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Revival of University Plaza eyed as Amherst property goes up for sale

The University Plaza retail center in Amherst is on the market and town officials hope a buyer can help revive the property as a neighborhood centerpiece.

The effort to sell the property at 3500 Main St. comes less than a year after the owner won a 12% reduction in the plaza's assessment.

The 14-acre property is in Eggertsville along its border with the Town of Tonawanda and the City of Buffalo. Amherst officials say they want to see a redevelopment that includes housing for University at Buffalo students, more green space and better integration with the surrounding streetscape.

"We'd like to see a mixed-use community there," Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said Tuesday.

Phillips Edison & Co. had purchased the property in 2007. Eight years later, the special servicer LNR Partners foreclosed on the plaza after Phillips Edison defaulted on its mortgage in a transaction valued at $9.87 million.

The property is $6.8 million in arrears now, according to the real estate advisory firm Trepp.

The owner is listed as Uniplaza Inc. Amherst Station LLC, with the same Cincinnati, Ohio, address as Phillips Edison.

Uniplaza Inc. last year filed a challenge in State Supreme Court, known as an Article 7, that contended the property's $14.1 million assessment was "erroneous, unlawful, unequal and excessive."

The court filing sought a reduction to $7 million, but attorneys for the plaza, Amherst, Amherst Central School District and Erie County agreed to lower the assessed value to $12.4 million.

The shopping center across from the UB South Campus is anchored by a Tops Markets. It also includes Dipson Theatres’ Amherst Theatre moviehouse and many other storefronts. It has four buildings totaling 168,958 square feet of space, town records show.

Officials with the town and the business community said the property is going up for auction with bids accepted next week.

The owner has retained Newmark Knight Frank, the commercial real estate services firm headquartered in New York City, to market the property.

David Mingoia, executive director of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency, said the town's revised commercial zoning code should boost efforts to revive the plaza. He called it a "gateway property" to Amherst and Buffalo that should capitalize on its location near the South Campus.

The University Plaza would benefit from the proposed extension of the Metro Rail to the UB North Campus and a new, committed owner could convince Tops to invest in an overhaul of its store, said A.J. Baynes, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce.

"I think there's tremendous upside with the property there," he said.

Tops said it's been in the plaza for 35 years and the pending sale doesn't affect its long-term lease for the store.

"We look forward to being there for many years to come and working in collaboration with the new owner, understanding their plans, and how we play a role in the future of the plaza," spokeswoman Kathleen Sautter said.

 

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