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Nonprofit to breathe life into charred remains of Jankowski Cigar Shop

Stephen Karnath will still get his chance to revive a historic East Side commercial building into new use, just one year after his hopes for apartments and a coffee shop on Fillmore Avenue nearly went up in smoke.

Karnath, executive director of the Broadway-Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services, is seeking to rebuild the old Jankowski Cigar Shop building at 595 Fillmore, creating five new apartments in 6,000 square feet, plus 805 square feet of first-floor commercial space, to support neighborhood housing and revitalization.

The proposed new Jankowski Cigar Factory Apartments would occupy the same footprint as the old building, with four townhome units fronting Fillmore and a fifth above the storefront space, which might be occupied by a coffee shop or similar business. But it would be mostly new construction, except for the oldest portions of the original structure that survived the fire. That portion of the building was stabilized and will be renovated as part of the project.

The $1.2 million project - part of a larger vision to connect Martin Luther King Jr. Park to the north with Larkinville to the south by enhancing Fillmore - was approved by the Buffalo Planning Board Monday night.

"This is a really important corner for the neighborhood," Karnath said. "That’s why our board has authorized us to go forward with the project and put first $133,000 at risk to get us to this point, where we’re asking for full site plan approval."

Located at the intersection of Fillmore and Paderewski Drive, the historic 7,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1875 by a Swiss immigrant as a home, but later became a cigar-manufacturing factory for Joseph Jankowski. He added a storefront in 1893 to sell cigars, and later candy.

It later became a boarding house for 15 residents, in the days when the nearby Central Terminal was the primary arrival point by train. It also had a corner deli on the first floor.

But its condition deteriorated under successive owners and suffered significant water damage when a pipe burst. Eventually, it landed on the city's demolition list, until Karnath's organization bought it at the city's foreclosure auction for $4,500 in October 2015.

But before Broadway-Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services could take possession of the building, an early morning fire swept through last Nov. 12, 2015, causing heavy damage totaling more than $100,000. Much of the structure was demolished. Only a garage barn in the rear and a small brick storage warehouse remained.

The city gave Broadway-Fillmore the option of pulling out of the deal, but Karnath's organization decided to go forward anyway. After performing select demolition as needed, the nonprofit spent $64,000 during the last year to stabilize the two remaining structures with new foundations, walls and roof systems.

Plans now call for reconstructing the facade in the same position it was in, on Fillmore. However, it will not be considered a historic renovation, so the nonprofit can put in more windows and make other changes so that the building will be appropriate for housing needs, said architect Steven Carmina, of Carmina Wood Morris PC.



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