The long-awaited cleanup is now underway at the former AM&A’s department store building in downtown Buffalo, as crews work to remove asbestos from the complex that is designated to become a 340-room Wyndham hotel.
About 15 licensed workers from Tristate Cleaning Solutions of Long Island began remediation efforts three weeks ago inside the 10-story facility that once sold men’s and women’s clothing.
The staff will ramp up to 75 to 100 workers over the coming weeks, as the company aims to complete the work within three months, said John Schenne, the Buffalo-based project engineer who acts as the informal spokesman for the New York City-based ownership group, Landco H&L.
The $60 million redevelopment of the prominent building at 377 Main St., adjacent to M&T Bank Corp.’s white headquarters tower, is one of the largest and most closely watched projects in the city because it wasn’t clear that the building could or would be reused. The sprawling complex has languished and deteriorated for over 15 years since the last tenant left, and more than one attempt to sell or convert it fell through for various reasons.
Schenne said there’s asbestos throughout the 375,000-square-foot complex – actually multiple buildings added over time – including insulation on plumbing, steam pipes, and boilers, as well as in some floor tiles and drywall.
Once the cleanup is done, he said, work will shift immediately to the renovation and redevelopment of the building, without worrying about colder weather. “We’ll put temporary heat in the building. We’ll work all winter,” Schenne said.
The goal is to finish the project by December 2017 – an admittedly tight time frame. “We’ve got 18 months to spend $60 million, and that’s a challenge,” he added.
Schenne and the investor group have met more than once with city officials and representatives of nearby businesses, including M&T, Buffalo Place and the owner of Main Place Mall and Main Place Tower, to update them on the progress and discuss any concerns.
Landco, an unknown group of Chinese investors led by Lily Li, acquired the building in 2014 for $2.775 million, and unveiled an ambitious proposal to transform it into a large hotel for Asian tour groups visiting Niagara Falls. That concept has changed only slightly over time, along with the leadership of the group, which is now managed by Billy Bao of Flushing, N.Y. Bao’s Loung Construction Inc. will be doing the job, with as many as 200 workers at the peak. Bao, an immigrant who is now a U.S. permanent resident, comes to Buffalo at least once a week, Schenne said.
Plans call for the full-service Wyndham Buffalo hotel, with two restaurants on the first floor – one American, one Chinese – and 40,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space on the second floor. There will also be a pool and fitness center on the lower level, and six apartments on top for hotel management.
Most of the work will be on the interior, but Schenne said crews will also have to restore the masonry facade according to historic standards, especially along the first-floor level on the Washington Street side. The hotel’s main entrance will be on Washington Street for now, but Schenne said it can be switched over to Main once car traffic returns to that part of the street.
The project is mostly financed privately by the investors, but will also include state and federal historic tax credits, and possibly brownfield or other credits, Schenne said. No other government incentives are expected, he added.