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Rich Products seeks to tear down old factory now to make way for redevelopment later

Rich Products Corp. is considering how to get more involved in the redevelopment of Niagara Street.

The Buffalo-based maker of Coffee Rich and other nondairy products re-acquired its former Buffalo plant property earlier this year, and is now seeking permission from the city Preservation Board to demolish the old buildings on the site. The 3.67-acre property is located diagonal across the street from the company's main campus, just south of West Ferry Street.

The company doesn't have any current plans to rebuild anything or sell the site at 1155 Niagara, said spokesman Dwight M. Gram III. Instead, officials intend to clear the land and seed it with grass while they determine what they want to do, possibly in conjunction with developers.

"This is more of a long-term play. There are no formal plans in place. There's nothing imminent," Gram said. "It's just an opportunity to reacquire a property that's right next to our campus, which allows us to stay involved with the development that takes place right next to us."

Gram noted that the company two years ago repurchased a warehouse property at 1130-1144 Niagara, adjacent to its main campus and across the street from the Buffalo Plant. It's since been "in preliminary discussions" with developers who own other property next to that 1.14-acre site on Niagara.

"So there's some really good early dialogue going on about how we might collaborate on development on that side of the street," Gram said. "Adding the Buffalo plant property just adds to the potential we have for future development projects."

According to documents filed with the Preservation Board, Rich's Jenesis Development wants to hire Total Wrecking & Environmental to tear down an industrial warehouse and manufacturing building constructed in 1980 and a separate three-story wood-frame office building constructed in 1940. Neither is on the National Register of Historic Places, nor do they have any historical significance, according to the applications, which will be considered by the board on July 26.

The buildings had been owned and occupied in recent years by Island Oasis, a company that made frozen smoothie concentrate products, but which moved out last year.

Originally part of Rich's campus, the buildings had been sold to Island Oasis for $1.5 million in 2011, after Rich moved its own operations out. But the contract had included a clause granting Rich the first right to repurchase the buildings if Island Oasis left. So Rich exercised that right earlier this year, for $100,000.

The company erected a fence around the site recently to secure the vacant property, after experiencing "a few minor break-ins," Gram said. Dismantling the facilities would take about six months to complete, Gram said.

The company would then maintain the land as a grass field "until we develop a plan for what we want to do with the property long-term," he said. That could include expanding its own campus or pursuing other projects.

"We are very excited about the resurgence of Niagara Street," Gram said. "To see Niagara Street slowly but surely transforming from an old industrial corridor to a potentially really exciting commercial and residential area for the city is fantastic. And we're right in the middle of all of that, so to have a couple of pieces of property that could be part of that is exciting for us."

"All of the options are on the table" for the future of the site, including a sale of the property or being part of a development team.

"We're certainly open to being involved, and some of our preliminary conversations indicate that we'd be happy to be involved if the right project materialized," he said. "There's already a ton of ideas flying around, so I won't offer up any right now. We'll see what comes of it all."

He noted that there are already several new commercial and residential projects along Niagara, including Natale Development's Crescendo Apartments, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.'s Mentholatum, and Ellicott Development's mixed-use building with a Tim Hortons Cafe & Bake Shop.

"We feel like the West Side of Buffalo has been somewhat the forgotten part of the resurgence that's taken place in the city, and we're just excited that this is going to be another exciting part of the city that Western New Yorkers are going to be proud to come down and be part of," Gram said.

"Everyone's talking about Canalside, for good reason, but there's a lot that's taken place on the West Side, and by owning these properties, it's going to give us a chance to play a part in developing the future of the West Side."

It could even be appealing to some of the company's employees. "We have a lot of associates that already live in the city and fairly close to Rich Products. So that might be an exciting option for folks down the line," he said. "But the question is how close do you really want to be to work?"

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