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Frizlen wins approval for Tonawanda Street conversion

A proposal by developers Karl Frizlen and Jason Yots to convert the former New York Central Freight House at 68 Tonawanda St. into a mixed-use residential and retail building won the green light Monday night from the Buffalo Planning Board.

Frizlen Group and Common Bond Real Estate want to spend $6 million to renovate the existing brick building on Buffalo's West Side into 37 apartments and 2,000 square feet of office space on the south end. The former rail depot is currently owned by Atlas Steel, but the developers intend to purchase it.

Plans call for slicing the long one-story building into loft-style apartments, with a mezzanine floor for some of the units on the north end to create an upper level with an extra bedroom. The project will also include about 65 parking spaces behind and to the side of the building.

The site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic places, and developers are working with the State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service on the preservation project, which they hope will qualify it for state and federal tax credits. The building has vaulted ceilings and contains many of its original features. Brick restoration will be the biggest cost.

"It's a pretty authentic restoration of a building that's in really bad shape right now," Frizlen said. "We’re pretty much relying on tax credits. That’s how these projects work."

A few original windows remain, and the duo plan to recreate or replace other windows along the Tonawanda facade, without changes, in keeping with historic standards. In the back of the building, however, they will convert loading bays back into apartment doors and windows. "In back, we have more latitude," said James Baptiste, an architect with Frizlen's firm. "There are a couple of doors that shouldn't be doors that will be turned back into windows."

They're also expecting some environmental cleanup, and accompanying tax credits. "It’s a brownfield site, or we’re hoping it’s one," Frizlen said, to chuckles in the room.

The project was already approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and Frizlen and Yots also presented their plans to the Vision Niagara and Black Rock Planning Alliance groups, with lots of questions but few concerns. The developers are also working with the city's Department of Public Works about infrastructure improvements to create a walkable area in front of the building.

"The neighborhood is vehemently in support of this plan, and we’re hoping that it would be approved and we can move forward," said Common Councilmember Joseph Golombek.

With Monday's approval, they hope to start construction by mid-2017, with an opening slated for mid-2018. "It's a great project," said Planning Board member Cynthia Schwartz.

Frizlen and Yots are also working on a second Black Rock project on Chandler Street, as well as the conversion of a former Hamlin Park factory into the Mattress Factory apartment and office building on the East Side.

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