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Developer plans apartment conversion of Black Rock factory

A Buffalo multifamily real estate developer who has usually focused his attention closer to downtown is eyeing a vacant warehouse in Black Rock for a multimillion-dollar conversion into a new apartment building on Tonawanda Street.

Eran Epstein, owner of E Square Capital LLC, is seeking to renovate the former Fedders Manufacturing Works and Fedders Automotive Corp. building into a combination of about 80 apartments and an undetermined number of mini-self-storage units.

Representatives said Monday the new Fedder Lofts is expected to include a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units – possibly even three-bedroom apartments – over three floors of the 120,000-square-foot complex.

The self-storage units will take up about 15,000 square feet in the core of the building, where apartments won't work because the structural design won't allow for light and ventilation.

"We have some limitations in the building," said architect Michael J. Berger of Sutton Architecture. "If we can get a three-bedroom in there, we will."

Plans first call for remediating the century-old industrial property at 57 and 71 Tonawanda through the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program to address past pollution, such as from metals, solvents and organic compounds left and buried over decades of industrial use.

Crews are expected to remove contaminated soil and replace that with a new clean cover system that will also protect Scajaquada Creek.

After the cleanup, Berger said the paved parking area on the eastern side will be resurfaced with landscaping, pylons and islands. Plans include links to the adjacent bicycle path along the creek, improvements to sidewalks and walking paths, accessible ramps to and from the building and access to the creek and Niagara River for kayaking and other recreational use.

"The development of this project from a vacant warehouse into a place where people live will create a place that enlivens the surrounding waterfront," Berger wrote in a separate letter to city senior planner John Fell. "The redevelopment of this building to a historically relevant image will enhance the man-made features of the area and contribute to the scenic quality of the community."

The existing building will be repaired or rebuilt as needed, according to documents submitted to the city as part of an initial coastal review considered and approved Monday by the Buffalo Planning Board.

"There's a portion of the building that needs to be reconstructed in the northwest corner," Berger said, citing "severe structural and deterioration issues that we're going to address."

Epstein will use brownfield and historic tax credits from the state and federal governments to finance the project, whose total cost is estimated at $20 million to $23 million.

"It’s a good project," said Planning Board member Horace Gioia.

Epstein, a downstate native who graduated from University at Buffalo, began investing in Western New York real estate in 1994 while in school, and now owns and manages more than 250 apartments and 350,000 square feet of commercial space, mostly in Buffalo.

His 10 local properties include Holling Place Apartments in the renovated former Holling Press factory in downtown Buffalo, as well as eight properties in the Delaware, Elmwood and University Heights areas, and one at Broadway and Fillmore Avenue on the East Side. But Fedders is his first new project in years.

The industrial property features an irregularly shaped building of two-, three- and four-story sections along Tonawanda, at the northeast corner of the intersection with West Street. The facility, which consists of a 10,230-square-foot former office building and a 115,000-square-foot former manufacturing building, already suffered roof collapses as well as fire damage.

Originally built in 1910 and then expanded several times over the following decade, the complex was occupied initially by Fedders Manufacturing, which Theodor C. Fedders started as a metalworking shop on an adjacent site before expanding. The company at first made milk cans and kerosene tanks for Standard Oil Co., as well as bread pans for National Biscuit Co., but switched to making radiators for cars and then airplanes during World War I, as well as appliances for heating and electrical refrigeration.

During World War II, Fedders also made links and clips for machine-gun belts, and then later added room air conditioners, electric water coolers, heaters, convectors, hot-water boilers, heat-transfer equipment and even women's handbag frames. The company was acquired in 1990 by Fedco, which made car heaters, and the building was sold in 2005 to the Black Rock Trade Center, which still owns the 2.597-acre property.

Epstein has it under contract to be acquired, according to the documents submitted to the city. Full site plans must still be reviewed and approved by the Planning Board prior to any work commencing, but Berger said the developer hopes to start work this summer.

"There’s a fair amount of remedial work that needs to be done to the building, just to get the building safe and go from there," he said.

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