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Planning Board to consider new Larkin District project

The Buffalo Planning Board today will consider a Buffalo developer’s proposed $35 million historic renovation of the massive former F.N. Burt Co. headquarters building on Seneca Street into office, retail and community service space.

Savarino Companies is seeking approval of its mixed-use adaptive reuse of the six-story, 330,000-square-foot abandoned factory — most recently occupied by New Era Cap Co. eight years ago — into a multi-tenant building. The conversion at 500 Seneca St., at the corner of Myrtle and Seneca, would be the newest addition to the growing nearby Larkin District.

The project is designed to “bridge the established downtown core and the developing Larkin District and spur future development along this corridor,” according to a letter to the planning board from Savarino Director of Development Kevin P. Hays. And it will extend streetscape enhancements already taking place in the Larkin area toward downtown.

Plans call for 220,000 square feet of Class A office space on five floors, plus retail, museum, business incubator, and storage or flex space for tenants. The facility also will include rental space for cultural groups and community organizations. The office space will “feature loft-style finishes, large exterior windows and large floor plates,” Hays wrote.

There will also be a large three-story interior green atrium, an enclosed exterior courtyard, an on-site fitness center, a cafe and cafeteria, as well as 150 indoor parking spaces and other amenities, according to plans submitted to the city. Five parking lots adjacent or across the street from the building will also offer a total of 825 additional spaces, including on land where 550 Seneca stands and where Graphic Controls leases a lot from the city. About 9 percent of the 410,235 square feet of property will be landscaped.

The company has already started stabilization work on the most physically compromised parts of the building, which is 111 years old, and the developers must also clean up the property, removing asbestos and lead. Masonry will be restored and re-pointed, while concrete will be repaired and windows will be replaced with similar types.

Architectural firm Chaintreuil Jensen Stark is designing the project. Full construction is targeted to start in the spring, and will be financed, in part, by federal and state historic tax credits.

“The building has demonstrable historical, architectural and cultural significance for the region and the country,” Hays wrote. The first tenant might be able to move in shortly after work begins.

In a bid to seek community support, company president Samuel J. Savarino and Hays outlined the project recently at a forum in the Old First Ward Community Center on Republic Street.

Constructed as a series of buildings between 1901 and 1927, the red brick-and-concrete facility was originally used as the headquarters and factory of Burt, a paper box maker. It was later used by hat maker New Era Cap as its manufacturing facility from 1986 until 2004. It’s been vacant ever since, and Savarino, through 500 Seneca Street LLC, acquired it from New Era for $200,000 in March 2010. Its facade is pockmarked with broken and missing windows, and the words “Paper Box Specialists” can still be seen on one side.

Savarino is undertaking the enormous project in conjunction with FFZ Holdings, a consortium of Frontier Industrial Corp. executives David and Dennis Franjoine and Rob Zuchlewski. The Burt project is one of two big efforts by the combined development team, who are also working on a planned conversion of the dilapidated Erie Freight House building on Ohio Street into loft apartments.

The project has been endorsed in letters from state Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, Fillmore District Councilmember David A. Franczyk, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, Graphic Controls, the Old First Ward Community Center, and area businesses Mesmer Refrigeration and Buses Unlimited.

Additional details, including project renderings, proposed streetscape and landscape improvements, can be found at the project’s website,