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AM&A's Main Street site up for sale Investment group abandons plans for apartments, offices and retail

A Long Island development group has dropped plans for a $60 million overhaul of the long-idle AM&A's department store on Main Street in downtown Buffalo and has put the complex on the market.

New Horizons Acquisitions LLC purchased the former flagship department store at 377 Main St., along with a warehouse behind it on Washington Street, last September for $2.05 million. Now it is trying to sell both properties for $3.99 million. The investment group has listed the sites through Century 21 Best of Manhattan.

"We've been getting a pretty heavy response to the listing. We think it would make a very nice condo conversion," said Robert Rocheeld, the real estate agent handling the sale.

In an online ad for the properties Rocheeld placed on LoopNet.com, a national real estate listing service, he portrays the dormant 11-story retail structure as a relatively easy conversion.

"Potential for 400 condos in downtown Buffalo. Invest about $30 million and potentially collect $100 million soon," the ad reads.

Richard Libby, who has previously acted as spokesman for the New Horizons group, did not return phone calls to his Long Island office regarding the decision to scrap the ambitious plans to convert the landmark downtown building to apartments, with a mix of retail and offices on the lower floors.

Earlier this year, Libby expressed nothing but optimism about the high-profile project.

"We are really looking forward to getting it stripped down to the bones," Libby said in a January interview. "Next year at this time, we should be rebuilding and bringing it back to life."

Rocheeld said the former Adam, Meldrum & Anderson Co. store and warehouse are among several properties the development and investment group has decided to sell off.

He said the group also has put buildings in Florida on the market.

"They are based in New York, and it's a big hassle for them to be up there in Buffalo or wherever doing what they need to do. They are refocusing their investments in the New York area," the realty agent said.

Rocheeld said the nearly $4 million asking price, almost twice the amount New Horizons paid last September, gives the seller and potential buyers "room to negotiate."

"[New Horizons] isn't doing this for their health. They'd like to make some money," Rocheeld said. "This price gives them room to do that."

Word that New Horizons has killed plans for the major downtown project did not rattle City of Buffalo development chief Richard Tobe.

"This is a very important building to us, and we want to see good things happen to it, but ups and downs are a natural part of economic development," Tobe said. "Sometimes projects don't happen. It's not an indictment of the property or the community. You move on and look for the next possibility."

And that next possibility might not be too far off. Tobe confirmed he recently met with a local group that expressed interest in the AM&A's complex if it were available. The commissioner declined to provide details on the identity of the party or the nature of its interest.

"These are reputable people I hope to hear more from, but it's too early to speculate where this will go," Tobe said.

Whatever lies ahead for the well-known downtown site, it won't be easy to remedy nearly a decade of deterioration at the 277,000-square-foot department store and nearly 200,000-square-foot warehouse.

The fate of the site has been in doubt since the Bon-Ton Stores bought out the AM&A's chain in 1994 and shut the downtown flagship location a year later.

Businessman Richard Taylor acquired the complex in 1996 through a reverse auction where he received $425,000 to take ownership. In 1998, Taylor and his wife, Joyce, launched the innovative, but short-lived, upscale Taylor's department store, which closed in 1999, kicking off several years of dormancy and deterioration for the structures, portions of which date back to 1886.

Taylor entertained numerous offers over the years, led by a 2004 proposal from Amherst's Uniland Development to raze the buildings to make way for a $40 million office tower. That idea was sacked in 2005, when the developer failed to solidify a government aid package to defray demolition and site remediation costs.

Buffalo developer John Giardino of Centerstone Development later reached a "handshake" agreement to partner with Taylor on a $38 million transformation to a residential/office/retail complex, but that idea never led to a signed contract.

Meanwhile, City of Buffalo building inspectors drew a bead on the fading structures, leading to a laundry list of code violations. The building was described as a "death trap" by fire inspectors.

Because the city's case against Taylor was still open when he sold the buildings to New Horizons last fall, $1 million of the sales proceeds were ordered set aside to cover expected fines.

Since purchasing the properties, New Horizons has spent more than $500,000 to correct the most grievous code problems. But in late March, city inspectors hit the new owners with fresh citations.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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