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Editorial: U-turn on Chandler Street

Don’t look now, but a new Larkinville is arising in Buffalo. Call it Chandlertown. Or maybe Roc City.

Whatever you call it, a neglected, well avoided road in the northwest section of Buffalo is being transformed into a destination, spreading the city’s economic revival into another unlikely precinct. Hail Rocco Termini.

Chandler Street is only a few blocks long. It runs west off of Military Road, just south of Hertel Avenue and it’s been a good place not to go.

“Up until two years ago, you wouldn’t come down this street,” said Termini, the Buffalo developer best known for resuscitating downtown’s faded Lafayette Hotel. “Our biggest problem here was car break-ins. You know what our biggest problem here today is? Finding enough parking, because that’s how many people are coming down to Chandler Street.”

Termini is leading the charge. His company has already has converted two buildings – 155 and 166 Chandler – into office and restaurant space for other businesses and startups. The include Tappo Pizza, Thin Man Brewery and technology firm Utilant.

At 27 Chandler are 15 commercial kitchens and incubator space on two upper floors. Built in 1905, it had been a refrigeration manufacturing plant. Food service companies now have space at 37 Chandler while, at No. 145, a pool club is in the works along with two new restaurants.

Not bad for an old industrial side road, and only eight years after a four-alarm chemical fire tore through the Niagara Lubricants plant at 164 Chandler St.

With his projects, Termini is not only reviving a dreary and dangerous street as a place to work, live and play, but looking to the future prosperity of the entire city.

“Over the last 20 years, we lost a ton of young kids, and they moved out of town. So what we were trying to do on this street is provide spaces that young people are attracted to.” That’s important and, as another Buffalo developer has already demonstrated, it’s doable.

Only a few years ago, Larkinville didn’t even have a name. It was a dying district just a few blocks east of downtown. For the past several years, it has been a go-to place both for businesses needing office space and, most unexpectedly, for after-work fun. Credit the vision and the nerve of Howard Zemsky and his wife, Leslie, Larkin Square’s “director of fun.” The developer has made a practice of reviving Buffalo’s forgotten or under-used assets.

Termini seems to be doing something of the same. Chandler Street certainly qualifies as a forgotten road and Termini has already demonstrated that he qualifies as a developer with both vision and nerve. But there’s more to it than that: He also has the benefit of important public incentives that have repeatedly demonstrated their value in rehabilitating distressed buildings in declining neighborhoods.

His projects on Chandler Street benefited from – and were likely made possibly by – $14 million in state and federal historic tax credits, as well as state brownfield and federal New Markets tax credits. Such programs have been essential to Buffalo’s revival; Termini also made use of them in restoring the Lafayette on Washington Street.

Yet governments periodically threaten to kill those programs, against their interests and those of the municipalities they are meant to help. More opportunities remain for those programs to help put dormant properties to productive, taxpaying use in an old but reviving Rust Belt city like Buffalo.

As much as anything – including the Buffalo Billion and the miracle of Canalside – the repurposing of Buffalo’s stock of sturdy old buildings has been key to the city’s reawakening, and Termini has been one of its most creative practitioners. We hope he and others like him keep up this essential work and that the financial tools they need will remain at their disposal.

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