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AM&A’s building sold to N.Y. City entity

After 15 years of vacancy, the former AM&A’s flagship department store building in downtown Buffalo has a new owner.

A New York City-based investor bought the 12-story, 310,000-square-foot building at 377 Main St. on Tuesday, spending $2.775 million to take control of the site.

The buyer, Landco H&L Inc., is registered to an address in Flushing, Queens, but could not be further identified beyond the corporate name. Its plans for the building could not be determined, although speculation centers on apartments or a hotel as likely options.

No one has approached the Erie County Industrial Development Agency about any tax incentives or other assistance, spokeswoman Robbie Ann McPherson said, nor was the agency even aware of the transaction.

But any reuse of the hulking yellow brick building located next to M&T Bank Corp.’s headquarters tower, will come as a relief not only to neighboring landlords and businesses – who have stared at the derelict building for over a decade – but also to city officials, who were pressing the current owner to do something with it or sell it.

“The city and the state attorney general have been pressuring the most recent owner to be a more responsible property owner. Perhaps that got us the sale,” said Keith M. Belanger, chairman of the nonprofit Buffalo Place board and senior vice president for corporate services at M&T.

“Hopefully, it also got us a party that will put the building to work for the community. Today it is just this big negative in the heart of our downtown.”

The surprise deal, completed quickly and quietly, comes amid renewed local interest in adaptive reuse of the building, real estate sources say.

Specifically, hospitality developer Hamister Group was negotiating an agreement to buy the former department store to proceed with its own redevelopment plans, when the Buffalo-based firm was notified two weeks ago that the seller was withdrawing from talks with Hamister and another buyer. CEO Mark E. Hamister would not comment further on the discussions, citing confidentiality agreements he signed during the negotiations.

“We had heard from a few sources that multiple parties were looking at the building,” Belanger said. “Supposedly each was recently left at the altar with a deal having been consummated with an unknown party.”

The property, empty since 1999, was owned since September 2006 by New Horizon Acquisitions LLC, which bought it for $2.05 million. New Horizon, in turn, is part of Apollon Group LLC, a 30-year-old construction, development, landmark and historic restoration firm based in Roslyn Heights, Nassau County.

When it acquired the property, Apollon itself announced a $60 million project to convert it into a mixture of 180 apartments and retail space on the first floor. But that plan never came to fruition. Apollon CEO George Fakiris did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

But other developers also targeted the building for redevelopment into residential or commercial space at various times in the last 15 years. Uniland Development Co. in 2004 proposed replacing it with an eight-story, 229,000-square-foot office building, but the idea failed to gain support from state lawmakers for $11 million in public aid.

In 2009, Rocco R. Termini’s Signature Development Buffalo LLC sought to buy the building for a $70 million redevelopment into a 117-room hotel, apartments, office space and a food court. But that deal was contingent on getting sufficient financing through historic tax credits, which were capped at the state level. So after three years of failing to get the state to raise the cap, Termini pulled out in 2012.

In the meantime, the fading building deteriorated as it sat vacant in a prime area downtown. That led the business community to call on the city to take action against the owner, which barely maintained it. The city pressed State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to try to force a sale, much as the state had done with the neglectful owner of Central Park Plaza.

According to various local historic preservationists, parts of the century-old building, already approved for historic tax credits, dates from the 1890s. It actually consists of five structures built over several decades, with 12 floors above and three floors below ground.

Originally, it was the longtime home of the J. N. Adam & Co. and later Adam Meldrum & Anderson’s department stores, until AM&A’s was acquired in 1994 by Bon-Ton Department Stores. Bon-Ton continued operating for a year before it closed the site in March 1995. Four years later, a women’s fashion store, Taylor’s, occupied the first floor for eight months but couldn’t survive and closed. The first floor had also been converted into a fully equipped restaurant.

Considered one of the city’s first examples of “modern architecture” and “modern department store design,” the facade features yellow Kasota stone, buff-and-tan bricks and polished dark granite around the display windows.

The oldest building, designed by noted architects Green & Wicks, was constructed in 1892 of cast iron, terra cotta and brick, followed by a red brick and iron building on the right in 1896 and a third on the left in 1909. A 12-story addition was put on in 1946-48.