A Cleveland developer planning to convert the L.L. Berger site on Main Street into a mixed-use apartment complex expressed confidence Thursday that the state will grant code waivers to accommodate the project.
During a visit to Buffalo, the president of Landmark Management Ltd. disclosed that he is also looking at a long-vacant Main Street restaurant as a possible site for another residential complex.
Bob Rains toured a six-story building at 487 Main St. that formerly housed the McDonald's Townhouse restaurant. The vacant structure is located less than a block away from the L.L. Berger site on the opposite side of the street.
If the building is added to Landmark's plan -- and if the company also acquires the vacant Gamler's building and a smaller structure adjacent to the L.L. Berger site, Rains said the total project could include up to 120 residential units and some renovated retail space.
The concept would be a major step forward in the city's quest to begin building a "neighborhood" along Main Street's business core.
"The thought of bringing 120 residential units into downtown Buffalo in one phase doesn't scare us," said Rains. "Based on our experiences with residential projects in Cleveland and looking at trends in other cities, we think a growing number of people are interested in living in downtown settings."
Landmark is in the final stages of building its fifth residential complex in Cleveland's warehouse district.
Rains said he is pleased with progress that was made during Thursday's visit. The developments included:
* A vote by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency to give Landmark a routine six-month extension to finalize plans. Community Development Commissioner Joseph Ryan later met with Rains to review the plans.
* A meeting with an official from the state Codes Division to discuss building code waivers that would be needed to renovate the project.
* A meeting with the owner of the Gamler building, a vacant structure at 520 Main St., next to the Berger's site.
* Meetings with three prospective lenders, including two local banks.
"We hope to identify the lender within a month and begin construction this summer. If things go as planned, people might be moving in by the summer of 2000," Rains said.
He described the proposed residential units as being "extremely high-end" with amenities that will include marble or granite floor tiles, top-of-the-line counters and other features. Monthly rents would range from the high $600s to the low $800s.
The complex would also feature on-site parking and a rooftop meeting place where residents could grill food or just enjoy the outdoors.
"We try to push the envelope when we build this kind of development," Rains said.
About 6,000 square feet of the Berger's site would be used for retail. Rains would like to see seven or eight smaller stores set up shop in the building.
Landmark officials hope to have a firm handle on prices within a month, but the Berger complex conversion is expected to cost about $6.5 million.
C. Stuart Hunt, the CEO of Hunt Commercial Real Estate and a member of Buffalo Place Inc., accompanied Rains on the Main Street tour. Hunt owns the Brisbane Building several blocks from the proposed residential project.
"I think this is one of the most exciting things to be happening downtown in a long time," Hunt said.
Buffalo Place Vice Chairman Anthony J. Colucci III accompanied Rains to the meeting that focused on the need for a state code waiver. Developers have long complained that existing building codes make it financially impractical to convert the upper floors of vacant buildings into apartments. Landmark is requesting a "massive variance" that would give it flexibility in utilizing alternative proven methods for ensuring safety.
They met with Kumar Vijayjumar, a regional engineer who serves as the state's local point man for code variances. Vijayjumar was not available to comment, but Colucci said he is optimistic.
"It was a very positive meeting. I left with a feeling that the state is genuinely interested in trying to bring an out-of-town developer into downtown," he said.