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PARTNERSHIP GROUP WITH JAMES PITTS PLANS TO BUY SHORELINE APARTMENTS

A development partnership that includes former Common Council President James W. Pitts plans to acquire and make improvements to the Shoreline Apartments on Niagara Street.

The deal is expected to close this fall, said Pitts, executive director of Norstar Development USA in Buffalo.

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency will hold a public hearing April 27 on a $13.3 million bond package connected to the deal.

Norstar plans to acquire MB Management Co.'s general partnership interest in the Shoreline Apartments, said Stephen Roberts, chief executive officer of MB Management, based in Braintree, Mass.

Roberts said MB Management decided the Shoreline complex needed a recapitalization project that was beyond its own capabilities, and considered Norstar well suited to carry it out.

"It would be a project that would require a level of human resources that we really don't have at our company," Roberts said.

Pitts said the development group plans to modernize elements of the complex, which opened more than 30 years ago, to make it more attractive to renters.

"We think Shoreline is a prime piece of downtown real estate," he said.

Some of the smaller units will be combined to create larger units that are expected to be more marketable, he said. The total number of units will drop to 87 from the current 142. The vacancy rate at the complex has ranged from 30 to 40 percent, Pitts said.

No tenants will be displaced by the changes, Pitts said, and the complex will continue to offer a mix of affordable and market-rate housing.

The new owner also plans to make improvements that will update the appearance of the complex, including work on the apartments' balconies.

"We want to make the project much more appealing from the outside," said Pitts, who lived in the complex in the early 1970s.

Meetings will be scheduled with tenants to discuss the ownership change and improvements, Pitts said.

The state Urban Development Corp. was the driving force behind the creation of the complex, which is near City Hall. Construction began in 1970, and the first tenants moved in two years later.

The complex faced financial struggles in the 1970s. A Williamsville-based company lost the management of it after the UDC foreclosed on the mortgage for the property. The foreclosure action was ended in 1980 when new management was brought in.

Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, when told of the planned acquisition by Norstar, said he was pleased to hear the property would shift to local ownership. The apartment complex is in his district.

Davis said he has been frustrated with how the property has been run under MB Management. He said he has received complaints from tenants about issues such as security, lighting and abandoned vehicles. "I've had nothing but problems dealing with the current owners," he said.

Davis said he was looking forward to working with Norstar Development on "improving the current conditions."

Roberts disagreed with Davis's assessment of how the property has been run, but said he couldn't respond without more specific complaints. "There are always going to be people upset with this or that," he said.

While MB Management is selling its general partnership interest, its staff will continue to manage the property.

Pitts acknowledged there have been complaints about the complex, but he said he did not blame the management for those problems.

"I think you've got to try to deal with the security and the redesign" of the property, he said.

Pitts said the new investment and redesign of some units should lead to notable changes. "We think it's going to be decidedly better than what it is today," he said.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com