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Lofts @ Elk aim for completion by May

A trailblazing residential development in Buffalo's Cobblestone District is moving into its third and final phase.

The Lofts @ Elk Terminal, which saw an abandoned food terminal reborn as upscale apartments in 2002, will see the addition of its last 18 units by May 1. Ben Obletz of First Amherst Development, project manager of the pioneering downtown housing development, said his company never doubted that it would be successful.

"We always believed in the Cobblestone District, and now there are a lot more believers," Obletz said. "I think we raised some eyebrows in the beginning, but the risk paid off, and we're thrilled."

Back in early 2000, when First Amherst founder Bernard Obletz and his grandson, Ben, began plans to convert the languishing food warehouse complex -- located at Scott and Elk streets, about three blocks from HSBC Arena -- to high-end apartments, they kicked off a loft boom downtown. About 500 residential units, most of them "loft-style" apartments in former commercial buildings, have hit the downtown market since Elk Terminal debuted with 30 apartments in 2002.

More than 500 additional apartments and condominiums are either under construction or in the planning stage as the downtown housing surge shows no signs of letting up.

"We thought the demand was there if the product was right, and the demand has proven to be even stronger than we imagined," Ben Obletz said.

Despite the project's early success, First Amherst has moved cautiously in expanding the $7 million project, adding 20 units in 2005 and then taking another pause before the final push. There currently are just two vacancies in the 50 existing apartments, and eight of the 18 new units have been preleased for May 1 occupancy.

A new common area with private gym also is part of the final expansion, along with newly developed green space.

Because of the layout of the original food terminal, each of the apartments is slightly different. In general, they range in size from 900 to 1,500 square feet, and are priced between $995 to $1,595 per month.

Since the Lofts @ Elk Terminal welcomed its first tenants five years ago, the Cobblestone District has been the focus of several significant developments. The housing complex is situated in the shadow of the planned $125 million Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino.

It also is located a few blocks east of the recently announced $275 million Canal Side mixed-use project that includes a Bass Pro Outdoor World store.

Also nearby, Savarino Cos. have converted two former warehouses on Mississippi Street, between Perry Street and South Park Avenue, into an office building and the just-opened W.J. Morrissey's Irish pub and restaurant. Savarino is teaming with Avalon Development to begin a condominium project at Mississippi and Perry later this year, bringing 36 new residences to the Cobblestone District.

"We're thrilled other people share our enthusiasm," Obletz said. "None of those things were contemplated when we started down here."

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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