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Upscale development planned Would be on Amherst site of shooting club

Benderson Development Co. has purchased the Buffalo Shooting Club on Maple Road in Amherst and plans to build a $40 million-plus "town center," with upscale retail, housing, office space and hotel.

Benderson, which is best known for strip plazas and big box retail centers, acquired the 32-acre gun club property on Maple Road, between Millersport Highway and North Forest Road, for $3.1 million. The developer envisions a small village ambience, with attractive buildings and heavily landscaped streets.

"We want to create a one-of-a-kind development that will be as aesthetically pleasing for its tenants and visitors as it will be for the Maple Road community," said Benderson's Eric L. Recoon. "From the architecture, to the landscaping, to the tenant mix, we want to do something very special."

The developer is working on preliminary plans for an approximately 350,000-square-foot, campus-like development that it says would be a place to "live, work and enjoy leisure time."

"There will be some vertical elements," Recoon said. "But nothing too tall or overwhelming. We want it to be comfortable and walkable."

Key elements are expected to include:

* 100 residential units, possibly a mix of apartments and condominiums.

* A 100- to 150-room hotel.

* Class A office space.

* Upscale retail shops, with the focus on small "sophisticated" retailers not currently represented in the Buffalo market.

Amherst Supervisor Satish B. Mohan, who has received a briefing on the proposed project, said the plan piqued his interest.

"I'm interested in their general concept. That site is very close to UB, so this is something that students and faculty could utilize," he said.

"If done right, this could be something that would attract students to UB and could be a real asset for Amherst," Mohan said. "But right now, this is all very, very preliminary and we need to see much more detail."

For the past 64 years, the tract of mostly undeveloped land has been home to the Buffalo Shooting Club, whose "trap houses" dot the property's 2,000-foot frontage along Maple Road.

"Maple was a 1 1/2 -lane dirt road when we first came out here," said club president Pat McHugh. "Nobody could have guessed how much Amherst would grow."

The shooting club will continue to operate at the Maple Road site through the end of the 2006 season as it develops a new club in rural Genesee County.

"We're pretty sure where we're going to end up. It's on about 200 acres near the Pembroke exit of the Thruway and will give us a lot more room," McHugh said.

He said a number of the club's 250 members live outside of Rochester, which will make the new site more convenient. The larger tract of land also will allow the club to build a banquet facility.

Over the years, the once-desolate site has become surrounded by dense residential and commercial development, as well as the adjacent University at Buffalo's Amherst Campus, making it a prime development target.

"The site presents us with a rare and unusual opportunity," Recoon said. "It's a stone's throw away from a major university, walking distance from the Pepsi Center and it overlooks the Audubon Golf Course," Recoon said.

"The Amherst project will most certainly rival any of its type development throughout the country," said Benderson President Randy Benderson.

He also noted that the major private investment "demonstrates our continued commitment" to the Buffalo area and "belief in the future of the region."

The type of mixed-use project Benderson is contemplating is "on the cusp" of current retail trends, said Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

"It's kind of a throw-back to the old town square and it's a good fit with 'smart growth' initiatives to get a combination of density and multiple uses," she added.

Under the current timetable, Benderson hopes to complete the project approval process this year and begin construction next year. In addition to presenting its plans to the town for necessary permits and zoning changes, the developer also plans to hold informational sessions with community stakeholders and residents.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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