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Project boosts downtown Conversion of former AM&A's complex can add life, end a troubling vacancy

A building that became emblematic of Buffalo's inability to get anything done is on track to be gutted and resurrected. Instead of a department store, the old AM&A's building is scheduled to become nine floors of "reasonably priced" apartments atop a ground floor containing retail shops.

It's an entirely appropriate reuse, one that will help put more bodies downtown, elevating the liveliness factor of the city's core and attracting other development.

As much as anything, though, the two-year project could deliver a decisive blow to the do-nothing specter that haunts the city's psyche. To take a once bustling, now decrepit building and turn it into 180 residences in the heart of downtown is an achievement that is bound to send a message about the possibilities of rejuvenation.

The only problem with this development is that it, or something like it, should have occurred years ago. The building, at 377 Main St., is home to the former Adam, Meldrum & Anderson department store, and it has languished since 1999, all the while deteriorating to a point that it created a hazard.

But former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello dragged his feet, refusing even to enforce municipal code laws. It was only after the election of Mayor Byron W. Brown that things started to happen. Now, after prodding from city planning commissioner Richard Tobe's office, the building complex has been sold to New Horizons Acquisitions of Long Island, which has spent $500,000 on code violation corrections and will fix the rest during this conversion. Meanwhile, former owner Richard Taylor and his Carpe Diem Development Group, having in fact failed to seize the day, still face Housing Court charges. To meet the anticipated city fines, the court ordered $1 million of the building's $2.05 million sale price set aside.

For the building, though, a plan now is in place. Renovation of the 270,000-square-foot complex will begin in spring with the removal of hazardous materials, including asbestos. That is expected to take up to four months and account for $2 million of the project's total estimated cost of $60 million. Similar work is also planned for a Washington Street warehouse behind the building. The first tenants should be able to move in in 2009.

To call this a tremendous achievement is, in some ways, overstating the case, since all that is happening is what should have occurred long ago. But it didn't occur and, until last year, there seemed little reason to hope. Call it a solid step forward; the kind that can begin a long journey.

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