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Bethune Hall complex reaches developer's lofty target

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by Jim Fink, Buffalo Business First Reporter - Business First

Fri, Apr 26th 2013 08:00 am

The $15.5 million roll of the economic development dice has proven to be a winner for Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.

Two months before the restored Bethune Hall on Main Street makes its debut as an upscale apartment complex straddling the North Buffalo/Central Park/University District neighborhoods, officials said they have a 200-person waiting list for a project that has 87 units. And some have been on the list for more than a year.

"It could be the location or maybe the loft experience that's in someplace other than downtown," said Denise Juron-Borgese, director of development and planning. "Or maybe it's the neighborhood."

The six-story building, which neighbors Bennett High School, was designed for Buffalo Meter Co. in 1915 by Louise Blanchard Bethune, the nation's first female architect. Ciminelli is restoring the building to Bethune's vision and plans to incorporate a first-floor mural by local artist Augustina Drozer that pays homage to the architect and the building's industrial past.

Inside, tenants will find apartments with dramatic views of Buffalo. There are 50 two-bedroom units and 37 with a single bedroom. Of those with two bedrooms, 11 are designed as two-story apartments. The units range from 650 to 1,800 square feet.

It's the first residential adaptive reuse for Ciminelli.

Long vacant, the building was a magnet for vandals until the company bought it from Brooklyn real estate interests three years ago.

"It was an eyesore and now, to me, it is another example of the progress we are making in the city," said Mayor Byron Brown. "When you look at Bethune Hall and see how it has developed, it is a prime example of all the development planets lining up in the right way."

Amber Holycross, Ciminelli project manager, said the waiting list includes graduate students, older couples and empty nesters.

"It is really interesting who is calling," she said. "We probably could have filled a building twice this size."

Like other historic, adaptive-reuse efforts, there is an emphasis on using exposed brick and large picture windows.

But there's also a green element with a white membrane roof to draw sunlight into the building.

Juron-Borgese said Ciminelli is seeking Silver LEED status for the building.

"That would be fitting for this project," she said.