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Downtown living is all about the lofts these days

Katherine Hoernig sees magic downtown.

That’s why the 30-year-old pharmaceutical sales specialist has loft-hopped her way from Sidway Apartments, 775 Main St., to the Webb Lofts, 90 Pearl St., to today’s sun-soaked corner unit in the Apts. at the Lafayette overlooking Lafayette Square.

The Canisius College graduate has called the city her home for 12 years – nearly half of her life, and though she was part of the first wave of residents to move into the Lafayette in May 2013, Hoernig’s priority had always been loft living.

“I wanted to live in a downtown loft around small businesses and the hustle-bustle,” she said. “The progression has been awesome seeing where Buffalo was and where it is now.”

Defined simply, a loft is a living space that exposes structure. In their raw state, lofts expose bricks, concrete, heating ducts and plumbing. Original wood posts, beams and floors are expected. High ceilings are a must.

Converted warehouses make wonderful lofts, and downtown Buffalo has definite loft appeal with developers scooping up the city’s substantial inventory of historic structures.

Since 2006, 1,200 residential units have been built downtown with another 250 currently under construction, according to Brandye Merriweather of the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. At least 500 of the units are lofts, estimated Merriweather, who works as project coordinator and manager for downtown development.

The boom in new housing units downtown is fueled by developers using existing building stock, tax credits and low-interest gap financing to feed the demand of a young urban workforce that pays on average $780 a month per one-bedroom unit – well below the national average of $1,200.

Recent graduate Christianna Denelsbeck is 23 and works for M&T Bank as a supervisor in the Small Business Administration division. From her loft on the fifth floor of the AM&A’s Warehouse Lofts at 369 Washington St., she can see M&T Plaza.

“Originally it was just for convenience,” she said. “It’s such a cool city, a soft landing for a first city right out of school. It is relatively safe, and the cost of living is affordable. There’s always something to do.”

Denelsbeck moved here in July 2013 from Tuscaloosa, Ala., after she and her mother went on an apartment hunt that started on Delaware Avenue and the Elmwood Avenue strip.

“My real estate agent saved the best for last,” recalled Denelsbeck. “The loft was the last apartment we went to, and I gave her my deposit right away.”

The building features 12 two-bedroom units renting at $1,200 and 36 one-bedroom units at $925. Exposed duct work, original load-bearing columns, 11-foot ceilings, large windows and wood floors head the list of loft amenities, but if you ask sports fan Denelsbeck, the location of First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres, and Coca-Cola Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons, are just as appealing.

Signature Development, run by Rocco Termini, has a growing stock of adaptive reuse projects that include Ellicott Lofts, Ellicott Commons, Oak School, IS Lofts (former Kastings Flower Warehouse at 362 Oak St.), Webb Lofts, AM&A’s Warehouse Lofts, Apts. at the Lafayette and Distillery Lofts, 1738 Elmwood Ave.

The wide cross-section of recent downtown residential development targets areas in the Central Business District, the sprawling Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Swan and Seneca streets.

The first project for developer Jake Schneider was the historic Warehouse Lofts at 210 Ellicott St.

Schneider Development purchased the vacant seven-story building in 2007 and redeveloped it into a mix of 30 upscale residential lofts and 8,800 square feet of commercial space. Today he’s converting the lofts to apartments.

“It’s been full since we opened it, but there are a lot of economic reasons why we’re converting to condos,” said Schneider. “Our next housing project – AC Lofts at 136 N. Division St. – was built in 1910, a larger facility with 91 units. The former Alling & Cory Paper Co. warehouse at 105,000 square feet is next to Burt Flickinger Athletic Center at Erie Community College. Popular among young urban dwellers, the lofts range in price from $800 studios to the two-bedrooms for $2,000.

“My dad was an architect. I am an architect,” Schneider said. “I cut my teeth as a young man working on old buildings, because Buffalo has such a healthy inventory of them. My mission statement was to focus on downtown exclusively.”

The Buffalo Building Reuse Project Loan Program started last year to provide low-interest gap financing for downtown adaptive reuse projects. The Planing Mill project from TM Montante Development was awarded the first loan in the amount of $750,000. The $8 million project, located at 141 Elm St., includes 22 lofts and first-floor commercial space currently occupied by C&S Engineering.

The upscale 80,000-square-foot Apartments at the HUB at 145 Swan St., developed by Schneider, features 50 lofts, a roof-top deck, fitness center and ground-level commercial and retail space oriented toward Western New York’s thriving bicycle culture.

Local steel sculptor Sarah Fonzi created the public artwork “Spirit of Transportation” located near the HUB on Elm Street. Donated in part by Buffalo Renaissance Foundation, it enriches the urban experience for everyone, said Schneider.

Schneider’s reuse of the original buildings – an 1895 confectionery and a grocery warehouse – is one in a series of examples of urban development true to historical architecture.

Adaptive reuse poses challenges, said one restoration coordinator.

Subdividing the space and the large floor plates are concerns, said Elizabeth Martin, Historic Sites Restoration coordinator for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Windows, too, can be a challenge with many developers able to rehabilitate deteriorating windows or fabricate suitable replacements that recall the original style, Martin said.

Architectural historian Martin Wachadlo said Buffalo’s stock of historic structures compares favorably with those located in much larger cities.

“We were getting good building materials, and the construction and design were at the same high standard found in other cities like New York and Chicago,” Wachadlo said.

The terra cotta and stained glass were the higher grades, as was the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail of the late 19th and early 20th century. They hired leading local architecture firms such as Green & Wicks, Esenwein & Johnson and Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs.