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Conversion of Pierce-Arrow building into luxury lofts, restaurant to begin

Steak a la Pierce Arrow, anyone?

The Buffalo Planning Board has approved a new proposal for the redevelopment of the Pierce-Arrow Administration Building in North Buffalo, complete with a new local owner and a planned 100-seat restaurant.

Dr. Greg Daniel's Nidus Development, together with the building's former owner, Joseph Hecht, want to convert the 123,099-square-foot former office building at 1695 Elmwood Ave. into 105 luxury loft apartments, with the proposed new restaurant occupying the domed auditorium on the second floor.

Rents have not been finalized, but Daniel said the apartments will have market rates, likely as high as $1,800 a month.

"It's going to equate to the luxury that we're going to be putting into these apartments," he said. "The expectation is that we're going to make them high-end apartments, consistent with what the Pierce-Arrow has been in the past."

Daniel and his team also would renovate the long one-story garage in back, at 1721 Elmwood, into a new 44,751-square-foot parking facility for the tenants of the Pierce-Arrow Apartments, with 110 spaces. That includes a 7,113-square-foot addition that the developer will construct on the back of the parking building, to square off the shape and add space for 22 cars. More parking would also be added around the exterior of the 1.52-acre site.

"The Pierce Arrow will join a growing list of historic preservation projects in the City of Buffalo involving the adaptive reuse of previously neglected and underutilized structures," Andrew Terragnoli of Studio T3 Engineering PLLC wrote in a letter to the Planning Board.

"The project will convert a once-vacant former industrial property into loft-style rental apartments and will meet a growing need for housing in the City of Buffalo created by a growing employment base."

The project was endorsed by North District Common Councilmember Joseph Golombek and two neighbors, one of whom was critical the last time because of parking and safety issues that he said have been addressed.

"I can speak with confidence that the majority if not all of the neighbors that we met with have been supportive of this project," said Golombek, who noted that he first met with Hecht about the building in 2005.

The $30 million project marks the third-go-around in the last few years for the historic building, which has been on the National Register for Historic Places since 1975. A similar plan was previously approved in September 2016, involving 107 units throughout the three-story brick-and-stone facility.

At the time, the building was owned by Robert Wolf's Read Property Group from Brooklyn, which had acquired it from Hecht, who in turn had owned it since 2005 but had not succeeded in redeveloping it on his own. Read sold it to Daniel late last year for $4.3 million.

Pierce Arrow building acquired by Buffalo doctor-turned-developer

That previous plan by Flynn Battaglia Architects and Studio T3 – who are still involved – called for a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments, with some two-bedroom loft units on the second floor, where ceilings are 19 feet high. Tenant amenities included a fitness center and small lounge area with Wi-Fi, but no retail or restaurant space.

That's the primary change with the new plan, aside from new landscaping and crabapple trees along Elmwood and Great Arrow to replicate the trees that existed on the site in the 1920s.

The large arched auditorium was the original dining room of the complex, and had to be mostly maintained as an open space for the project to qualify for historic tax credits, said Flynn Battaglia architect Christopher Less. Only part of it could be used for the apartments.

That's now the space reserved for commercial use, where Daniel wants to put a restaurant, after already exploring office space and other possible uses. Officials are already talking with three potential restaurant operators, and expect to make a decision in the next few weeks, Daniel said.

"We're thinking about Buffalo winters," Daniel said. "In the wintertime, when someone comes home, it's sort of difficult to talk about going out when you have two feet of snow. So we want to make sure the residents of those apartments have a place where they can congregate, create relationships, and have a good lunch or dinner."

However, Less said that's not definite yet, as it would require a separate fire corridor to the stairs, and the development team is working with the State Historic Preservation Office to overcome possible concerns about blocking windows.

Buffalo Planning Board OKs Pierce-Arrow building project

On the outside, meanwhile, Less said workers will restore the brick to its original condition, replace windows and re-create some original canopies on the front of the building. The parking building would feature textured concrete block. "It's really going to be magnificent," he said.

The building currently has 26 existing parking spaces in front, but that area will be landscaped under the new plan. A driveway will remain as a drop-off, but will continue around the side to the garage, while a secure walkway will take tenants back from their cars to the apartment building.

"This is a building that really represented what Buffalo was like in the 1930s and 1940s, and by bringing it back to life, it will truly add some significance to what Buffalo once was," Daniel said. "This is a building with very strong bones, and what we're trying to do is bring the elegance back."

With approvals in hand, the developer will now take the plans, bid them out and select a contractor. "We have a few firms that we're actively in discussions with," Daniel said. "We plan to move ahead expeditiously."

So far, the asbestos abatement has already been completed on the main building, along with most major demolition work, and abatement is in progress on the garage, Hecht and Daniel said. Brownfield cleanup will begin by the end of April, along with more selective demolition and then construction.

"We've actually done a lot of significant work in the building thus far," Daniel said. "That abatement job was a pretty significant job. As soon as we have all of our project acceptances in place, we expect to move forward."

Daniel expects the project to finish, after 15 months of work, by the end of summer 2019.

"We're taking over a project where a lot of time and energy has been expended," Daniel said. "Now we're ready to bring this project to completion."

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