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A long-time surface parking lot in the heart of Buffalo's Theater District is getting attention as the next great place for new downtown construction.

M&T Bank is offering up a nearly one acre lot at 470 Pearl St., directly behind Shea's Buffalo Theater, as a shovel-ready building site.

"We look at the parcel and we see a higher use," said Keith Belanger, M&T's senior vice president for Corporate Services. "We want to sell it, but we don't want to just flip to someone who will run a parking lot."

To that end, M&T put out requests for proposals, offering the parcel for a minimum price of $1 million, with the stipulation that the future owner build something on it that will add value to downtown. Bidders are also required to include a parking component to their proposal to help make up for the loss of some 140 parking spaces at the site.

The unusual "strings attached" offering has attracted four "interesting multiple use" proposals, according to Belanger.

"What we put out there is a rare shovel-ready site, and the development community has responded with some very attractive proposals. It's going to be a difficult choice," he said.

Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said he's pleased with M&T's strategy to find an owner/developer for the prime site.

"They understand the value of that site to the neighborhood and are willing to take the time to find an owner who will make the most of the location. This is great for downtown," Masiello said.

While M&T declined to release the list of firms submitting proposals, two of the bidders confirmed their interest. Ellicott Development, led by businessman Carl Paladino, has put in a plan for an office/residential building, while Ciminelli Development Co. and LPCiminelli (formerly Louis P. Ciminelli Construction Co.) are teaming up on a blueprint for an office/retail building.

"It's a great site. I think we could do something really exciting in that location. And it has the added benefit of being shovel-ready," said Paladino.

James F. Dentinger, of Ciminelli Development, said the site, situated in the heart of the Theater District, is a real winner.

"It's a strong location that would let us borrow from the historic significance of Shea's and other buildings in the area to incorporate architectural elements," Dentinger said.

Other bidders are said to include entrepreneur Mark Croce, owner of Buffalo Chop House, D'Arcy McGee's and other downtown entertainment venues, and Uniland Development.

While none of bidders would provide specifics about the scope or design of their projects, the site is large enough to accommodate a structure as large as five stories tall, with 30,000-square-foot floor plates. M&T expects to select a winning bid later this summer.

The bank acknowledges that the parking lot, currently operated by Standard Parking, has been popular with theater-goers. However, the recent expansion of the Owen B. Augspurger Ramp, at the corner of Pearl and W. Huron streets, has more than enough capacity to handle any displaced parkers, especially during traditional theater hours.


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