The center of downtown is stirring and it has been a long time in coming. The 500 block of Main Street has been shabby since at least the early-1980’s when the Hyatt Hotel opened its doors. Three decades of abandonment is being erased one building at a time. Projects on surrounding blocks are creating some momentum for the area.
Give credit to three pioneers: the architectural firm of Carmina Wood Morris, restaurateur Don Warfe and developer Roger Trettel. Carmina Wood Morris’ purchase and renovation of the former McDonald’s building at Main and Mohawk (1 on map) in 2004 kicked-off the latest wave of investment in the 400 and 500 blocks of Main. The architecture and engineering firm occupies the six-story building’s top two floors. The company has been patiently waiting for a retail or restaurant tenant for the ground floor and has finally landed one. A café will be opening soon in the building’s ground floor and discussions are underway with a tenant to take the empty second floor.
In a leap of faith, Don Warfe purchased 501 Main in 2008 and put two full-floor residences in the building’s upper floors and is planning a Brodo-to-Go for the first floor (2). It was the first significant investment on this highly visible block that has lost nearly all of its retail and restaurant tenants over the prior decade. Recessed patios behind the facade overlook Main Street from the second and third floor residences (photo below).
Roger Trettel was next. He combined and renovated both 523 Main and 502 Washington Street (3). The complex houses Main Washington Exchange, a shared workspace facility. Trettel has plans for another 500 block property (details coming soon).
Trettel also opened Storage Central at 290-96 Ellicott Street (4) and is planning to renovate the former Emulso Corporation building at 301 Ellicott for up to eight loft apartments that will have access to indoor parking (5). Those properties are contiguous to the Buehl Block and 285 Ellicott Street rehab projects (6) that Trettel opened a few years ago.
Other pieces have fallen into place. Iskalo development renovated the Howard’s Shoes building at Genesee and Washington Streets (7). A unique tenant is said to be interested in the building that fronts Roosevelt Plaza and Iskalo’s rehabbed Electric Tower. WNY Books Arts Center moved into a building at Mohawk and Washington (8). Erin Epstein renovated a former printing plant into Holling Place apartments (9) and is converting a warehouse into three, two-family condos across the street (10).
And the momentum appears to be increasing. Back on Ellicott Street, Rocco Termini has purchased the former Horton Coffee Co. building at 338 Ellicott and plans to renovate it to house a family-style restaurant (11).
Law firm Ricotta and Visco is converting 496 Main Street into its new home. The four-story building is currently gutted (12 and bottom image).
On the 400 block of Main, the end use of the converted Courtyard Mall (13) has drawn criticism, but Ellicott Developments redevelopment of the Baker Shoe complex holds promise. The development fronts both Main and Pearl streets and will include residential and commercial space (14).
At 477 Main Street, The Martin Group is renovating the long-vacant Wendy’s restaurant as its new headquarters (15). The non-descript building will get a 1,500 sq.ft. second floor addition, a new façade and a balcony overlooking Main Street.
Hamister Co. is still eyeing the Tishman Building overlooking Lafayette Square for a reuse project (16). A mix of office, residential and hotel space is possible.
There are still too many vacant buildings in the 500 block but interest appears high.
Plans for the Canvas Bar at 537 Main Street (17) have shifted to Hertel Avenue, but neighbors say the building is once again under contract for sale. There is a group trying to make something happen with the Texas Red Hots and adjacent building at 5-9 Genesee Street (18) but needs City help and the project is complicated by a bankruptcy by the owner.
Nearby on Pearl Street, Olympic Towers’ owner is evaluating purchase offers from at least two groups, both have previously owned the building according to sources. And in the ‘one can only hope’ department, there’s a rumor of a development group eyeing the surface parking lot at Pearl and Huron for a mid-rise, mixed-use project.