The 500 block of Main Street in downtown Buffalo is seeing a resurgence, as many of the once-derelict neighborhood’s buildings are being acquired and redeveloped into new residences, retail stores, restaurants and office space.
The area along Main from Genesee and Huron streets on the north side to Lafayette Square on the south has long been an area of concern for civic and business leaders, as storefronts closed and buildings sat vacant for years.
But a revived interest in downtown Buffalo, coupled with the coming return of car traffic to Main Street alongside the Metro Rail tracks, has brought new owners to the block in the last few years.
Most recently, a cluster of four properties at the north end of the block are now being converted to new use by two business owners and their spouses. All the projects are historic buildings that will benefit from state tax credits.
Sandra Wilkins, owner of computer software firm Systems In Inc., purchased 537 Main with her husband, Paul, in September 2011, and they are investing $85,000 to renovate the three-story brick building that used to house Greever’s Florist. The upper floors will be their new home, where they hope to move in by Christmas.
Meanwhile, Sandra Wilkins and her sister plan to open a Parisian-style “eclectic” French restaurant on the first floor, called Raclette’s. Her sister, whom she declined to name because she is working at another job, is a restaurateur who moved back to Buffalo specifically to open a new establishment. The venture will cost another $50,000, and plans call for it to open in the spring.
“My sister wanted to open an Italian restaurant, but we have so many,” Wilkins told the members of the Buffalo Place board of directors Wednesday morning. “But my husband and I like to travel and go to Paris a lot, so we thought we’d bring the best of Paris to Buffalo.”
Additionally, Steven J. Carmina, co-founder of architectural firm Carmina Wood Morris PC, is trying to finish up his $150,000 renovation of 9 E. Genesee St. into an apartment for his wife and him, and a 350-square-foot retail store on the first floor.
The Carminas will live on the second and third floors of the building, with an additional loft area above and the entry on street level. He already has four operators interested in leasing the retail space, which he expects to be occupied by February or March.
Next door, Carmina teamed up with developer Roger Trettel, Bison Electrical Corp. owner Joe Picone and his own cousin, accountant Steven A. Carmina, to buy 5 and 7 Genesee, which formerly housed Louie’s Texas Red Hots. Plans call for apartments with a ground-floor, 1,150-square-foot restaurant. So far, he told Buffalo Place directors, he has five restaurateurs interested in the site.
In all, the buildings have about 5,500 square feet of space, and the conversion will total between $500,000 and $600,000, Carmina said.
There’s also been activity with other nearby buildings, such as the vacant former Burger King restaurant building at 495 Main – which was purchased last December for $140,000 by grocer Shaker Abuhamra, owner of Dollar City Wholesale – and the single-story 3,850-square-foot clothing store building at 505 Main, which currently houses JP Fashions.
It was acquired by the owner of VIP Seats, Nick Giammusso, who is now seeking a new retail or commercial tenant and may also add two more floors with apartments to restore it to its original height.
Buffalo Common Council Member Darius Pridgen, whose district includes downtown, said he’s also exploring the idea of asking one of the major office supply chains to open a small supply store in the city’s core, since there’s no option currently, especially for small businesses.
Meanwhile, the Cars Sharing Main Street project to restore vehicular traffic has mostly finished its work on the 600 block, with workers putting up signs and testing the Metro Rail track signals during the winter before wrapping up by the spring, said Debra Chernoff, manager of planning for Buffalo Place.