A former factory that once produced specialty gases for use before and during World War II may soon be producing computer software, beer and wine instead.
The Buffalo Planning Board Monday night approved developer Rocco Termini’s $8 million proposal to convert the former Linde Air Manufacturing factory in North Buffalo into a new business incubator complex to support high-tech and other companies.
He’s hoping to get the building included in the state’s Start-Up NY program, which provides tax-free benefits to both new companies and their employees in exchange for job creation and investment. He’s currently negotiating a partnership to have the site serve as an extension of an area college or university, which is a requirement for participation in the state program.
Plans call for renovating the 85,000-square-foot complex at 155 Chandler St. into “hip” new office space called the Chandler Incubator, designed to attract the more youthful companies and employees that work in the software industry. An interior courtyard in the middle of the building will feature seasonal recreational space, with volleyball and bocce courts, as well as an in-ground pool.
“The software developers have very eclectic space, and they have amenities you don’t really get in other buildings downtown,” Termini told Planning Board members. “Younger millennials like these types of amenities that they get all over the country except in Buffalo. In order to get software developers to come to Buffalo, we have to start producing buildings with amenities they’re used to.”
Already, a growing new software development firm called Utilant, which specializes in programming for property and casualty insurance, has agreed to rent 25,000 square feet. Termini is also working with a brewery bottling and canning business and a winery business to take up another 30,000 square feet of space between them. The rest of the building is available for lease.
“We’re going to take the existing building that’s ready to fall down and make major improvements to it,” Termini said. An adjacent grassy and debris-strewn parcel at 157 Chandler will be turned into 50 parking spaces.
Built in 1901 by the John W. Cowper Co., the mostly one-story former manufacturing and processing building is “in very bad shape,” after a fire 13 years ago destroyed the roof, allowing water into the building over the last dozen years, Termini said. The vacant and boarded-up building is owned by the Ontario Equipment Company Inc., but Termini’s company has it under contract to be acquired for $591,000.
Located at the corner of Chandler and Manton streets, just over two blocks from Elmwood, the new project is part of what Termini has dubbed the Pierce-Arrow Neighborhood because of the dominance of the historic Pierce-Arrow administration and manufacturing complex nearby. It adds to the developer’s prior successes with converting the former FWS Furniture Warehouse building into the Foundry Suites, the Houk Wire Manufacturing Building into the Houk Lofts, and the former American Radiator Company headquarters into the Arco Lofts.
Termini is seeking to add the building to the National Register of Historic Places, and plans to utilize state and federal historic tax credits, so no exterior changes are planned other than replacing windows and cleaning up the brick. Construction will start in December, with work finishing by July 2017.
“It’s hard not to like this,” said Planning Board member Cynthia Schwartz.
In other business, the Planning Board:
• Approved Mark Pagano’s plan to bring back storefronts to the one-story building at 1245 Main St., at the corner of Northampton, just north of Artspace Buffalo Lofts. Previous storefronts in the building had been removed by a former owner and filled in with concrete block, but Pagano wants to restore them for new tenants.
• Approved a modification to the University Place at LaSalle student-housing project at 89 LaSalle Ave., with the shape of the first building changing and its size slightly reduced to contain 302 beds in 95 units.
• Extended approval for another year for the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center to redevelop the former School 57 at 243 Sears St. into a 27-unit low-income housing facility for women.
• Recommended approval by the Common Council of a take-out and drive-thru restaurant at 3444 Bailey and re-establishment of an existing restaurant at 2412 South Park Ave.