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After decades of decline, 500 Block of Main St. back in business | News

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After decades of decline, 500 Block of Main St. back in business
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After previously describing the 500 Block of Main Street as "Beirut", local developer Rocco Termini says the neighborhood has made an amazing transformation in a short period of time.

"It now looks like a historic block in New York City," Termini said, as he sat down with 2 On Your Side in the same spot as he did exactly four years ago.

In the fall of 2011, 2 On Your Side highlighted the problems on the 500 Block in a series of investigative reports. We found that, despite obvious code violations, not a single building owner had been fined.

The City said it was already cracking down and promised change.

"I can't believe how much it's changed," Termini said.

Records show at least $6.5 million in private investment on the 500 Block over the past several years. That's on top of the $21 million spent by the federal, state and local governments for the "Cars Sharing Main Street" initiative.

Car traffic is expected to return to the 500 Block by December 1, according to city officials.

"[It was] getting the cars back on Main, but also just redoing the entire design. It was dated. It was worn," said Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Strategic Planning.

That public investment prompted more and more private development.

Among the highlights:

  • Developer and Architect Steve Carmina purchased 5, 7 and 9 Genesee. He lives above 9 Genesee and has restaurant and apartment plans for 5-7 (former Red Hots location).
  • Developers Kevin Helfer and Paul Lamparelli invested at least $1 million in 535 Main. It now includes D'Avolio Kitchen on the ground level and apartment space on the upper floors.
  • Paul and Sandra Wilkins have spent $1 million on 537 Main. Raclette's, a French-themed restaurant, will be on the first floor, and the Wilkins family will live above.
  • Joseph Incao, a Buffalo native who has spent the past few decades in New York City, returned home and will open "Furnishings Gift Home and You, the first new retail store on the block in many years.

"You have businesses making money down here now, and it never used to be that way," Termini said.

Ellicott Development owns the Belesario apartment building right beside the Hyatt. Both the hotel and the apartments did well despite the decline.

An Ellicott official said, while it's always been a desirable location, "it will be more desirable now with more amenities nearby and on-street traffic." Ellicott has also been able to fill its two remaining retail spots in that area.

That's not to say there aren't still challenges. The building at 529 Main Street, owned by James Sandoro, hasn't changed much since our story in 2011. One neighbor, who asked not to be named, said "That's the eye sore we have left."

While Sandoro saved the building at auction, put on a new roof and paid all the taxes, the "For Lease" sign is still in the same window it was 4 years ago. Sandoro told 2 On Your Side that he has no plans to develop the building.

When asked why he hasn't sold, he said the right person hasn't come along. Sandoro said he's in no rush, but if someone with the right intentions makes a reasonable offer, he would consider it.

Mehaffy, while not addressing Sandoro or his building specifically, said the City will continue to crack down on vacant properties.

"We want to make sure that people who are sitting on buildings that aren't contributing to what's happening in Downtown Buffalo and throughout the city right now, we want to make sure that those buildings are getting turned over and put in the hands of somebody who does want to contribute to this momentum," Mehaffy said.

As for a prediction, Termini said the sky is the limit for this booming block.

"In three or four yeras, we're going to say we have 15 new retail establishments Downtown, and it'll be here," Termini said. "People see things happening, and they want to be part of it."


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