Old 'Courtyard Mall' site to be renovated
$5.5 million project will put offices, stores apartments on adjacent Main Street properties
By SHARON LINSTEDT
News Staff Reporter
A pair of long-vacant buildings on the west 400-block of Main Street are coming back to life as an office/residential/retail complex.
Buffalo developers Carl Paladino and Frank McGuire have embarked on a $5.5 million overhaul of the idle Courtyard Mall, at 460 Main St., and the former Baker Shoes building next door at 450 Main St. Phase One of the project is focusing on the 73,000-square-foot Courtyard Mall building and will create two floors of office space and a small first floor retail space, with basement-level parking for 56 vehicles.
The Main and Pearl street facades of the structures will be redone in red brick to match original brick on the Baker building.
Paladino, who has owned the Courtyard Mall since 1995, said market conditions are finally right for the conversion.
"It is a very difficult location on Main Street in a downtown that has been a tough sell," Paladino said. "We're now at a point where market conditions have improved and we're figured out the right tenant mix."
A key driver in the redevelopment is the New York State Department of Parole, which will lease all the office space on the first floor. The parole division has signed a 10-year lease and will move its operations from the Donovan State Office Building by the end of the year. Empty since the late 1980s, the Courtyard Mall building has long been considered an eyesore in the heart of downtown. The longtime home of Neisners department store, its last anchor tenant was a branch of the now-defunct Permanent Savings Bank, along with a lower level food court, game room and some small retail shops.
Paladino acquired the building for $370,000 in mid-1995 from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which took control of the property in 1990 when Permanent Savings was gobbled up by Key Bank.
But even before the bank's acquisition, the Main Street site was eyed as a potential location for a huge office tower. In 1988, Corporex Cos. of Cleveland came to town proposing a 20-story office/retail complex. That plan went nowhere.
A Philadelphia developer was next in line with a flashy $55 million office tower that incorporated retail shops facing Main Street and several floors of interior parking.
After that proposal fizzled, a number of more esoteric uses were proposed, including a downtown outlet mall. The University at Buffalo Urban Design Group weighed in with an unsuccessful blueprint to convert it to a combination farmer's market, grocery store, day-care center and furniture design gallery.
Buffalo Place Executive Director Michael Schmand said he's heartened to see activity at the long-dormant address. In recent days the building's circa 1970's stucco facade and Courtyard Mall sign have been removed, revealing the old Neisners discount store nameplate.
"The multiuse plan they're working from will fit in well with all the good things that are happening downtown. The mix of office and residential is exactly what the city's Queen City Hub development blueprint called for," Schmand said.
Schmand acknowledged that he's heard some concern about locating the parole office on Main Street, bringing convicted criminals to the business district for required meetings with their parole officers. But the Buffalo Place executive said he's confident the state and the developer will provide adequate security.
"The bottom line is that this is everybody's downtown and these are people who have served their time and repaid their debt to society," Schmand said. "It would be a shame to concentrate on that aspect and let it overshadow the bigger impact of having a key Main Street site brought back to life."
In the second phase of the project, the Baker Shoe building will be redone as upscale, loft-style apartments, similar to Paladino's conversion of the former L.L. Berger department store to the Bellasara apartments in the next block of Main Street.
"We're going to be able to do some really cool things with these because of how the building is situated," Paladino said, noting the building's unusual design that features a one-story structure with a false second floor facing Main Street and an eight-story tower at the rear.
A few of the units will be jumbo, 4,000-square-foot apartments, while a typical dwelling will be approximately 1,200-square-feet, renting for around $1,100 a month. Like the Bellasara, the units will feature open floor plans with up-market kitchen and baths and lots of exposed brick.
A single unit is also planned for the rear of the Courtyard Mall building, overlooking Pearl Street, as part of the residential phase of the project. Build-out of the Baker Shoes site is slated to begin next spring.