachael Tabelski said Thursday.

The Batavian had reached out to Tabelski late Tuesday about any updates on the closure of Savarino Companies and how that may impact the work-in-progress at the Southside apartment complex known as Ellicott Station. 

Tabelski responded on Thursday to say that company President Sam Savarino has not been in touch with the city since the publication of the news and that city officials are continuing to work on the situation. 

“There’s been no contact from the company,” Tabelski said. “We’re trying to gather as much information as we can. We don’t have answers yet, and we’ll be working on it. And looking to get those answers for everybody in the community, what next steps might be and what that might look like.”

She confirmed that prospective developers have contacted the city expressing interest in the project and that no vendors or subcontractors have called with concerns or complaints at this point.

City officials plan to meet with staff from the New York State Office of Homes and Community Renewal in September, which has been in the works since the city learned about lower-than-expected income requirements at Ellicott Station.

First promised as market rate, then workforce housing, the apartment complex's application surprised city officials earlier this year with low to very low-income levels, prompting them to reach out to HCR for assistance to see what could be done to raise those income levels to allow for workforce housing tenants. 

Apparently, in addition to the apartment complex, on-site work has also included preparation for a brewery, which had been discussed in original plans but had fallen through with the one company, Buffalo-based Resurgence Brewing. Savarino had later said that he still intended to follow through with the plan for a restaurant and/or brewery, whether it be another vendor or his own company. 

The developer owns the property at 30-50 Ellicott St. as part of a deal brokered by Batavia Development Corp. in an effort to throw a spark onto an underutilized piece of “brownfield” property that needed a remediation and economic boost.

New York State’s Office of Homes and Community Renewal promised $1.2 million per year for 10 years in low-income housing tax credits -- incentives that were tied to the developer securing an investor or investors to back the project.

He requested approximately $3.6 million in economic incentives, with a $2,105,792 property tax exemption, a $790,512 sales tax exemption, and a $180,792 mortgage tax exemption. The bulk of the incentives are only realized by the developer after the compilation of a project.

Genesee County Economic Development Center CEO Steve Hyde said Wednesday that the agency is working to determine the next steps to be taken and that the agency had already found the company to be in default of its financial agreement. 

Savarino was awarded $425,000 of the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant money and $5.7 million of HCR’s low-income housing tax credits.

In 2017 and 2018, the city also awarded his company two grants: one from Empire State Development called the Restore New York grant for $500,000 to rehab the old electric building that’s on the site and a $250,000 National Grid grant to enhance the Ellicott Trail on the property area right behind the Savarino campus. 

Savarino stated at the start of the project that the estimated construction costs at the time were more than $22.5 million.  The total of awarded grants, incentives, and tax credits is about $11.6 million. With the project incomplete, Savarino has not yet realized the full value of those incentives, grants, and tax credits.

The Batavian has reached out to Savarino for further details about the closure and future of Ellicott Station and its 55 previously confirmed tenants; and to HCR for comments about the agency's ongoing role and responsibility in this situation and will provide an update when/if a response is provided.

Previously:

Savarino explains reason for business closure

By Joanne Beck

Sam Savarino cited a loss of more than $3.3 million that stemmed from a construction job at SUNY Alfred State College as reason for closing his Savarino Companies, and therefore leaving Batavia's Ellicott Station apartment complex in the lurch this week. 

Savarino sent The Batavian a four-page outline detailing what had transpired during that job, and we wanted to publish that explanation, albeit lengthy over the course of three years, here.

It began with DASNY
Savarino had a contract with the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, known as DASNY, to perform the construction of a student housing project at Alfred. The project was called MacKenzie Hall Phase III renovation and associated asbestos abatement. It was broken down into three phases, and phase 3A was to be done before 3B and 3C were to begin, Savarino said, though there was some overlap between all three phases.

The pandemic plays a role
Soon after Savarino began the work in March 2020, it was suspended by DASNY due to COVID-19 and state executive orders. Savarino reserved its rights based on the project shutdown, and DASNY eventually determined that the work would resume on May 18, 2020, and the schedule would be reset. Phase 3A was then to be completed by July 23, 2021.

Phases 3B and 3C were to begin on May 17, 2021, and Savarino objected to the schedule that was being imposed and reserved all of its rights, he said. He moved toward completion of Phase 3A and also began certain work on the other two phases.

Alfred's change of plans
On April 30, 2021, more than two and a half months prior to the required substantial completion of Phase 3A work, DASNY informed Savarino that Phase 3B and 3C were being put on pause, Savarino said. Alfred College had determined that it needed to continue the use of dormitory rooms that would have been renovated as part of Phase 3B and 3C. No other reason was given at that time, Savarino said.

For a variety of reasons, including COVID-19, supply chain issues, shortage of labor issues, owner delay issues (e.g., late change order work and failure to require design professionals to timely respond to Savarino requests for information and assistance) and other issues that were not attributable to Savarino, the Phase 3A work was not substantially completed by DASNY’s imposed date of July 23, 2021, Savarino said. 

He was issued a temporary approval of occupancy by DASNY on or about Nov. 3, 2021, with respect to Phase 3A. Completion of “punch-list” items was still remaining.

Terminating services
Notwithstanding its approval of occupancy, DASNY provided notice to Savarino on Nov. 4, 2021, that it intended to terminate Savarino with respect to the Phase 3A work and the remainder of the project, being the Phase 3B and 3C work that DASNY had paused back on April 30, 2021. 

Savarino contested its termination in writing on Nov. 16, 2021, as well as during a conference call that was afforded to Savarino on that day, he said. By letter dated Nov. 19, 2021, DASNY terminated Savarino, purportedly for cause. Savarino has objected to its termination and has claimed that DASNY has breached the contract. Savarino has reserved all rights.

Good faith punch list
Notwithstanding the Nov. 19, 2021 termination, Savarino and its subcontractors continued to perform in good faith the “punch-list” items on the Project until DASNY terminated Savarino’s right to do that on or about Dec. 7, 2021. This punch-list work could have been completed within a short period of time, But DASNY required that it have in place a take-over agreement with Savarino’s surety, Endurance Assurance Corp., before any work could continue. This would prove to delay completion of the work, he said.

On DASNY’s demand, Endurance agreed to complete the work on the Project. Endurance requested that the surety be permitted to hire Savarino as its contractor to complete the work. This was a permitted alternative under the performance bond, but that alternative required the owner’s consent. DASNY flatly refused, Savarino said.

Completion/Takeover Agreement
Eventually, Endurance and DASNY entered into a Completion/Takeover Agreement that was executed on April 5, 2022. This allowed the completion of the Phase 3A “punch-list” work and set new dates for completion of the Phase 3B and 3C work. The surety hired Loewke–Brill Consulting Group as its representative and replacement contractor, all at great cost to Savarino, he said. 

While the agreement provided Savarino with the ability to assist Loewke–Brill, he was essentially barred from the site. Savarino assisted in scheduling, continuing subcontracts with subcontractors, payment applications and other matters to progress the work. DASNY’s own actions delayed the completion of the Project, he said. 

The “pause” on the Phase 3B and 3C work on April 30, 2021, for the convenience of Alfred State College, cannot be attributable to Savarino, he said, and its refusal to allow work on the Project to proceed until the Completion/Takeover Agreement was signed on April 5, 2022, further delayed the Project.

Building his case
Savarino denies that it was appropriate for DASNY to terminate his work on the Project. Savarino said he believes that the termination resulted from deteriorating relationship between Alfred State College and DASNY and DASNY’s attempt to “save face” by blaming Savarino for delays in the completion of the Project. 

Savarino further believes, according to his email, that, in any event, other causes contributed to the delay in completion of the Project. Savarino has engaged an expert to study the delays that he incurred that were outside of his control, and preliminary indications from that expert indicate that an extension of time in favor of Savarino for the Phase 3A work beyond DASNY’s imposed date of July 23, 2021, would be appropriate.

Moreover, the contract with DASNY provides for liquidated damages for a delay in project completion. If these are appropriate in amount and not unenforceable as a penalty, that would provide DASNY its remedy for delay in completion. 

Savarino believes that, in any event, Alfred State College was not materially impacted by the delay in completion of Phase 3A. The students that would have occupied Phase 3A were housed in other facilities on campus, he said.

Filing his lawsuit
On Nov. 15, 2022, Savarino filed a lawsuit against DASNY in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, with the venue in the County of Albany, to seek an adjudication of the respective claims of the parties. That lawsuit is now in the discovery stage.

It should be noted, he said, that Phase 3B of the Project achieved a temporary approval for occupancy as of Aug. 11, 2023, and is now being occupied. It is anticipated that Phase 3C will be completed by the anticipated date of Nov. 24, 2023, as set forth in the Completion/Takeover Agreement with Endurance.

Savarino claims that it has been severely impacted by DASNY’s actions on this Project. Savarino will be seeking damages from DASNY in the currently pending action, he said.

Savarino included an attachment that tallied estimated damages of $3,310,282.82 based on the increased costs and legal fees that Savarino incurred that were caused by DASNY’s actions.

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.

Previously:

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