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Difficulties in finding a new operator to take over the former Empire Brewing Co. in the Theater District are spurring the city to send out a revised request for proposals.

But new developments at another downtown eating establishment could have an impact on the future of the Empire site.

Some partners involved in Pearl Street Grill & Brewing Co. were recently bought out by business associates, an assistant manager at the popular restaurant confirmed Sunday.

Sources in local development circles said one former partner at Pearl Street Grill has shown interest in the Empire Brewing site. The 160-seat city-owned facility is located in the Market Arcade complex on Main Street, across from Shea's Performing Arts Center.

Earlier this summer, Pearl Street Grill co-owner Nick Wesley said he inspected the Empire Brewing site as a possible second location for the downtown establishment.

Wesley was among the partners who were bought out, a Pearl Street staffer said. Wesley could not be reached to comment Sunday.

The city has received only two proposals from entities interested in taking over the site. Peter Cammarata, of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., didn't disclose more details.

"But we weren't happy with the details that came from the only two serious responses," Cammarata said.

The city is soliciting a new round of proposals, this time from entities that might have other ideas for using the 8,600 square feet of space.

"We're entertaining possible conversion options," Cammarata said. "It's possible that some might see the space as conducive for a nightclub, office space or another use besides a bar and restaurant."

The city has also removed from the document any reference to specific lease rates and rental costs for equipment that remains in the shuttered restaurant.

Empire Brewing stunned city officials in February when it closed only 14 months after a splashy downtown debut.

It was the second operator in three years that faltered at the site. The first was Breckenridge Brew Pub, which closed in 1998, leaving the city with huge losses stemming from a $600,000 unsecured loan given to the Denver-based owner.

Officials took a more cautious approach with Empire Brewing, agreeing to provide a $100,000 loan secured by assets tied to the company.

The softening economy has hindered the city's efforts to find a new operator for one of the Theater District's most visible eating establishments, Cammarata said. In the weeks following Empire Brewing's departure, at least 10 restaurant operators showed an interest in the site.

"Some people who had been looking at opening second or third locations have been rethinking those plans," he said.


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