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The Cloister changes hands Owner to redevelop historic landmark

The former Cloister Restaurant and site of the former home of Mark Twain in Buffalo has been acquired by the younger brother of downtown developer and restaurateur Mark Croce.

Scott Croce paid $460,000 through his Delvir LLC entity to buy the historic landmark property at 468 Delaware Ave. from 468 Delaware LLC, an entity controlled by developer Anthony Trusso.

Croce now wants to develop the parcel into a mixed-use property, expanding the current structure significantly into an office or medical building, while adding some higher-end residential townhouses in addition to the carriage house.

The 38-year-old chiropractor plans to move his own 13-year-old business, Erie County Chiropracting, from its current home at 369 Delaware Ave., home of the former Pappagallo's high-end fashion store in the 1960s and 1970s, next to Trinity Church.

He added on to the back of his existing building more than seven years ago, but is already outgrowing that 3,500 square-foot space. By moving, he expects to gain about 1,000 square feet, plus off-street parking.

And the opportunity for the site was irresistible. "I always loved the corner of Virginia and Delaware," he said. "It's an important corner. It's in the epicenter of our district."

Twain lived on the site while he was in Buffalo from 1870 to 1871, but his original home was destroyed by fire in 1963, with the current single-story structure built on its foundations. The back quarter of the property includes a historic carriage house from Twain's time that is now part of the larger 9,497-square-foot building.

Trusso bought the property in 2006 but decided earlier this year to unload it. Besides the Cloister, known for its atmosphere and cuisine, the building was also home at one time to the Business First weekly publication.

Located in an Empire Zone, the building includes stained-glass windows, greenhouse windows, a fireplace and a courtyard, and there's parking for about 20 cars.

Citing the proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus just a few blocks away, Croce said he sees a natural "synergy" with a medical office or research building on his property. That would also fit with his own business. "It sort of complements one another," he said.

He's planning a 12,000-square-foot, three-story office building on the Delaware Avenue side, plus three townhouses on the Virginia Street side and the 2,000 square-foot carriage house in back, extending more toward the property line than currently.

Depending on the need for parking, Croce said, the main building might be scaled back by one floor to 8,000 square feet, but there "will probably" be underground parking as well.

Croce is co-owner, with his older brother, Mark, of Laughlin's restaurant on Franklin Street.

"I love the city of Buffalo," Croce said. "I come from the same mind-set [as Mark]. Everything we do, we do for the love of the city."

He has hired Matt Moscati of TRM Architects for the project's concept design and envisions an avant-garde design for the new building, in a way that "complements" the carriage house. The nonhistoric portions of the existing structure will be demolished, but Croce also wants to peel off the remnants of the Cloister's exterior from the carriage house, exposing its historic appearance again. He said he doesn't yet have a full cost estimate.

"Matt's aware of the historic importance of the site, as I am," Croce said. "It's going to be an incredible corner. We're going to do some incredible things there."

Once the plans are complete, Croce will go to the Historic Preservation Board and "do what we have to do to get all the permits." He's hoping that "we'll have everything in place to start putting shovels in the ground" by spring 2010.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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