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Developer seeks to create incubator

Two vacant buildings in the downtown Buffalo business district would be turned into an incubator for small businesses and artisans under a proposal being reviewed by city planners.

Developer J. Roger Trettel hopes to transform a structure at 523 Main St. and a building behind it at 500 Washington St. into a complex that would house up to 14 small businesses. A future phase of the project would involve building loft apartments or office space on upper floors.

Trettel expects numerous enterprises to lease space in the Cornucopia Storefronts, including a coffee house, a confectionary shop and a hair-styling salon. He is also talking with several artisans.

"There has been a lot of interest from a whole variety of different businesses," he said.

The developer hopes to start work on the $500,000 project this spring and complete it by late summer.

The project has won backing from Buffalo Place, the entity that markets and manages the downtown business district. Debra L. Chernoff, Buffalo Place's planning manager, said the 500 block of Main Street has struggled over the years.

"This is such an interesting idea and probably a good fit for downtown," said Chernoff.

Buffalo Place officials said the project's proximity to the Belesario apartments in the former L.L. Berger Co. department store on Main Street and the Holling Place Lofts on Washington Street means that retailers in Cornucopia Storefronts could cater to a growing downtown residential base, in addition to business district employees and visitors.

Trettel said the project will be largely financed with private funds. But it will receive some assistance from the New York Main Street program, a state initiative
that aims to spur downtown revitalization by providing money for building renovations and enhancing streetscapes.

Buffalo's Preservation Board recently approved the projects after developers gave assurances that the historic character of the structures will be enhanced.

"Throughout the life of the buildings, there have been exterior storefront modifications that were not sensitive to the historic nature of the structures," project managers wrote in a document that was filed with city officials.

Buffalo's Planning Board will review the project's design and site plans at a Tuesday meeting.

Trettel has experience redeveloping downtown buildings. He rehabilitated Buffalo's Buehl Block Building at 39 Broadway, a structure that is the focal point of the Charles E. Burchfield painting "Rainy Night." Two years ago, his company purchased a circa-1900 building at 49 Illinois St., across from the HSBC Arena parking ramp.

The building at 523 Main St. has been vacant for about a year, Buffalo Place officials said. Over the years, it was home to a number of businesses. The vacant structure at 500 Washington St. was home to the Szechuan House restaurant.

In a letter of support for the project that was sent to the Planning Board, Buffalo Place Executive Director Michael T. Schmand said blueprints call for providing a mid-block connection through the center of the complex that will link Main and Washington streets.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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