Lightning strike foils renovation plans for building near Medical Campus - The Buffalo News

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Lightning strike foils renovation plans for building near Medical Campus

A building near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that had been designated for renovation into luxury apartments is instead being torn down by the Amherst developer that owns it, after a rare direct hit by lightning last week caused substantial structural damage.

First Amherst Development Group LLC said it is demolishing the long-vacant former mansion at 23 North St., between Main Street and Linwood Avenue, after the mothballed building’s west side was struck by lightning early on the morning of July 8.

The property, which the developer had purchased in 2006 with the intention of restoring as a residential complex, had been designated for a $6 million adaptive reuse project to create 25 apartments.

“We believed 23 North Street had a bright future because of its historic presence and proximity to the emerging Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus,” First Amherst President Benjamin N. Obletz said in an email. “Demolition is not the outcome we envisioned. First Amherst has a reputation of salvaging neglected downtown Buffalo structure and building on their history.”

Obletz said neighbors had informed the firm that “they heard a loud clap of thunder and saw a bright flash of lightning at around 3 a.m.”

The developer “immediately conducted an extensive interior and exterior inspection” with an engineer and started a “limited demolition” of the damaged walls Wednesday to be safe.

“After a full evaluation, we reached the unfortunate conclusion the building could not be saved,” Obletz wrote. “The strike did major structural damage, causing a large section of the roof and third floor to collapse to the ground floor. Despite the heavy rain, our inspection found charred wood from the strike and a gaping hole in that side of the structure.”

First Amherst had hoped to repeat its success with the nearby Granite Works project on Main Street but was waiting for the downtown housing market to reach the point of demand it now has, Obletz said.

That delay had frustrated some preservationists, but in the meantime, the firm invested about $200,000 to shore up the outside walls, maintain the “failing roof” and secure the building, he added.

The firm and its architect had just finalized concept drawings for the adaptive reuse project in late May.


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