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Study says Lockport could accommodate 120 downtown apartments

LOCKPORT – A study ordered by Lockport’s economic development agency says there is enough of a potential market for downtown apartments that 120 units could be filled.

The study by GAR Associates of Amherst was released at Thursday’s meeting of the Greater Lockport Development Corp. Brian M. Smith, president and chief executive officer of the development agency, said, “I feel like this is a realistic study.”

The inch-thick document based its conclusions on the number of people in the city and town of Lockport who currently live in one- or two-bedroom residences and whittled that number down by concentrating on age groups and other demographics who might like to live in an apartment over a store or in a converted industrial space.

Smith said Buildings 3 and 4 at Harrison Place are the only locations in the downtown area that would qualify as potential “loft” space, but the GAR report said there might be a market for as many as 62 such units, or 22 “live/work lofts” akin to those in the former Remington Rand plant in North Tonawanda.

There are at the moment only a small handful of apartments in downtown, including some occupied by employees of the Yahoo data center, according to Heather B. Peck, who was elected vice president of the development corporation Thursday.

She is program manager of Lockport Main Street Inc., which operates on a grant that requires it to develop at least five apartments in downtown Lockport. “Now we have proof that it’s viable,” she said.

The study said the market will bear rents of $1.02 to $1.11 per square foot, depending on the size and furnishings of the apartments.

So far, no private developer has come along to build apartment conversions in Lockport, but there are a surprisingly large number of city residents who are interested in opening bed-and-breakfasts.

A meeting on the subject last Saturday in the Lockport Public Library drew 25 people. “I was amazed,” Smith said.

The development agency is offering “boutique lodging micro-enterprise grants” to those who are serious about pursuing such a business.

In a larger-scale business, Rubberform Recycled Products this month paid off the remaining $159,000 it owed on a loan from the agency. Smith said he didn’t see that coming.

Bill Robbins, owner of the Michigan Street company, said things are looking up. “We’re doing a $1.5 million expansion, and our new bank wanted us to take care of our old debt,” he said.

The company will start a second shift next week for production of a variety of products made of recycled rubber from tires, which it obtains from HTI Recycling in Lockport, formerly Liberty Tire.

Robbins said Rubberform’s 24 employees will be increased to 30 by the end of the year, and a new production line will open this summer. He said he hopes to be able to buy the plant from landlord David L. Ulrich.