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TM Montante plans apartments, office space and cafe at 1275 Delaware

TM Montante Development is bringing its second project in the redevelopment of the former Millard Fillmore Hospital site at Gates Circle to the city for formal review – a plan to turn a former medical office building a block away from the circle into residential and retail space.

The Tonawanda-based developer wants to convert the vacant 50,100-square-foot building at 1275 Delaware Ave. into 33 market-rate apartments, with a cafe and 9,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, according to its application to the Buffalo Planning Board.

The adaptive reuse of the structure, which is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, will involve both an exterior restoration and interior reconstruction. It will include 22 one-bedroom and 11 two-bedroom apartments on the upper levels of the six-story building.

The cafe will occupy 1,000 square feet off the main lobby in what was originally the building's diner, and will include an outdoor seating area. The office space is being aimed at a professional services firm or nonprofit organization, Montante Director of Development Byron DeLuke said in the firm's application.

The $11 million project includes 17 parallel parking spaces on the 0.52-acre site, according to the application. But the building, which TM Montante acquired in December 2017 for $1.95 million, is also just west of the 750-space Gates Circle Parking Ramp at 1277 Delaware, which the developer bought from the city in July 2019 for $1.7 million. That will supply more spaces for 1275 Delaware.

That ramp is a critical component of Montante's overall redevelopment of the Gates Circle site into the new Lancaster Square community, with more than 500 residential units, senior housing, Class A office space, a small urban grocery store and a fitness center ultimately planned for the 6.7-acre campus.

One potential hiccup: according to the Planning Board application, the 1275 Delaware site is apparently also home to one or more peregrine falcons, which are considered an endangered species.

The Planning Board has set a public hearing for the project at its next meeting, on Nov. 18, when it will also kick off its review. If approved, work by Montante Construction would commence in the second quarter of 2020, with completion slated for the second quarter of 2021.

The new project would be the second by Montante at the sprawling campus, which it acquired from Kaleida Health in 2014, after the hospital system closed Millard Fillmore in March 2012 and consolidated operations to the Gates Vascular Institute at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Montante sold two parcels of land to Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates and to People Inc., which independently built Canterbury Woods Gates Circle and the Linwood-Lafayette Senior Apartments, respectively. Both are now completed and open.

In the meantime, Montante worked with a Community Advisory Committee and University at Buffalo's Regional Institute to develop its plan for at least six major new buildings and to complete an environmental review of its larger project. It's also seeking a special zoning district and tax benefits to smooth the process and fund the work.

It installed new underground infrastructure for the site and began building new roadways. And it received approval for a six-story apartment building at 1299 Delaware, adjacent to Canterbury Woods.

However, work on that first new project has not yet begun because Montante is still trying to negotiate a deal to buy out Rochester developer Robert C. Morgan, with whom it had partnered prior to Morgan being indicted by federal authorities for alleged mortgage, wire and insurance fraud.

Because of the relationship, Morgan's legal problems are preventing Montante from getting financing and proceeding with the Gates Circle redevelopment. Montante already signed an agreement to repurchase Morgan's 50% stake in 1275 Delaware, and officials said they were working on negotiating a buyout for the rest of the campus.

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