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Lofts at University Heights opens for tenants

The transformation of the former Buffalo School 63 and Campus North School into a new residential apartment complex is complete.

CB Emmanuel Realty LLC, a New York City-based low-income housing developer, formally opened the 44-unit Lofts at University Heights apartment building on Friday.

Located at 91 Lisbon Ave., the 72,435-square-foot brick building includes a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units, a small community room and tenant amenities, as well as 59 parking spaces on the 2.08-acre site.

Two units constructed in school's former auditorium are two-story apartments, while the former gymnasium now has two apartments in that space as well. The other units were carved out of former classrooms and offices by workers for contractor RP Oak Hill Building Co. All have new bathrooms and kitchens.

Currently, four apartments are already rented, and officials expect another 10 to 12 will be occupied by the end of March, said Benathan Upshaw, managing member of CB Emmanuel. "We've seen a lot of interest over the last few weeks," he said, citing neighborhood residents as well as people from the suburbs or out of town who have visited the project website.

The project is aimed at students and working-class employees at University at Buffalo, as well as those who work in downtown Buffalo or on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. All the units are considered "affordable," with rents ranging from $500 to $740 per month for the larger of the two-story units.

"This is affordable for the residents of our community," Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown noted in front of about two dozen people for Friday's ribbon-cutting. Citing over $45 million in investments in affordable housing in the city since he became mayor, he added, "Do not let anyone tell you that affordable housing is not getting built."

Dignitaries cut the ribbon at the Lofts at University Heights at 91 Lisbon Ave. in Buffalo.

Designed by Carmina Wood Morris PC with Watts Architecture & Engineering, the $16 million project was funded by a $2 million Better Buffalo Fund grant, $1.2 million in HOME funds, and both state and federal historic tax credits. As a result, the developer retained many historic features of the building, including its original maple wood floors, wide hallways, door columns and exposed concrete. The community space still includes the former auditorium stage, with its pale green curtains.

Additionally, New York State Homes and Community Renewal awarded $7.9 million in tax-exempt bonds, $430,000 in federal low-income housing tax credits, $200,000 in state low-income housing tax credits and nearly $1.6 million in Housing Trust Fund New Construction Capital Funds.

"What we're seeing is an across-the-board redevelopment of the city of Buffalo," said Richard Tobe, deputy director of state operations for special projects. "There's been a very significant change in our own psyche here in Buffalo. That shift from despair to confidence is one of the major building blocks of our success."

This is the second school conversion by CB Emmanuel, which opened its $24.4 million Niagara City Lofts last year in Niagara Falls' former South Junior High School at 561 Portage Road, with 61 units of mixed-income housing.

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