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Plans to Convert AM&A's Warehouse Moves Forward

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BUDC to provide $400,000 in financial aid

Fri, Nov 14th 2008 09:00 am
Buffalo News

Veteran Buffalo developer Rocco Termini's plan to convert the dormant AM&A's retail warehouse to housing forward on two fronts Tuesday.

In separate votes, the Buffalo Planning Board agreed to act as the lead agency in an environmental review of the site at 369 Washington St. that will lay the groundwork for the $11 million project.

And the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. (BUDC) voted to channel $400,000 to the project to help Termini bridge a mix of traditional construction loans and alternative financing, such as historic and new markets tax credits.

"Like most of the building conversions I've done, this is a non-standard project that can't be financed using just conventional sources. And this might be the trickiest project I've done so far," he said.

Termini's Signature Development proposes to convert a cluster of warehouse buildings along Washington Street, totaling 90,000-square-feet, to a mix of 48 apartments and 15,000- square-feet of office space.

BUDC will aid the project by acquiring a rear section of the warehouse Termini plans to demolish to create tenant parking. David Stebbins, BUDC president, said the purchase/lease back is a creative way to assist the adaptive reuse.

"We're to the point where the easier reuse projects have been done, so if we want to continue bringing existing downtown buildings back to life, we need to be as financially creative as possible," Stebbins said.

Termini, who has successfully converted several other older and historic buildings to residential, office and retail space, has been eyeing the languishing AM&A's warehouses for several months.

The warehouse complex located at the corner of Washington and Eagle streets, is actually a group of four buildings, the oldest dating back to 1886.

Two of the other buildings, designed by Esenwein & Johnson Architects, were erected between 1906 and 1912. The rear structure, which is slated for demolition, was added in 1935.

Termini's preliminary blueprints include 36 one-bedroom units and 12 two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartments, ranging in size from 750-to 1,200- square-feet.

"There's unmet demand for lower-priced, one-bedroom apartments, so that's going to be a big focus of this project," he said.

The Washington Street building will also house the offices of P & B Capital Group, a debt collection agency that current leases space from Termini on Ellicott Street. P&B last year announced plans to build a $4 million office at Lakeside Commerce Park, but scrapped that idea in August due to delays in its state brownfields incentive applications.

Termini, who has a purchase contract with warehouse owner New Horizons Acquisitions LLC, hopes to make a final decision on the financial feasibility of the project in the next several weeks, and begin work early next year.

In addition to a loan from KeyBank, various tax credits and assistance from BUDC, Termini will also seek incentives from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and the Empire State Development Corp.

As part of his restoration efforts, he's also seeking to establish state and federal historic district status for a two-block area where the AM&A's warehouse and former flagship department store are located.

As Termini plots an overhaul of the AM&A's warehouse, the fate of the much larger department store building at 377 Main St. is unclear.

Horizons, the Brooklyn based developer that purchased the site in 2006, has yet to file plans and continues to face city building code violations.

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