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Out-of-town developer targets Pierce-Arrow building for apartments

Another out-of-town developer is making a bet on Buffalo, as a Brooklyn real estate firm plans to convert the historic Pierce-Arrow administration building in North Buffalo into more than 100 residential apartments, marking the latest transformation and reuse of an aging and underused complex.

Robert Wolf’s Read Property Group wants to renovate and restore the former manufacturing properties, turning the long and slender main building along Elmwood Avenue into 105 units, while redeveloping a pair of secondary buildings into a new indoor parking facility for 64 vehicles for the new tenants. There will also be additional parking around the exterior of the 2.9-acre property.

Plans by Flynn Battaglia Architects and Studio T3 Engineering Pllc call for a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments, as well as some two-bedroom loft units on the second floor, where the ceilings are 19 feet high. There will not be any retail or restaurant space, but tenant amenities will include a fitness center and small lounge areas with WiFi.

If approved by the Buffalo Planning Board and the State Historic Preservation Office, the $20 million project would begin in March 2017 and finish 12 months later. The project will be reviewed by the Planning Board on Sept. 12.

“This project will convert a once-vacant former industrial property into loft-style rental apartments and will meet a growing need for housing in the city of Buffalo, created by a growing employment base,” Studio T3 Managing Member Andrew Terragnoli wrote in a letter to the Planning Board. “The Pierce Arrow’s unique architecture and adaptive reuse residential loft-style design will afford a unique urban lifestyle and serve as another important piece to Buffalo’s urban renaissance.”

Read acquired the century-old former luxury automaker’s properties in May from Joseph Hecht, paying $3 million for the main building at 1695 Elmwood and another $828,601 for the adjacent garage and storage building at 1721 Elmwood and the original “north” building at 1723 Elmwood. Hecht had owned the buildings since 2005, when he purchased them for more than $1 million. He remains part of the team as the local “owner’s representative” for the project.

The once-vacant former industrial complex was designed by architects Albert Kahn and George Cary, and was originally constructed between 1905 and 1911. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, which would also make the renovation eligible for state and federal historic tax credits. Read is also applying for state Brownfield Cleanup Program tax credits, and is exploring the use of solar panels and geothermal heating.

The buildings are located on the eastern side of Elmwood, between Great Arrow Avenue and Hertel Avenue, north of SUNY Buffalo State, Delaware Park and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Adding to the appeal, officials say, there’s a Wegmans around the corner, along with new restaurants, and a bus line along Elmwood. “We’re trying to make the building attractive to professionals and people like that,” said Christopher Less, design leader at Flynn Battaglia Architects. “it’s great proximity to a lot of stuff.”

The existing three-story structure is made of brick and stone, with a couple of one-story portions and one two-story section in the rear. The other two buildings are concrete block and brick. An small unrelated property owned by another party sits between them. The project does not include the much-larger manufacturing building, located behind the administration building along Great Arrow.

The 123,099-square-foot main building has long been used as rental office space for small firms, artists and similar tenants, but Hecht and the new owners are trying to relocate them in preparation for the project.

“The Pierce Arrow will join a growing list of historic preservation projects in the city of Buffalo involving the adaptive reuse of previously neglected and under-utilized structures,” Terragnoli wrote. “By repurposing and bringing back to life an otherwise underutilized asset, historic preservation enhances property values, stimulates additional reinvestment, creates jobs, generates increased tax revenues, conserves resources, preserves neighborhoods and enhances a community’s urban fabric and quality of life.”

Based in Brooklyn, Read Property Group is a 23-year-old development firm that has been particularly active in Brooklyn and other parts of New York City, largely with apartment and reuse projects. It also purchased a 120-unit complex in Naples, Fla., for $8.4 million in 2014, pushing outside the Big Apple. But this appears to be its first venture in upstate or Western New York, making it the most recent non-local developer to make a play in Buffalo’s revival. Wolf could not be reached for comment.

The new project also builds on a wave of redevelopment in that part of Buffalo, prompted by prominent local developer Rocco Termini’s efforts to bring back life to what he dubbed the “Pierce Arrow Neighborhood” by reusing three old buildings just steps from the automaker complex. Termini bought the old FWS Furniture Warehouse at 1738 Elmwood, the American Radiator Company building at 1807 Elmwood and the Houk Wire Wheel Company building at 316 Grote St., and converted them successfully into the Foundry Suites and Lofts, the Arco Lofts and the Houk Lofts, respectively.

And further down the street, the Voelker family is seeking tenants for a redevelopment of much of their four-acre property along Elmwood, potentially including the legendary Voelker’s Lanes.

Read’s initiative with the Pierce Arrow is also part of a larger surge in apartment conversions in old buildings throughout the city, as developers seek to address increased demand for rental housing and meet Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown’s goal of 2,000 new housing units by 2018.

“Much of Buffalo’s current housing renaissance centers around job creation downtown and within the surrounding Elmwood Village. The potential creation of thousands of new jobs over the next couple of years will generate increased demand for housing in the city of Buffalo,” Terragnoli wrote. “The goal of this project is to continue the creation of a new residential corridor along Elmwood Avenue while paying tribute to the historic Pierce Arrow architecture, repurposing this magnificent building into rental loft-style apartments.”


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