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Restaurant operators did plenty of "tire kicking" this summer as they checked out an empty site in the heart of the Theater District, but only two have submitted proposals for taking over the old Empire Brewing Co.

Shortly after the 160-seat restaurant in the Market Arcade shut down in February, 10 local restaurants expressed varying degrees of interest in reopening the site. Mayor Anthony M. Masiello recently announced that the requests for proposals would be solicited for the city-owned facility.

But a development official who is overseeing the project disclosed that most of the prospective operators failed to submit proposals by the Sept. 10 filing deadline.

"It has been a slow response," said Peter Cammarata of Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. "We've only received two (proposals) so far, and we've extended the deadline for a third party until early next week."

All three entities are local businesses, but officials are declining to divulge their identities until the proposals can be evaluated. Sources also indicated that an out-of-state restaurant operator has been talking with a local real estate broker about the vacant space at 623 Main St.

It is fairly common to see a drop-off in interest once prospective operators are required to submit detailed plans.

"This is the phase where they have to put numbers down on paper and start showing their financial wherewithal," Cammarata said. "It's going to take us a couple weeks to check the proposals."

Empire Brewing's abrupt departure seven months ago left vacant one of the Theater District's most visible restaurants, across from Shea's Performing Arts Center.

After making a splashy downtown debut, the Syracuse-based operator closed the restaurant 14 months later, leaving city officials stunned and incensed.

Masiello said the shutdown has raised some sticky questions about "who owns what" in the facility. City officials hope to finalize negotiations with a Binghamton bank involving claims that the institution may have on equipment in the Buffalo restaurant.

Although hopes of finding a new operator by late summer did not materialize, officials said it is possible that a deal could be reached by the end of this year.

"The site is still very much a turnkey operation," Cammarata said, noting that the restaurant is virtually ready for someone to move in, as it remains fully furnished and has a newly renovated kitchen.

"If someone wanted to get in here and open fast," Cammarata said, "they could certainly do so."


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