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The Planning Board on Tuesday gave a developer the green light to turn a long-vacant building on Main Street next to Bennett High School into loft apartments.

Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. plans to transform the former Buffalo Meter Co. building into a residential complex that will include about 85 apartments, a fitness center, lounge and laundry facilities.

The six-story structure at 2915 Main St. has been empty since the 1990s.

The complex will be called Bethune Lofts. When it housed the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Design, it was known as Bethune Hall.

Construction is expected to begin early this summer with a goal of completing the project in January, Ciminelli Vice President Timothy Vaeth said. The developer is applying for state and federal historic tax credits. The site has already snared a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, a key step in efforts to obtain such tax credits.

During a City Hall meeting, the Planning Board approved site and design plans for the lofts project. Board Chairman James K. Morrell called the effort a "great reuse" of a building that has been vacant for many years.

Morrell, who is also service planning manager at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, noted the structure's close proximity to the LaSalle Metro Rail Station. Morrell said there are not many properties near Metro Rail stations that are available for development.

No residents of the Main-Hertel neighborhood attended Tuesday's hearing. University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell said residents are "upbeat" about the project, and she praised Ciminelli officials for maintaining a dialogue with the community. She noted that one unique feature of the project is that environmentally efficient techniques will be used to build Bethune Lofts.

"It's a green project. It's everything that everyone has been waiting for for a very long time," Russell said.

Most of the apartments will have two bedrooms, although there will be a small number of one-bedroom units. The apartments will feature 12- to 14-foot-high ceilings. The rents will be set at market rates and will be competitive with similar loft-style apartments. They will be marketed to graduate students, professors and people who work on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Russell said the lofts will be in a "prime location."

Steven J. Carmina of Carmina Wood Morris Architects made a presentation to the Planning Board. He said the building will have 148 parking spaces in a fenced lot that will be lined by trees. The inside of the building will be gutted, and some asbestos abatement will be required. Crews will also perform some exterior work.

"There is going to be some brick work that needs to be cleaned and repaired, but the building is otherwise in fantastic shape," Carmina said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com