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North Park theater building acquired by Buffalo attorney

An investor and architecture fan with renovation plans has purchased a block-long building on Hertel Avenue that includes the ornate North Park theater.

The new owner, Thomas Eoannu, said he closed the sale last week, declining to reveal the price of the unusual building with 15 storefronts and 1920s-era architectural details.

"I've always looked at the building and thought it should be the jewel of Hertel," said Eoannu, who lives on nearby Tillinghast Place and walks regularly down Hertel.

The criminal defense lawyer and real estate investor said he had often asked the previous owner, Lydia Molle, if she would sell the 53,000 square feet of real estate, appraised by the city at $580,500.

Negotiations between them began in the spring, he said. To help pay for the purchase, Eoannu said he has been selling off some of his other properties.

He wants to refurbish the theater's red roof tiles and reveal its stained glass windows, now obscured by a cement facade. The prospect of such improvements and investments pleased others in the business district who think the North Buffalo street is in the midst of a renaissance.

"This makes all the neighborhood that much stronger," said Nick Kotrides, the owner of the Toro tapas restaurant on Elmwood Avenue. He is in the midst of building a $1.2 million Empire Grill restaurant with conference rooms across the street at the corner of Norwalk and Hertel avenues.

Kotrides expects to open this spring, the same time Eoannu plans to start refurbishing his new purchase.

People with businesses nearby said change seemed like a good thing for the storefronts, which are on the north side of the block from North Park to Norwalk avenues.

"I'm very happy for the sale of it," said David Whelan, owner of Floral Explorations florist who has been open on the block for 14 years.

"The building," he said, "it needs a complete overhaul."

Whelan said he hoped more retail shops will be attracted to open on the block after the refurbishing Eoannu plans, such as making window sizes uniform and painting the shops on the block with a single unifying color.

To help get the money he needs,
Eoannu is trying to sell a building he owns further down the street that houses the Taste of Thai restaurant. A couple of years ago he sold the building that holds Sidebar, also on Hertel.

Eoannu's law clients have included Tim McGraw, the country singer who was acquitted a few years ago in a case involving a dispute and scuffle with sheriff's deputies.

Eoannu said he likes the block's tenants and the existing old theater leased by Dipson movie theater company. Dipson Vice President Brian Spokane said he has yet to talk with Eoannu, but he has no plans to leave. "We love the theater," he said. "We want to stay there for a really long time."

Eoannu, who also owns a 30-acre recreational vehicle park in Angola, said the Hertel building is daunting because of its size. Bills for tax and heat may be high. But he said he will have some help from his family, including his wife, who will choose facade color.

"All of my in-laws are contractors," he said. "I know that building. I think I know what it needs to bring it back."

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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