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Building Buffalo: AM&A’s hotel conversion getting going

Building Update is a regular feature highlighting progress on development projects throughout the region.

Project name: AM&A’s Department Store conversion

Address: 377 Main St., Buffalo

Developer: Landco H&L, New York City

Cost: $50 million to $70 million

Description: Conversion of former 10-story department store into new destination hotel for Asian tour groups

Completion date: Late 2017 or early 2018

Lowdown: The owners of the AM&A Department Store building in downtown Buffalo will be choosing one of four asbestos abatement firms to begin work sometime in the next few weeks, in preparation for starting conversion the 10-story structure into a 300-room destination Wyndham-branded hotel for Asian tour groups.

John Schenne, the Buffalo-based engineer on the project, who has served as spokesman for the investor group leading the project, said the group received bids from both local and out-of-town contractors, and will initially select just one to handle the enormous remediation job, expected to cost about $12 million. That work is likely to last about three months, Schenne said, after which the primary $50 million to $70 million redevelopment will begin.

The building is already surrounded by security fencing and cement barriers, and some National Grid workers have been seen onsite, outside the store. But Schenne said they’re not part of Landco’s team.

The highly anticipated project – first unveiled after Landco H&L bought the building for $2.775 million in 2014 – has been moving unusually slowly, after multiple holdups in the past year. Landco initially planned to do the remediation itself, training its own workers, before deciding to go with professional firms. Also, the environmental cleanup, which has been discussed since last summer, could not begin until electrical service was restored to the long-vacant structure. But restoring the power couldn’t occur until the investors and National Grid could agree on what was needed, and could ensure that the building was stable and safe enough for entry.

Schenne said the gradual pace is intentional. “We’ve got a good project there, and it’s going on at a deliberate pace,” he said. “This is a major construction project. We’re trying to do a good job and get all of our ducks in a row before we get our men on the site. We’re almost at that point.”

The Queens, N.Y.-based Landco, led by Billy Bao, plans to convert the 375,000-square-foot complex into a hotel, with two restaurants, 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of retail space, a large pool and spa in the basement, and six apartments on the top floor for hotel management and staff. Crews would also carve a 10-story atrium into the middle of the building to provide windows for interior rooms.

F&B Construction of Catskill, in Greene County, had previously been designated as the contractor for the project, but Schenne said they’ve now been replaced by Loung Construction Inc. of Buffalo, a new Chinese company formed as of March 1, with a registered address at Schenne’s office, located in the Hotel @ The Lafayette, across the street from the AM&A’s building.