Frank Chinnici's Legacy Development has completed its $2.7 million purchase of six properties in downtown Buffalo from a downstate landlord, who had allowed one of his buildings to deteriorate to the point that it had to be torn down in an emergency demolition last fall.
Legacy on Wednesday closed on the purchase of the "Adler Portfolio," which it termed a "strategic collection of real estate parcels located at the doorstep to downtown Buffalo."
Formerly owned by Bruce H. Adler, a 72-year-old downstate businessman from Nyack in Rockland County, the properties are located on Genesee, Oak and Ellicott streets, on the north side of Genesee. They were the subject of immense concern and controversy last year, spurring efforts to get them out of Adler's hands and into local control after years of perceived neglect and deterioration.
“Finally, we have an opportunity to address a long-standing problem at the doorstep to downtown," Chinnici said Thursday. Adler had acquired the properties years earlier in a foreclosure auction.
Local preservationists were relieved.
“We are hopeful that this will start a new chapter for these long neglected buildings, and that Legacy development will be able to bring the kind of care and attention that these buildings have needed for decades," said Jessie Fisher, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara. "We are looking forward to working with the Legacy team to ensure a preservation based approach to development moving forward.”
Preservationists have expressed concern for years about the condition of the properties, but it wasn't until a century-old building was destroyed that they were able to get action.
Even other developers had tried to take action. Rocco Termini, owner of the Hotel @ the Lafayette and other properties in downtown Buffalo, said he took Adler to Housing Court 15 years ago, to no avail.
"It shows a system-level failure we continue to have in holding absentee, out-of-town property owners accountable," Fisher told The Buffalo News in early December.
Late last summer, the chimney caved in on a three-story Italianate building at 435 Ellicott that dated from the 1860s, and a part of the facade crumbled. City inspectors cited Adler for seven violations shortly after that.
But the building suffered additional roof damage in late fall, triggering an emergency demolition that rocked the city's preservation community and prompted anger against derelict landlords. It also prompted renewed efforts by the city to crack down on absentee and neglectful landlords.
That sudden demolition – which the city charged to Adler – destroyed the home of Two Wheels Bakery and Cafe on the first floor and also displaced two upstairs tenants. Another business, The Puppy Playpen, was forced to move out of its building next door in August after city inspectors warned them not to return for safety.
The demolished structure was located next door to Toutant Restaurant and down the street from Maureen's Buffalo Wholesale Flower Market.
On Wednesday, Legacy and partner Withrow South Capital Corp., a Canadian investment company, bought the properties through Main Gateway LP from Adler's Buffalo Properties Ltd. Besides the demolished site at 435 Ellicott, the other properties include 441 Ellicott, 130 Genesee and 324, 328 and 334 Oak.
Eamon J.P. Riley, assistant vice president of development at Legacy, called the loss of 435 Ellicott "regretful," and said the new owners will work to revive the properties.
The company said it has been working on redevelopment plans for the site since last fall, and will release those plans in the coming months. For the immediate future, the company said, it's primary goal is to stabilize the buildings and "remedy the many code violations that occurred under the prior ownership."
In particular, Riley said the firm plans to stabilize 324 North Oak, which is "in many ways in worse condition than the building that did collapse." He said the site is also a brownfield, so Legacy will work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on a cleanup plan that would qualify for tax credits under the Brownfield Cleanup Program.
"Our team is excited to move forward, and sees enormous potential to bring vibrancy back to these important downtown parcels in the future," Riley said. "While plans are still under development, we envision a true mixed-use project that will invigorate the surrounding area."