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Termini gets go-ahead for lofts project

Developer Rocco R. Termini's plan to return a highly visible North Buffalo building to its former glory won approval Tuesday from the Planning Board.

The former home of General Railway Signal Co. on Elmwood Avenue is known to many in Buffalo as the now-closed FWS furniture store. Termini has seen past the light gray paint and the windows that have been filled in with concrete and glass block and will remake the 1916 landmark into about 35 apartments, a distillery, restaurant, retail and office space.

The windows will be restored to look as they did nearly a century ago, and the paint will be stripped from the bricks, Termini said.

The “Distillery Lofts,” at 1738 Elmwood, just south of Hertel Avenue, will be listed on the National Historic Register, and the state Office of Historic Preservation is in the process of approving plans for the building, Termini said.

The building originally was designed by architects Esenwein and Johnson, as were additions to the Hotel @ the Lafayette, another of Termini's redevelopments.

The project is part of a $30 million investment Termini's Signature Development is making in the area. Plans for Houk Lofts, at 316 Grote St., were already approved by the board. The project is named in honor of Houk Wire Wheel Co., which made wheels for Pierce-Arrow automobiles at that location.

Regarding the FWS site, two nearby businessmen told the board they were concerned that their industrial activities, with associated noise and truck traffic, might not be appreciated by the building's new tenants.

“It's a commercial area,” said Lee Singer of Niagara Metals. “It's an industrial area. It is not a residential area at all.”

Termini did not appear concerned. “These developments go on in every city; they're in industrial areas because that's where warehouses are,” he said after the meeting.

Environmental reviews are under way and could last three or four months. A yearlong construction period then would start, Termini said.

The board Tuesday also issued a key approval to Mighty Taco after its site plan for a new restaurant was amended slightly in response to neighborhood concerns.

The restaurant chain is preparing to open in a former bank building at 396 Kenmore Ave., just west of Englewood Avenue in the University District, later this year.

Also Tuesday:

• Pearl Street Grill and Brewery won approval to expand its second-floor patio by 1,100 square feet and add copper canopies to the third-floor deck to protect patrons from direct sunlight in the late afternoon.

• Representatives from scrap metal recycler Ben Weitsman and Son of Buffalo gave a lengthy presentation to the board about traffic and noise concerns raised in an earlier meeting, but the board ultimately held off on approving the project for two more weeks and told the company to investigate noise concerns. Later in the day, the Common Council's Legislation Committee also delayed action on the proposal.

• Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. presented to the board its plans for “Conventus,” a $98 million medical office building at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where Kaleida Health and UBMD, a medical group associated with the University at Buffalo, will have offices.

A public hearing on the project was scheduled for 8:15 a.m. on Jan. 29.

The new 350,000-square-foot building – at 1001 Main St., between High and Goodrich streets – will house offices, research space, a pharmacy and blood-draw clinic, banking and dining amenities.

Ciminelli plans to open the building in spring 2015.