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Forty market-rate town house condominiums soon could serve as a modern gateway into downtown from the north and east, the Buffalo Place Inc. board of directors learned today.

A partnership which would include the City of Buffalo, Amherst-based developer Mort Wittlin and the non-profit housing-oriented organization Revival Downtown hope to move forward with the roughly $7 million project in Main Street's 700 block at the north end of the Theater District.

Negotiations are under way with the current owners -- the Schmidt family of Schmidt's Auto Body & Glass Inc. fame, and Shifrin Enterprises of Beachwood, Ohio, owner of the Vernor building -- to acquire their properties.

Revival Downtown's board was to vote on its participation this afternoon, according to its chairman, Cynthia Schwartz.

"The project would involve the demolition of the old Schmidt and Vernor buildings in the 700 block of Main, near the old Teck Theater site," Ms. Schwartz told Buffalo Place directors at their monthly meeting. "We see it as a gateway into downtown," according to Ms. Schwartz, for motorists coming off the Kensington Expressway down on Goodell Street, or headed south on Main Street.

Ms. Schwartz said the town house units would have a look and ambience associated with Boston's Back Bay area -- high quality units.

"We're hoping to offer units in the $110,000 to $120,000 price range, with the town houses to feature two bedrooms targeted at young professionals and empty nesters," Ms. Schwartz said. An interior courtyard also would be part of the project.

Buffalo Place Inc. Executive Director Michael T. Schmand said his organization is firmly behind the project, and housing in general downtown.

While very excited about the project's potential, Ms. Shwartz was cautious in her presentation, pointing out there remain a number of hurdles to be bridged, including her board's vote.

In addition, the two facilities to be razed lie in an historic district which means state approval for demolition is mandated.

The Buffalo Place board also was treated at its meeting to a preview of the first Buffalo Place Inc. television commercial in nearly a decade.

Produced by WGRZ-TV Channel 2 producer James Gribbins, the 30-second spot features more than 30 downtown images quickly flashed on the screen, backed by original upbeat music by local musician David Kane.

The only spoken words come at the very end: "We're Downtown, where are you?"

"We wanted to capture what truly exists downtown; none of the images used were staged," Gribbins told the board.

Total cost for the spot was $38,870, including production and one year of air time. The cost was split between Buffalo Place and the city, which contributed $25,000 in block grant money.

Buffalo's three network stations will feature the commercials for 17-week periods beginning with WGRZ in August.

Buffalo Place also has signed a four-year service contract with the city. "In the past, we always negotiated a year-to-year contract which, since 1989, has been set at $80,000, down from $145,000," Schmand said.

The new pact raises the city's contribution $10,000 per year.

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