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|January 30th, 2012
BUFFALO, NY - First Amherst Development took row of buildings at the corner of Main and Virginia Streets, vacant for more than two decades, and turned them into upscale apartments collectively known as The Granite Works, where units now fetch rents of between $1,000 and $2,000 a month.
"This is what people want," said First Amherst President Benjamin N. Obletz, while showing 2 On Your Side around a spacious, two bedroom apartment featuring granite countertops, hardwood floors, and a gas fireplace.
Obletz was part of a volunteer team of business leaders and economic development specialists working alongside the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BBRP), to conducted a yearlong study of the potential development and re-use of existing, vacant structures in a targeted area encompassing blocks on either side of Main Street from the waterfront to North Street. (VIEW THE STUDY HERE)
Within those boundaries, it found there is currently 2 million square feet of vacant space.
However, it also uncovered roadblocks in efforts to create future success stories like The Granite Works.
"The easier buildings for re-development have already been re-developed," said Buffalo Niagara Partnership President and CEO Andrew Rudnick.
"Each individual building offers its own unique set of challenges and...a lot of the low hanging fruit is gone," agreed Obletz.
Many vacant buildings, for reasons ranging from their state of disrepair to the presence of asbestos, are currently cost prohibitive for re-use.
"There is a gap between the cost of re-development of these more difficult buildings, and what market rates will generate (on rents to recover those costs)," said Rudnick. "We need to think of these older buildings as brown fields in a box. And the same kinds of incentives for remediating buildings, which we currently have for land, need to be developed."
Convinced of the potential that exists, Mayor Brown is committing $40 million in public funds, accessible by the city from a variety of state and federal programs, to meet that end.
It is hoped that by creating a critical mass of residents in the downtown areas, then stores and other businesses will follow to meet their needs.
Standing in the Granite Works, where all 29 units are rented, the Dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, Robert Shibley (who also assisted in the study) predicted a future increase in the number of those desiring to live downtown, especially near the burgeoning Buffalo Medical Corridor.
"You could live here and work here. That philosophy...establishes a foundation of a new neighborhood, many new neighborhoods, in downtown Buffalo," Shibley said
Click on the video player at the top of the page to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Andy DeSantis.
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Written by Dave McKinley