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A retired business owner who sold his firm to Praxair seven years ago is making a new career in real estate, working to turn two former church properties in Buffalo into apartments while breathing new life into a pair of industrial properties.

Wayne Bacon last week bought the former Immaculate Conception Church rectory building at 144 Edward St., at the corner of South Elmwood Avenue, seeking to convert the historic Allentown religious property into new residential housing.

It’s one of six real estate projects he is in the midst of completing in Buffalo and Ellicottville, with different partners. “We are doing some really great projects, and I am enjoying every step in the process,” he said. “I find it a challenge. I find it creative.”

The imposing building, which resembles a gingerbread house on the upper levels, has two chimneys, a peaked slate roof, copper flashing and an extra steeple on one side. It features a carved front door, elegant woodwork, marble fireplaces and what Bacon described as a “very impressive” three-level staircase.

Plans call for up to eight – but probably six – apartments in the three-story stone and “stick-style” building, which was built in 1895 using an architectural style popular since 1860. An additional anteroom “would serve as a nice office for somebody,” Bacon said. There’s also parking for six vehicles.

“It’s a very grand building,” he said. “It’s gorgeous. When you go inside, you’ll see the spaces are large and grand. The woodwork is spectacular.”

Bacon paid $295,000 through 144 Edward Street LLC to purchase the 7,000-square-foot rectory from Ron Alsheimer’s Plaza One Group, which had owned both the church and the rectory since 2006. Plaza One sold the church at 150 Edward St. earlier this month to architect and artist Dennis Maher’s 150 Edward Street 14201 LLC for $35,000.

The total cost of the renovation should be about $700,000, Bacon said. He and his partner, Mike Young of Empire Building Diagnostics in Depew, will use state and federal historic tax credits, so they will maintain the existing common spaces, which take up about 1,500 square feet of the space.

“It’ll be an attractive place for people to rent an apartment,” he said. “There’s a high demand for apartments in the city.”

Meanwhile, Bacon and Young are also finishing up their conversion of a former church at 400 Lincoln Parkway, at the intersection of Amherst Street. That will house 10 apartments – single-level, dual-level and even tri-level units – and one office, ranging in size from 480 to 1,280 square feet each, with high ceilings. There is also on-site parking for 18 vehicles. The building should be finished in mid-June – the first of his projects to be ready for occupancy.

Bacon, who lives around the corner on Middlesex Road, said he and Young bought the property from United Church Home for $90,000, and have invested $1.2 million in the reuse project. He said he didn’t want to see it decay. “No one had a use for it that the community could agree with,” he said. “I live in the neighborhood and that was a significant driver for me to try to do something with it that would blend in.”

Bacon is another “newcomer” to Buffalo who chose to stay and invest his money here rather than relocating. The 65-year-old southern New Jersey native came to Buffalo in the 1980s and owned Mills Welding & Specialty Gases for 24 years before selling it into 2007 to Connecticut-based Praxair. Instead of leaving, they’ve doubled-down.

“After cashing in your chips, you can go anywhere, but we love it here,” he said, citing two children currently at Nichols School. “We had always wondered if and when we sold the business, where would we go? And we ended up not going anywhere. It’s a great town.”

He has long owned some property in Salem, Va., “from which I get a check every month,” and he said he liked “that annuity approach to investing.” And he wanted to diversify his holdings “to provide an income stream for my family in the future.”

Since then, he’s been “bitten by the development bug.”

Besides the two churches, Bacon and Young plan to renovate and expand the former American Locker Group property in Ellicottville into six apartment buildings, offering short-term rentals of 30 furnished units for the ski season and for other times “as the market demands.”

The rentals will range from just a weekend to as long as several months, and are designed to fill a void because village code prohibits renting houses in the historic residential district for less than one month at a time and “there isn’t much available in the way of apartments in the village itself,” he said.

So after five years of negotiating, they paid $212,500 last year to buy the 2.8-acre property at 16 Martha St., behind and across the street from the Ellicottville Brewing Co. Located about two to three blocks outside the business district, the parcel has 600 feet fronting along Great Valley Creek and “nice views of the ski slopes from there,” Bacon said.

The project will create 14 furnished units in the first year, ranging in size from 1,200 to 1,800 square feet each. In the second year, the duo will put up four more buildings, each with four furnished apartments of just under 1,500 square feet each.

The first phase of the project will cost about $2.4 million, including environmental cleanup and site preparation, while the second phase will cost about $2.2 million. Bacon and Young already obtained property tax breaks from the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency.

Then there’s Tonawanda Street in Buffalo, an industrial zone adjacent to train tracks just north of where the Niagara Thruway and the Scajaquada Expressway meet, where Bacon has three projects without Young. First, he is closing in a few weeks on 68 Tonawanda, an 800-foot-long, single-story brick railroad siding building that was historically used for trains to unload their freight for repackaging and reshipping. The first section of the building dates to 1860, so the project is eligible for historic tax credits.

Bacon plans to restore the building’s architectural features, opening up old archways and putting in windows and doors where spaces have been filled in over the years.

Then he’ll subdivide and finish the building as needed to meet tenant demand, though he said he might complete a portion of it for some office space in advance just to have something ready. The building can offer truck-level dock doors in front and ground-level overhead doors in the back, he added. In all, he expects to spend $1.5 million to $2 million on it. “We’re anxious to see what people are looking for,” he said.

Along with that building, he also bought vacant property from CSX Corp., including old rail lines running behind Tonawanda Street and an old railroad bridge across the Scajaquada Creek, that provides access from Tonawanda Street to SUNY Buffalo State.

Bacon is acquiring the building from E.B. Atlas Steel, a steel fabricator that makes both structural and artistic products. Atlas is moving across the street to 31 Tonawanda, a 140,000-square-foot building that Bacon also is buying this month, but from a different owner. He would not disclose the purchase price for either building.

Atlas will occupy 40,000 square feet in that three-story building, which has enormous floorplates, high ceilings, two elevator shafts and 20 feet between structural columns. The basement could handle 100 cars.

Bacon said he does not yet have a use for the rest of the space. “We’re currently exploring uses for that. At this point, we’re wide open,” he said. “We’re having a variety of people come through the building just to give us some ideas of potential uses and potential tenants.”

email: jepstein@buffnews.com