By Jann Wiswall
The Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce (GOACC), Olean Enterprise Development and Cattaraugus Empire Zone, and a private developer have formed a partnership called OBI, LLC, and are working on a plan to create a business incubator in downtown Olean. The partnership asked the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency to support the plan by considering its application for tax abatements.
According to the National Business Incubator Association (NBIA), “business incubators nurture the development of entrepreneurial companies, helping them survive and grow during the start-up period, when they are most vulnerable.”
As Olean embarks on a multi-year, multi-faceted redevelopment effort to improve its downtown and create a vibrant urban community with a “walkable” city center, partners of the incubator effort see an opportunity to support those goals by breathing “new life and a timely purpose into an historic landmark,” and by repurposing the renovated space as “a catalyst from which new services, entrepreneurs and businesses emerge.”
According to the business plan provided for CCIDA board members at its Thursday, Feb. 5 meeting, the first step in the process will be to renovate the four-story building at 301 N. Union Street, site of the former Olean Business Institute.
The 20,000-square-foot building, which has been vacant since 2013, requires both interior and exterior improvements, including new windows, installation of an elevator, a new HVAC system, build-out of office spaces and significant technology upgrades.
Once the renovations are made, the partners expect to initially accommodate a few start-up companies, a cluster of Olean-based non-profits and anchor tenants from the private sector, along with the GOACC and the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation.
Larry Sorokes, GOACC president and spokesperson for the project, noted that the building’s proximity to Jamestown Community College’s new technology center and a Start-Up NY office is one key to the incubator’s success.
He said, “We’re trying to … build a more positive climate for startups and entrepreneurs to show that we’re really in the game here.”
Sorokes also hopes that the project will help to reverse another issue facing the community.
“One of our biggest problems is the outmigration of our younger people.… If we can engage students and get them involved in business development,” he said, “hopefully they can identify with this community as home.”
The project, which is estimated to cost up to $2 million, has already received a $400,000 grant through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council.
CCIDA Executive Director Corey Wiktor said that the project is consistent with CCIDA policy and IDA legislation and is also “an opportunity to address a criticism IDAs often face — that we don’t spend enough time on small businesses,” Wiktor said. “This project allows us to deliver adaptive reuse” of a vacant building that will immediately go back on the property tax rolls “while at the same time supports small businesses and gives them the opportunity to grow.”
The application to the IDA is for sales tax abatement, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) and, potentially mortgage recording tax abatement for the building’s adaptive reuse.
Sorokes and Wiktor both noted that this project is still in planning stages and that the CCIDA board was not being asked to make any decisions yet. However, the board did pass a resolution stating that it is considering the project and will request public input through a public hearing. It also agreed to begin the State Environmental Quality Review process for the IDA’s internal purposes.
In other business, the CCIDA board approved an application for sales tax abatement, PILOT and potential mortgage recording tax abatement for the purchase and renovation of a vacant warehouse by Premo Limousine Service of WNY, LLC. Premo is purchasing the warehouse at 117 S. Fourth St. in Olean to house its fleet of charter buses and other tour vehicles, purchase additional vehicles and hire more drivers. Premo’s business, with main offices at 301 S. Union St. in Olean, has been expanding over the past few years and is adding more tourism services. The estimated cost of the expansion is $500,000.
The next meeting of the CCIDA board will be held on Tuesday, March 17 at 11:15 a.m. in the IDA offices at 3 Washington St. in Ellicottville.