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PARK LANE OWNERS SHELVE PLANS FOR NANO EATERY ON ELMWOOD

Plans for a new-build, upscale restaurant on Buffalo's Elmwood Strip have been shelved by the owners of the Park Lane Restaurant.

The 2,500-square-foot restaurant, which was to be named Nano, was expected to be built this spring at 770 Elmwood Ave. by Benchmark Group, an Amherst-based retail developer.

The proposed site, located next to Wilson Farms, near the intersection of Elmwood and Auburn avenues, is currently fronted by a parking lot with a vacant two-story medical building, located at the rear.

A Benchmark representative confirmed Monday that "the Nano project appears to be dead," but declined to elaborate. The developer did say, however, the company remains committed to developing the Elmwood Avenue site.

Park Lane executives did not return reporter phone calls about the apparent change of heart.

Plans for the new eatery, which was to feature what Park Lane principal Jim Cohen described as "rustic wood-fired cuisine," were first aired in May 1999. Cohen and a Benchmark representative met with some 60 neighborhood residents and business owners to detail the project.

Initially, Benchmark and Park Lane proposed construction of a 3,300-square-foot, one-story restaurant abutting Elmwood Avenue, with parking at the rear. But in what one community leader termed "a wonderful example of a developer and residents working together," plans were reworked to come up with a two-story structure featuring the 60-seat restaurant on the first floor and two luxury apartments upstairs.

Community members and Benchmark then made an unprecedented joint presentation to the Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeal to request the new construction be allowed to proceed, despite the fact it exceeded the 2,500-square-foot size limitations that are in effect along certain sections of Elmwood. The board granted a variance to allow the plans to move ahead.

Michael Ferdman, president of the Forever Elmwood community group, said he's pleased to hear Nano's exit from the project won't affect Benchmark's plans to develop the site. "We were really pleased with Benchmark's attitude, flexibility and diligence in working with the community to come up with a project that's good from Benchmark and the neighborhood," Ferdman said. "We look forward to continuing that relationship to make this development a reality."

With the eatery out of the picture, the Forever Elmwood head said there is an opportunity to bring in a non-restaurant tenant for the site. "This could open the door to attracting a retail tenant who offers something not currently available on Elmwood," he said. "It would be really nice to bring in merchandise or services we currently have to drive to another part of the city or suburbs to get," he said.

Ferdman's wish list of potential tenants include such uses as a bookstore, sporting goods store or a national clothing chain, such as The Gap, which is currently found only at suburban malls. The 700 and 800-blocks of Elmwood Avenue have welcomed a number of new businesses in the past year, including the recently-opened New Word Record/Spot Coffee complex, Willis & Lowe home furnishings, Quill's Apothecary, and Das Boot. Watson's Candies is slated to make its debut today.

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