Developer Rocco Termini, who has been working to transform an area of North Buffalo into a new commercial and residential zone, has acquired two more Black Rock properties on Chandler Street to add to his growing portfolio, after a previous plan for renovation fell through.
Termini, through a pair of aptly named limited-liability companies, acquired 27 and 37 Chandler from the estate of Henry J. Sontag, paying $550,000 and $400,000, respectively. Those are in addition to the buildings that Termini owns down the street at 155 and 166 Chandler, which he already is redeveloping.
Termini said he doesn't have any immediate plans for the two properties, which together total 1.15 acres, but that he rushed to make a deal by Dec. 31 to take advantage of the current rules for federal historic tax credits.
Republicans in Congress had intended to do away with the historic tax credits as part of the pending federal tax reform legislation, creating panic and anger among developers and political leaders in Western New York and other communities that have relied on them to support redevelopment of old buildings. The Buffalo area has been among the biggest users and beneficiaries in the country, so supporters feared that the economic resurgence locally would come to a screeching halt without them.
Advocates in the end succeeded in persuading the Republican leadership to keep them, but the payments will be now be phased in over five years instead of all at once. That makes them less valuable, because the timeframe for the payback is much longer.
However, properties that are purchased before Dec. 31, 2017, and placed back into service after redevelopment within two years are grandfathered under the old rules. So Termini raced to beat the clock, and will now "landbank" them for at least six months until he can figure out his plans.
But he said they're likely to become more business incubators, much like his other two projects at 155 and 166 Chandler, "if we're successful with the other buildings." That would mean commercial and possibly retail space, but no apartments.
In the meantime, Termini noted, the sites are part of the Tonawanda Street Brownfield Opportunity Area, so he plans to start testing them for environmental contamination in the hopes of getting them qualified with the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a brownfield cleanup, with the accompanying tax credits. "Once all those pieces are put together, we can make a more intelligent decision what we can do with the property," he said.
The three-story brick warehouse at 27 Chandler, which had been listed for sale at $650,000, was constructed in 1901, on 0.59 acres. The 21,000-square-foot building - with its wood beams and floor, fenced lot, two loading docks and a freight elevator - was originally built as the Jewett Refrigeration Factory, but has seen other owners and uses over the past century. Most recently, it housed eclectic antiques, furniture, unique merchandise and art retailer CooCoo U, which moved there from a previous home on Hertel Avenue but has since relocated to 111 Tonawanda St.
The other property contains a two-story 12,760-square-foot commercial building, originally the former Double Brass Cornice Brake Company Building. Built in 1902, it was most recently home to Horsefeathers Antiques. Sontag is the former owner of Horsefeathers.
The two buildings had been targeted for redevelopment a year ago by Karl Frizlen and Jason Yots, who wanted to spend $5.2 million to transform them into a mixed-use residential and commercial complex. Plans had called for 41 affordable "micro" apartments, with a blend of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units aimed at students and "entry-level" workers. The project had also included 700 square feet of office space along the northern facade of the two buildings.
The team had hoped to start work by mid-2017, but those plans fell through when they couldn't reach a deal with Sontag's estate.
Meanwhile, Termini is hoping to finish his $8 million project by April to convert the former Linde Air Manufacturing plant at 155 Chandler into a mixed-use commercial facility called the Chandler Incubator. It will house ENrG, Utilant and Blackbird Cidery, as well as a six-lane bowling alley and a tasting room for Thin Man Brewery, which is owned by his wife, Bridget, and Suzanne Shatzel.
Across the street, he said he hopes to start work within 60 days on a four-story former livery building at 166 Chandler. That will house the main second operation for Thin Man on the first floor, as well as other startup businesses in commercial space on the top three floors.
That $5 million project is the second phase of his plan to redo the entire street, as part of what he's calling the Pierce Arrow Neighborhood because of the dominance of nearby historic Pierce-Arrow administration and manufacturing complex.
On Monday night, Termini received retroactive approval from the Buffalo Planning Board for a few changes to the parking lot for 155 Chandler. After obtaining the original approval, the developer found out that the parking lot was highly contaminated, so workers removed four feet of soil from the lot at the advice of the DEC, and then another three feet at the direction of the Bufffalo Sewer Authority to slow down storm sewer water runoff.
The ground was replaced with stone and clay, which would inhibit the growth of the vegetation that was required in the parking lot under the Green Code. So that vegetation - $500 worth, Termini said - had to be moved to the outside of the parking lot on the north side, and the parking lot was already paved in preparation for tenants to take occupancy by March.
"We had to get the parking lot in there because we had a one-week window before the snow came and our tenants will be coming in March," Termini explained to skeptical board members.
In the end, there's actually more landscaping on the site than was required, but fewer parking spaces after restriping. The project, which had been approved for 50 spaces under the old zoning code, now has just 37, prompting concern from board members and Planning Department staff even though Termini argued that it wasn't practical to begin with.
"You could have never gotten 50 on that lot. It was laid out that way, but you could never do it," he said. "This is an $18 million project, and we're arguing about a few parking spaces and some vegetation."
Termini ultimately won approval, but only because he said he would be using two properties that he acquired across the street for additional parking, easily making up the difference. Street parking is also available on both sides of Chandler.