Nov '23

Eminent domain may be the only way to get AM&A's redeveloped – Buffalo News

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The former AM&A’s department store building on Main Street in Buffalo has been vacant for more than 20 years. Action is needed.
It’s time to bring the purgatorial languishing of the former AM&A’s to an end. For more than 20 years, this huge property at 377 Main St. has been a vacant and desolate presence in the middle of a reviving downtown.
The 375,000-square-foot building is the subject of a complicated lawsuit involving two groups of Chinese investors, Landco H&L and 377 Main Realty LLC, both claiming they own the building.
It’s not at all clear which group has the legal right to this structure and now, after three years of litigation, Buffalo leaders are getting to the point of not caring. The city has indicated that it’s considering eminent domain proceedings or a possible tax foreclosure to release AM&A’s from limbo.
Whatever will work should be put into action as soon as possible. This important structure cannot be abandoned to seemingly endless legal squabbling between out-of-town speculators.
To summarize the history as succinctly as possible:
The original AM&A’s opened in 1867, moved across the street to the current building in 1960 and closed in 1995 after the store, by then a local chain, was sold to Bon-Ton. There was a brief revival as the Taylor’s upscale women’s boutique in 1998, but it’s been vacant since 1999. Queens-based developers Landco H&L bought it in 2014, intending to open a hotel. Ownership transferred to a new group in 2015, but then the structure was sold to another developer consortium, 377 Main Realty, in 2020. Though 377 Realty has presented more attractive concepts, including residential and office use, which were applauded by Buffalo’s planning board at the time, it’s a moot point.
The bottom line is that all three successive owners – the original Landco investors, the second Landco group and 377 Main Reality – are now in court arguing over who really owns the building, with no resolution in sight.
In the meantime, almost 10 years have passed since the first Landco purchase and Buffalo is still looking at a big empty building in the heart of downtown. AM&A’s high-profile location between two Buffalo icons, the Brisbane and One M&T Plaza, has long made it the subject of vocal concern by local business leaders.
On a bright note, some work was done by local contractors early in the first Landco ownership, including remediation of asbestos, mold and water damage. And the city – which is to say, taxpayers – spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to stabilize the underground utility vault under Washington Street. The structure is ready for development, which is all the more reason for the city to take it and give it to someone who will activate it, someone who understands how important this is.
Because it’s not just the size that makes AM&A’s such a key project for downtown. There is also considerable historic and architectural value. Although it’s common practice to refer to this local retail icon as one building, it is actually a combination of several historic buildings, with the largest and most modern by Starett & Van Vleck (1935-48), and smaller, older contributing structures designed by Green & Wicks and Esenwein & Johnson (1892-1909).
Countless local residents remember decades of pleasurable shopping at what had been Buffalo’s largest department store, including animated Christmas windows and a full-floor toy land.
Nostalgia will motivate many who visit a revitalized AM&A’s complex, but there will also be pride in the survival of a local icon, just as there was with the restoration of the nearby Lafayette Hotel.
It’s too bad that the drastic action of an eminent domain proceeding is under consideration, but after decades of stagnation, the city is right to pursue bold measures.
Downtown Buffalo urgently needs this project to go forward.
What’s your opinion? Send it to us at lettertoeditor@buffnews.com. Letters should be a maximum of 300 words and must convey an opinion. The column does not print poetry, announcements of community events or thank you letters. A writer or household may appear only once every 30 days. All letters are subject to fact-checking and editing.
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The former AM&A’s department store building on Main Street in Buffalo has been vacant for more than 20 years. Action is needed.
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