Crews are nearing completion of the asbestos removal at the former AM&A's building in downtown Buffalo, but it took a lot more work and cost more than the New York City-based developers and their Buffalo contractors had expected.
An investor group called Landco H&L is spending up to $70 million to convert the 375,000-square-foot vacant complex into a new hotel, at least two restaurants and multiple other features.
The project was already approved by the city, and work got underway more than 18 months ago, but it was interrupted by a contractor dispute and then delayed by the vast amount of asbestos and other environmental contamination in the long-abandoned building.
Brian Frost, CEO of Loung Construction, a company formed to perform the project for Landco, said the scope of work was held up and then expanded at the direction of the state Department of Labor, which oversees asbestos removal work. He said the state asked the contractors to completely "gut the building" because of the "level of contamination" that was left behind by a prior contractor.
"So to be safe, we removed anything that was not historically required to stay," he said, referring to the historic preservation status of the project, and the oversight of that component of the project by state and federal regulators.
He also acknowledged that the company "spent a lot more than anticipated," with two shifts of crews working on a job whose expense is now estimated at about $7 million.
Landco, a Chinese-led group based in Queens, bought the 10-story complex at 377 Main St. in 2014 for $2.78 million before unveiling what was initially a 340-room unbranded hotel aimed at Chinese tour groups coming up from New York City to visit Niagara Falls.
Details about both the group and the project remained sketchy for some time, leading to uncertainty about the investors' capability and the proposal's chances for success, especially after a leadership change. But the start of actual work inside the building, as well as the involvement of Frost and other local firms, helped alleviate some of the questions.
Meanwhile, the project has since evolved into a full-scale Wyndham Buffalo Hotel, bringing a new brand into the city and extra legitimacy to the project. The new building will also feature two restaurants - one Chinese and one Japanese - as well as a New York City-style nightclub, an arcade and a top-floor steakhouse with a glass ceiling.
There's also a 10-story atrium planned in the center, plus 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of additional retail space, a large pool and spa in the basement, and 40,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space on the second floor.
Landco originally tried to handle the project by itself, and hired Long Island-based Tristate Cleaning Solutions for the asbestos work. But Tristate left the job in February 2017 amid a fight with the building owners over payments and legal threats, leaving a significant part of the job unfinished.
After a change in its leadership, Landco then brought in Frost, a Buffalo native and 25-year construction veteran, to oversee the entire project, and he retained Buffalo-based AMD Environmental Consultants and Brooklyn-based Clean Air Abatement for the cleanup job.
Frost last June had projected an early 2018 completion of the project, but that's now unlikely.