The 50,000-square-foot building at 4220 Bailey Ave. in Amherst has been a bowling alley, a furniture store and, most recently, a motorcycle dealership.
If the town has its way, it's about to see some real action.
Amherst wants to transform the building into a training complex for police that would boost the department's ties to the community and revive a vacant commercial building.
Police officials have drawn up an ambitious plan to use the sprawling, shuttered Buffalo Harley-Davidson dealership and service shop on Bailey Avenue as a shooting range, a facility for training in active shooter and other drills, a simulation center and a base for outreach in the Eggertsville neighborhood.
The town has signed a letter of intent to buy the building, Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa told The Buffalo News, but the $2.1 million project is in its preliminary stages and the Town Board must sign off on the transaction. Still, Kulpa said he is excited about the building's potential to benefit the police and town residents.
"It's hitting on almost all the right cylinders, so we said we've got to go for it," Kulpa said in an interview Monday.
Buffalo Harley-Davidson, which closed in October after owner John Brinkworth Jr. consolidated operations at his Orchard Park site, opened in 1921 at a different location. The dealership in 2000 moved into the building, which had housed a Gardner Furniture retail store and, previously, the Kingpin Bowling Center. (Brinkworth said older customers sometimes brought him bowling pins they had from the alley.)
Amherst Police Chief John Askey and Captain Kevin Brown, who is in charge of police facilities, said the headquarters building off John James Audubon Parkway doesn't have enough room for the department's training needs.
For example, police have a traditional, static pistol range but officers aren't able to train with their patrol rifles. Nor are they able to train in different scenarios, such as for active shooters in a school, an office or another venue, Askey said. It's important to train officers in when to use deadly force and in de-escalation tactics, he said.
The Harley-Davidson building has different sections that would allow the department to break it up for various uses, Brown said, including a room for training with computer-based simulations and a section where officers would use simunition. Askey said they are essentially paint balls loaded into the officers' department-issued weapons for training scenarios.
Police like how high ceilings are, how long the building is and the flexibility it offers with movable walls.
The showroom and offices off the main entrance would host the town's Emergency Services & Safety Department, the police academies for adults and teenagers and possibly community meetings as well, Kulpa said. Brinkworth restored the lanes that remained from the former bowling center to create a striking floor for the showroom.
The supervisor and police chief both said police headquarters, which is north of the University at Buffalo North Campus, can be hard to get to for many town residents.
This building on Bailey Avenue, just south of Longmeadow Road, would extend the department's presence into the southern section of Amherst, Kulpa said.
Kulpa and Askey said they envision police on bicycles and – yes – motorcycles riding from the building into the surrounding streets. That's not as easy to do from the headquarters building, which is primarily accessed by Millersport Highway and the Lockport Expressway.
Kulpa also said the project would provide a needed boost to the Eggertsville neighborhood, which has been a focus of attention for the supervisor and the Town Board this year.
"It is police, but it's meant to be more than that," Kulpa said.
The town officials said it's cheaper to buy and refurbish this building than it would be to try to acquire land and then build a new training center.
"I think it's a really good idea," said Steve Matisz, president of the Eggertsville Community Organization, who said he awaits further details but shares the supervisor's concern about the building remaining vacant for too long.
Askey said he expects other police agencies in the area would use the building for training, and the town could participate in cross-agency training there. He also quipped that the owners of the nearby Bocce Club Pizza will appreciate its revival.
"Nobody has an indoor facility like this, nowhere in the Erie County, Western New York area," Askey said.
Askey said the Police Department can do some work on the building in-house to get it up and running, perhaps starting with one room after the sale closes and then expanding from there.
"We envision, bottom line, unless the supervisor tells us otherwise, we'd be in there in a matter of weeks, training and holding meetings," Askey said.
The town is doing its due diligence on the property and will conduct an appraisal of its value. The property is assessed at $1.67 million and listed for sale for $1.85 million by Hunt Commercial.
"I think this is a fantastic fit for Amherst," Brinkworth said. "It will give them a really good footprint in that area."