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Editorial: Changes renew hope for novel AM&A's project

There’s more good news on Main Street: The stuttering project to repurpose the old AM&A’s department store as a hotel and tourist residence is back on track, or at least appears to be.

The project, if not actually snake-bitten, has at least been snake-charmed, to the point that nothing was getting done. A dispute over payments shut the project down for several months.

Landco H&L, a Chinese-led group consisting of investors from New York City and China, bought the deteriorating 375,000-square-foot building three years ago with plans to renovate it for use by Asian tour groups visiting Niagara Falls. After changes, the project now includes a 340-room Wyndham Buffalo Hotel, along with two restaurants, a pool and spa, and banquet and meeting space. The building would also include retail space, apartments for hotel management and possibly office space.

But the project looked for a while as though it was going to fail. The asbestos abatement contractor, Long Island-based Tristate Cleaning Solutions, left the job in February amid a fight with the building owners over payments.

Now, though, the investors have hired a new abatement company, Clean Air Abatement of Brooklyn. It has also brought in a local construction veteran to oversee the project, as well as a Buffalo-based air monitoring company. With that, the $70 million project appears to be moving forward again.

The announcement of the project, while an unusual one for Buffalo, marked a critical turning point for downtown. The AM&A’s building had become emblematic of the city’s stagnation. Contaminated, unwieldy and unwanted, the vacant structure was a special sore spot, even when compared with the rest of Main Street’s troubles. With the city and downtown coming back, the vacant behemoth was especially vexing.

That changed with the startling plan to ferry Chinese tourists to Buffalo, offering them accommodations on tours to Niagara Falls. It was certainly a creative idea, putting the building to productive use while ensuring that visitors to the falls would not miss out on the chance to explore Buffalo.

It was worrisome, then, when work stalled. Any such project can run into difficulties, but when the business model is so unusual, the risk seemed even higher.

Now, it appears the worries have been eased. The investor group has made thoughtful changes in the project’s management and work is again underway. Cleanup is expected to be completed by fall, but the hope is to start interior construction as each floor’s preliminary work is completed.
Scheduled opening remains in early spring of 2018. It’s ambitious, but at least it’s underway.

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