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A vacant building in the Main-Hertel neighborhood would be transformed into 89 loft apartments under an $8.5 million plan presented to city officials.

The six-story structure next to Bennett High School once housed the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Design. The former Buffalo Meter Co. building has been vacant since the 1990s, said Steven J. Carmina of Carmina Wood Morris Architects, the firm that has designed the project.

The complex at 2915 Main St. will include a fitness center, lounge and laundry facilities. Most of the apartments would have two bedrooms.

"We're gearing the units toward grad students, professors and people who work on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus," Carmina told The Buffalo News.

The building is about a mile from the UB South Campus and less than four miles from the emerging medical campus in the Main-High neighborhood.

Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. is spearheading the Bethune Lofts project, a complex that bears the name of Louise Blanchard Bethune, a Buffalo resident and the first woman in the nation to become a professional architect. When used by UB for classrooms in the 1970s, the building was known as Bethune Hall.

The developer hopes to fund the project with private financing, paired with state and federal historic tax credits. Work will include new windows and masonry on the exterior, a new roof and a complete reconstruction of the building's interior, according to documents filed with the city Planning Board.

Proponents hope construction will begin in July and units will be ready for occupancy by early next year, Carmina said.

University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell, whose district includes the site, said developers have been methodically working on their plan for nearly a year.

She has spoken with neighborhood leaders and said turning a neighborhood eyesore into a thriving residential complex has broad support.

"Everyone is upbeat that something is being done with this disastrous mess of a building," Russell said.

The complex will be an "ideal" location, she added, noting that the building is on a bus route and only a block or so from the LaSalle Metro Rail Station.

Another community meeting will be scheduled soon so residents can be briefed on the project, Russell said.

The project will embrace environmentally friendly "green" technology. The developer is pursuing certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, or LEED.

Without giving precise figures, Carmina said rents will be set at market rates and will be competitive with similar loft-style apartments that have been built downtown and in other neighborhoods.

The Planning Board is being asked to approve a design and site plan for the project.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com