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Work restarts on unfinished 'zombie' hotel near UB in Amherst

Amherst's zombie hotel is coming back to life.

Work recently restarted on a building shell near the University at Buffalo North Campus, where two brothers from Ontario want to open an extended stay hotel.

Construction had started and stopped – twice – at the hotel property, most recently earlier this year, leaving an unfinished, six-story building looming over Sweet Home Road. A contractor and numerous subcontractors filed claims totaling $2.5 million against the property owner for unpaid bills.

But Sweet Home Hotels LLC is getting permission to allow it to proceed with work inside and outside the structure, and town officials are glad to see renewed activity at the site.

"Obviously, we don't want to see the asset deteriorate as we approach winter weather," said Maggie Hamilton Winship, the town's director of community development. "So I think the supervisor's take on it was, as long as they're actually doing work, we would work with them on reasonable renewals."

Sam and Jas Johal, who are developing the hotel and own the property through a limited liability company, did not respond to a message seeking comment this week.

Unfinished 'zombie' hotel haunts Sweet Home Road in Amherst

The Maplewood Suites Extended Stay hotel planned for the site has a website and Twitter and Facebook accounts, but they haven't said anything about the status of the project in months.

The Johals bought the property at 1265 Sweet Home Road in 2007. The first round of work ended in 2009 and the project languished until 2015, when the Johals received approval to begin all over again.

Construction on the latest version of the development began two years ago and ended earlier this year. The shell for the 86,000-square-foot building was completed, some windows were installed and other holes in the building were boarded up. A chain-link fence surrounded the site.

Douglas Gesel, a supervising code enforcement officer for the town, said the companies' interior and exterior building permits were issued in November 2016 and were set to expire last Thursday.

Amherst's new building commissioner, Mark S. Berke, granted a three-month extension for the exterior building permit. The Johals have changed their initial plans for the inside of the building, however, and the Building Department is reviewing the new plans before issuing a new interior building permit. That should come within a month and be good for one year, Gesel said.

Crews have been at the site working on the outside of the building for a few weeks, he said. Sweet Home Hotels is listed as the general contractor and Roman Construction is framing the building, Gesel said.

Sweet Home Hotels is now up to date on its property taxes, according to Erie County Real Property Tax Services. The company paid $32,221 on Aug. 31, a figure that includes $18,136 for overdue taxes from 2017.

Mechanic's liens filed by 14 companies between January and April totaled $2.5 million, according to records from the county Clerk's Office. Online records show one lien, filed by City Fence on March 9 for $13,474, was discharged one month later.

Winship, the town's community development director, said the town can withhold a building permit to a property owner that owes back taxes, but that's moot now. She said the high-profile site has drawn interest from other developers, in case Sweet Home Hotels falters again, but for now the town is keeping an eye on the hotel's progress.

"If they had not paid their taxes, we probably would have pursued them more closely, to get them to try to move it," Winship said.


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