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Garrett Leather building to become apartments

A second large conversion of a Niagara Street warehouse into apartments is poised to get underway in a few months.

Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. expects to complete its purchase by late January of the onetime Mentholatum Co. headquarters on Buffalo’s West Side, at 1360 Niagara St. The developer is paying $2.1 million, far more than the $1.1 million it was listed for earlier this year by its current owner, upscale leather supplier Garrett Leather Corp.

Ciminelli plans to spend $12 million to $14 million more to convert the four-story, 67,000-square-foot former warehouse facility into 50 apartments, with underground indoor parking for 30 spaces, in addition to outdoor parking on a neighboring empty lot, said Executive Vice President Dennis Penman.

The concrete-frame building, which is located near West Ferry Street, would also include about 3,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space, which would be located in an ancillary garage and loading dock area to the north side of the building, Penman added. He called that a “great” urban space for a restaurant or other retail user, such as a florist or bistro, with an overhead garage door that could be opened.

“We’re pretty open,” Penman said. “We’re not looking for anything specific, just someone who wants to be in that neighborhood with a retail environment.”

The “daylight factory” building was constructed by Mentholatum in 1919 for itsr Buffalo headquarters, which remained there until the company moved to Orchard Park in 1989. It was later acquired by Garrett.

Ciminelli is trying to capitalize on the new buzz surrounding Niagara Street and the West Side, where Rich Products Corp. spent $18 million to upgrade its facilities and the surrounding neighborhood, while the city invested $4.7 million in streetscape improvements. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority also is enhancing its infrastructure and service.

“I think the commitments NFTA has made to the infrastructure is important,” Penman said. “It’ll make that corridor the next viable place that people will want to live in.”

Indeed, other new developments are already underway, Penman noted, particularly the nearby seven-story Crescendo Lofts project, where a team led by Angelo Natale of Natale Development Co. is spending $6 million to convert the former Bison Storage & Warehouse facility at 1502 Niagara St. into apartments and a gourmet first-floor restaurant. Penman said he hopes that’s successful in leasing, to build momentum for Ciminelli’s project.

“We’re getting excited about it,” he said. “It’s really starting to shape up. We’re excited by the potential.”

Penman said the company would seek to start work in April 2016, to be followed by 12 months of construction. That’s after it finishes work on 465 Washington St., the former EOC building in downtown Buffalo, which Ciminelli is converting into 48 apartments, plus retail space. Ciminelli subsidiary AllPro Parking would also move its headquarters to the building’s first floor. Officials want to be able to move in tenants in mid-April.

Again, he said, the company is seeking a cafe or bistro business for the retail space, with 1,200 to 1,400 square feet and areas for seating and food preparation.

“We’re out in the marketplace looking for clients at this point,” Penman said. “It would fit in nicely with all the other activity in the area with the other boutique restaurants. It’s a nice strategic corner for another venue that would complement the existing neighborhood.”