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LISTEN ON DEMAND: THIS AMERICAN LIFE tribute to the 10 killed in the Tops Market shootings.

Developers see Niagara Bicycle Building as catalyst for downtown

A long ignored section of urban Buffalo is set to receive a facelift. Developers are already calling the project “the gateway to downtown.”

After decades of sitting vacant, the 1850's-era American Storage Company building will become 21 apartments and a coffee shop with a garden and patio roof combo and geothermal heating and cooling. Sienna Realty is pledging to spend $4.6 million to accomplish this.

Because the project has the potential to turn an eyesore into a catalyst for downtown redevelopment, the Erie County IDA has approved $200,000 in tax breaks.

Currently, thousands of motorists a day get a full view of rundown buildings as they exit from Interstate 190. It's a sight that creates the wrong impression of Buffalo, says Fred LoFaso, a developer with Sienna Realty.

“It’ll put a good face on not only Niagara Street, but also downtown Buffalo. It’ll be not only for the workers, the suburbanites who work downtown. But also for the out-of-towners from Canada. It’s truly a gateway to the U.S.,” LaFaso says.

Downtown Buffalo has seen islands of redevelopment and reuse in the past 15 years, but on the whole the country’s third poorest city remains the epitome of urban blight.

LoFaso hopes the project sparks a comeback for the decrepit Niagara Street corridor that connects downtown with the on-the-mend west side.

“You hear a lot that Buffalo has done a great job of putting in these redevelopment projects throughout the city. But there’s been no concentration. You lose that density and you lose the effect of it,” LoFaso says.

Becoming the "Niagara Bicycle Building"

With 55,000 sq feet of space, the building will also house the city’s largest bicycle workshop. Hence its new moniker, the “Niagara Bicycle Building.”

The name comes with some historical justification: bike pedals were manufactured at the site in the 1880’s.

Within 18 months, the building will house offices for local advocacy organization Green Options Buffalo, a sustainable transportation non-profit that plans to open the bike workshop.

“Our goal is to tie in bicycle infrastructure, get more people out there riding, but also to attract more people to Niagara Street and provide jobs for the neighborhood,” says Justin Booth, founder of Green Options.

The city also plans to add bike lanes, traffic calming devices and green space to Niagara Street as part of a revamp slated to begin next year. This road project is designed make the corridor more friendly to two-wheeled transportation.

“A lot of people use the bicycle as a necessity, as a mode of transportation. Other people use it recreationally. Being so close to the bike paths of the waterfront, connecting all the way through to Grand Island, I think [this location on] Niagara Street is a natural for it,” LoFaso says.

Sienna Realty’s plans also call for the demolition of a vacant car wash in the adjacent plot. Currently, LoFaso is searching for a national retailer to open shop there and provide “financial stability” for the rehab of the American Storage Company building. But first, crews will need to clean up the parcel’s contaminated soil.

Follow WBFO Reporter Daniel Robison on Twitter.