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Construction activity picks up at AM&A's site

Construction activity is picking up at the AM&A's department store building site in downtown Buffalo, as new dumpsters, trucks and manpower signals a new phase of work.

Landco H&L, an investment group based in Queens, N.Y., and led by Billy Bao, is spending as much as $70 million to convert the 10-story former department store into a 300-room destination hotel with two restaurants in the heart of the city's core.

The hotel, which will be branded as a Wyndham, is aimed largely at Asian tour groups visiting Niagara Falls and Buffalo, but will also be open more broadly to any guests. It will also include a basement pool and spa, about 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of retail space, and six apartments on the top floor for hotel management. Crews will carve out a 10-story atrium in the middle of the 375,000-square-foot complex.

The ambitious project, first unveiled in 2014, is being widely watched throughout the area because of its prominent location on Main Street and because the complex has sat vacant and derelict for years, with water damage, mold and asbestos hindering prior redevelopment efforts. Indeed, the $12 million asbestos abatement itself was delayed for almost a year while officials worked to ensure the building was safe and stable, and until they could reconnect electrical power to the building.

The project site has been fenced in for months, but much of the work to date has occurred out of sight and within the building walls. Only now is the work more visible.

[Related: Mayor “cautiously optimistic” on AM&A redevelopment]

John Schenne, the Buffalo-based engineer on the project, who has served as unofficial spokesman for the Chinese investment group, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"There's a lot of activity going on. We're seeing a marked step-up in activity in just the last 24 hours," said Keith Belanger, senior vice president of corporate services at M&T Bank Corp., whose headquarters towers over the AM&A's building next door. "Dumpsters have shown up. There's all kinds of trucks. There's manpower entering and exiting the building. The switch has been thrown."


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