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Developers plan to turn West Side rail depot into apartments, offices

Developers Karl Frizlen and Jason Yots are poised to start work on converting the former New York Central Freight House into a mixed-use residential and retail building, now that they've purchased the property from E.B. Atlas Steel Corp.

Frizlen and Yots, through Buffalo Freight House LLC, paid $750,000 last Friday to acquire the 37,000-square-foot, single-story brick building from 120 Tonawanda Street Inc., which is owned by Atlas President Brian Hogle. Constructed in the early 1900s, the building has eight separate bays and no basement.

The developers want to spend as much as $6.5 million to renovate the former West Side rail depot building into 37 apartments and 2,000 square feet of office space on the south end, at Dearborn Street. The project will be dubbed the Black Rock Freight House.

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, which had been used for warehouse space, steel fabrication and ornamental metalwork.

The developers are seeking both state and federal historic tax credits, as well as state brownfield tax credits. The rest of the financing will come from bank loans and their own equity.

The building, with its vaulted ceilings and many original features, is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. According to a state brownfield cleanup document, the site has been linked with rail operations since the mid-1800s, and contained freight platforms and depots by the end of that century. The Black Rock Passenger Station was located on the southern part of the site by 1889, and the freight house was constructed by 1916.

The developers also submitted a "remedial investigation" plan to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for the cleanup of the larger 1.74-acre property, and Yots said the project was accepted into the state Brownfield Cleanup Program. That investigation includes soil borings and test trenches throughout the site, collection of soil and water samples for chemical testing, installation of groundwater-monitoring wells and a study of soil vapor intrusion, according to the preliminary plan.

The project, which was supported by the surrounding neighborhood, was approved in late 2016 by the Buffalo Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. The developers, who had originally hoped to start work this past year and open by the middle of next year, have been working with the city's Permits and Inspections department since winning approval, and Yots said he doesn't anticipate needing anything more before starting work.

He said the environmental cleanup and construction should begin in early 2018, with completion expected by the end of next year or early 2019.

Frizlen owns Frizlen Group, an architecture and development firm, while Yots owns Common Bond Real Estate, and is also president and CEO of Preservation Studios, a historic preservation consulting firm. Besides the duo, the partners behind the project also include Michael and Dennis Masters, owners of BRD Construction, who will be the general contractor on the building.

The freight-house project isn't the only initiative on Tonawanda Street. Developer Wayne Bacon applied earlier this year for a state-supervised environmental cleanup for 31 Tonawanda, at the corner of West Street, and for a 0.92-acre vacant railroad property at 150 Tonawanda, just north of the freight house. A draft investigation plan is now being reviewed by the DEC, which is accepting public comments on the proposal through Jan. 11.

The 1.86-acre site at 31 Tonawanda includes an irregularly shaped building with one to three stories in various parts, which was originally constructed in the early 1900s for the Fedder Manufacturing Co. Fedder, which started as a metalworking shop making milk cans and kerosene tanks, later expanded into radiators, room air conditioners, electric water coolers, heaters, convectors, boilers and heat-transfer equipment.

The vacant former manufacturing facility features a 100,000-square-foot rectangular section along the Scajaquada Creek with three floors and a full basement, while the west side has a 40,000-square-foot space with a large high-bay area and a lower section. It's partially leased as storage to Atlas Steel and its affiliate, Steel Crazy Iron Art.

Bacon said he has since submitted a work plan for the remediation and is awaiting state approval before starting. "We have been fortunate that there is so much development around us, and are exploring all our options," he said, adding that there are no specific redevelopment plans yet for the site.

Nearby, at 57-71 Tonawanda, another former Fedder property contains a two-building complex along the street, including a 10,230-square-foot former office building and a 115,000-square-foot former manufacturing building. Both are empty, and the larger building is falling apart, with the roof caved in at the southern end while the northwest corner suffers from fire damage and another cave-in. An environmental cleanup plan was also proposed to the state for that property.

Fedder owned both properties at 31 and 57 Tonawanda, and sold them in 2005 to Black Rock Trade Center Inc., now T Street Development Corp., which is registered to Edward M. Hogle of Atlas Steel. Hogle sold 31 Tonawanda to Bacon, but still owns 57-71 Tonawanda.

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