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Meeting The Need For Urban Living

by aschwartz

Eric Landers, Program Manager Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation

Tue, Jun 10th 2014 08:35 am

In 1917 the Lockwood, Green & Company completed construction of a 4-story manufacturing facility at 2917 Main Street near Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo for the Buffalo Meter Company.  The building featured the then modern "Daylight Factory" design which proved especially suited to multistoried industrial structures.  The use of reinforced concrete construction allowed for the creation of layer upon layer of virtually unobstructed floor space.  On the exterior walls, large windows filled the spaces between the exposed concrete frame, admitting abundant light and fresh air to each floor. Elevators and hoists linked the various work levels.  Reinforced concrete construction was also inexpensive, easily standardized and fire proof. The Buffalo Meter Company building is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places as an excellent example of "Daylight Factory" design.
In 1971, the State of New York acquired the building from the Singer Corporation and in 1973 the building was renovated for use by SUNY Buffalo to house the Art Department, School of Architecture and Design, and portions of the Division of Continuing Education.  The building was renamed Bethune Hall after Louis Blanchard Bethune, the first professional woman architect in the United States.  By 1994, SUNY had vacated the building and it was auctioned in 2005 by the State of New York and purchased by Meyer Landau for $384,000.  After plans for a loft conversion stalled, in 2010 the property was sold to a Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation led partnership.
In 2012 and 2013 the Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation underwent a $12.5 million conversion of the vacant, neglected building into the Bethune Lofts, an 87-unit urban living rental community.  The building's "Daylight Factory" architectural style and strong "bones" made the adaptive reuse of the building for rental apartments possible.  The property is ideally located within one block of a Metro Rail Station and in close proximity to University at Buffalo's South Campus and the Hertel Avenue shopping and entertainment district.  The building's architecture and location, coupled with an adaptive reuse residential loft style design featuring high ceilings, exposed columns and brick, large windows, hardwood floors, gated parking with controlled access, building security, bicycle storage and fitness center, make for unique and desirable urban living.  Urban living is attracting single professionals and young couples who work in the city as well as empty nesters drawn by the abundant cultural, recreational and entertainment amenities.
The Bethune Lofts draws on the concepts of new urbanism, transit-oriented development and historic preservation.  New urbanism stresses walkable neighborhoods, higher density, and a mix of uses as well as access to jobs and amenities such as shopping, entertainment and transit.  Convenience is the ultimate amenity.  Whether they walk or drive, people want to be near jobs, shopping and services.  Much of Buffalo's current housing renaissance centers round job creation at the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) and increased amenities within the CBD, Allentown and Elmwood Village.  Today, the BNMC is home to 12,000 employees, up from 8,500 employees in 2010.  Upon completion by 2016 of Conventus, Women & Children's Hospital, UB Medical School and Roswell Park Clinical Science Center, full-time equivalent employment at the BNMC is estimated to reach 17,000 jobs.  The creation of 5,000 new jobs over the next couple of years will generate increased demand for housing in the City of Buffalo.
The Bethune Lofts are located within one block of a Metro Rail Station.  The Metro Rail line parallels Main Street and extends from the waterfront in downtown Buffalo to The University at Buffalo South Campus at Bailey Avenue.  Construction of the new University at Buffalo Medical School will incorporate a new Allen Street Metro Rail Station and is expected to increase use of the light rail line.  Fueled by demographic changes and concerns over quality of life, is a growing trend in metropolitan areas with active transportation modes to establish high-density, mixed-use urban neighborhoods surrounding public transportation corridors and hubs.  This new urbanism planning concept promotes walkable neighborhoods containing a mix of housing and job opportunities.  Those people living in transit sheds have better access to jobs as well as lower average commute times and transportation costs than the region as a whole.  The Bethune Lofts is an excellent example of transit-oriented development.
Emerging research has indicated that urban form and transportation options are playing key roles in the ability of residential properties to generate consumer demand and maintain their value.  Studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for housing located in areas that exemplify new urbanism principles or are "traditional neighborhood developments."  These neighborhoods are walkable, higher density, and have a mix of uses as well as access to jobs and amenities such as transit.
The Bethune Lofts joins a growing list of historic preservation projects in the City of Buffalo involving the adaptive reuse of previously neglected and underutilized structures.  The recent boom in historic preservation activity has been supported by federal and state historic tax credits that assist in defraying the added costs of restoration by bridging the financial gap and improving a project's financial feasibility.
Owners of income producing real properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places may be eligible for a 20 percent federal income tax credit for substantial rehabilitation.  New York State Tax Credit Program for Income Producing Properties provides owners with an additional 20 percent of the qualified rehabilitation expenditures up to $5,000,000.  Owners of income producing properties that are approved to receive the 20 percent federal rehabilitation tax credit automatically qualify for the additional state tax credit if the property is located in an eligible census tract.  The New York State Tax Credit Program for Income Producing Properties must be used in conjunction with the federal rehabilitation tax credit.
Owners of historic commercial and rental properties listed on the State and National Registers may qualify for the federal 39 percent New Markets Tax Credits Program for investing in properties for low-income communities or persons.
Supported by 19 designated local, state and federal historic districts, a large inventory of individually designated National Register properties, several architectural treasures designed by some of America's most distinguished architects (i.e., Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Henry Hobson Richardson, etc.) and a park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, historic preservation has a prominent seat at the table of the City of Buffalo's current renaissance.  The economic impact of historic preservation on the financial and fiscal prosperity of communities with architectural assets the likes of the City of Buffalo is both measurable and significant.  By repurposing and bringing back to life an otherwise underutilized asset, historic preservation enhances property values, stimulates additional reinvestment, creates jobs, generates increased tax revenues, conserves resources, preserves neighborhoods and enhances a community's urban fabric and quality of life.
To conclude, the Bethune Lofts converted a once vacant former industrial property into loft style rental apartments.  The Bethune Lofts meets a growing need for housing in the City of Buffalo created by a growing employment base within the BNMC.  Its proximity to a Metro Rail Station provides residents of Bethune Lofts with convenient access to the BNMC, CBD and University at Buffalo South Campus.  The building's "Daylight Factory" architectural style and adaptive reuse residential loft style design and close proximity to Hertel Avenue affords a unique urban lifestyle suitable for single professionals, young couples and empty nesters.  The Bethune Lofts serve as another important piece to Buffalo's urban renaissance.