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Serving Up NEw oportunities For Restaurants

In recent weeks, many have been wondering why, after years of failed courtships, popular restaurants such as Dinosaur Barbecue and Mighty Taco have decided to open in downtown Buffalo.

The question surfaced again when restaurateur Jay Haynes announced plans to open Perfetto this fall in the Market Arcade complex, where three previous brew pubs failed.

The short answer is the downtown of today is far different than even five or six years ago.

"The difference is we have people living in downtown, which we didn't when the last place closed," said Dennis Penman, Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. chairman.

He was referring to Ya-Ya Brewhouse, which closed in 2005 after a three-year run.

As Mayor Byron Brown has pointed out since 2006, more than 1,000 residential units have come online in downtown Buffalo - and most are filled. Several hundred more remain in the economic development pipeline.

Perfetto's arrival comes at a time when the central business district is welcoming several new eateries including Dinosaur Barbecue, which will open next summer on Franklin Street, and Mighty Taco, which opened earlier this month on Chippewa Street.

The Liberty Hound, which opened in May in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Servicemen's Park, is serving more than 300 meals a day, said co-owner Jay Davidson.

"Not a week goes by when I'm not hearing or meeting with a businessman who wants to invest in downtown Buffalo," Brown said. "(Haynes') timing could not be better."

Perfetto is the fourth restaurant to make a go of the site. Breckenridge Brew Pub ran its brewery and restaurant in the building from 1995 to 1998 before Syracuse-based Empire Brewing Co. ran a local operation there from 1999 to 2001. Then Ya-Ya took over the space.

Downtown Buffalo is many things. And it is improving, to be sure.

What it isn't is a "build-it-and-they-will-come" destination. A skeptical public has to be won over. Canalside is helping.

A deep pool of issues still must be addressed. Downtown has been criticized by everyone from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to folks who live in such suburbs as Cheektowaga, West Seneca and Clarence.

Too many see empty storefronts. What they don't see are thousands of new downtown residents. Slowly, the necessary critical mass is growing.

The Theatre District, where Perfetto sits, is about to welcome the "Cars Sharing Main Street" initiative. One lane of north and south vehicular traffic will return by fall 2013. Pearl Street is switching to two-way traffic in the next 12 months.

"I've watched what happened before," Haynes said. "But I think this is the right restaurant, the right concept and something that will turn a lot of heads. I think once cars return to this block of Main Street, real estate around here is going to be a very hot commodity."

He's no restaurant rookie. He worked with Russell Salvatore and at McMahon's Steak House in Snyder. More recently, he has been running Jay's Hilltop Bistro in Derby.

Haynes will probably close Jay's after Perfetto's opens, to focus on the downtown restaurant.

The 8,300-square-foot Main Street site - situated across from Shea's Performing Arts Center - will feature general seating, two banquet rooms, a top-shelf bar and a wine cellar with more than 1,000 bottles.

Haynes said Perfetto will have an on-site meat drying and aging facility. The menu will feature steaks, seafood and pasta offerings and will be open for lunches and dinners. He expects to employ 40 to 50 full- and part-timers.

The sleek interior, designed by Carmina Wood & Morris, will give Perfetto an upscale feel.

The deal was jointly brokered by Paula Blanchard of Realty USA's commercial division and Chris Malachowski of Hunt Commercial Real Estate.

Buffalo Urban Development Corp. President Peter Cammaratta and Wayne Kwiatowski of Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. represented the City of Buffalo.

Penman, a top-level Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. executive and longtime commercial real estate insider, echoed something he said earlier: The growing number of people living downtown is catching the attention of the development community, and in a good way.

"Were seeing a new dawn in downtown Buffalo," Penman said.