Standing on the median, in the middle of the 600 block of Niagara Street, Christian Campos is beaming as he looks at the project taking shape before him.

“This is such a passion project for us,” the president of TM Montante Development says of 616 Niagara.

In early 2017, Montante responded to a request for proposals from the city of Niagara Falls looking for a plan to transform 11 lots fronted by 610, 614 and 624 Niagara Street. Campos said his company had been looking to “do a project” in the Falls and this one seemed perfect.

“We thought this was a great project for us to go after,” Campos said. “We were impressed with the way the city put together the RFP. It had just the right elements, including an Empire State grant that mitigated some of the risk in doing the project.”

The grant provided $750,000 to the estimated $5.5 million development.

Campos said the project also had a perfect anchor tenant, the Niagara Global Tourism Institute, a Niagara University-led initiative to transform the regional tourism industry. 

Montante took three dilapidated, 100-year-old three story buildings, at 610, 614 and 624 Niagara Street and rehabbed and renovated the spaces while maintaining their historic characteristics. Then the developer created a one-story connecting structure, 616 Niagara Street and added 42 parking spots behind the combined structures. 

The Tourism Institute will occupy roughly 10,000 square feet on the ground floor of the project, with 17 market rate apartments primarily on the second and third floors.

“The Institute will provide a tourism technology incubator space similar to the incubator on the Buffalo-Niagara Medical campus,” Campos said. “And we felt there was a tremendous demand for market rate residential in the Falls.”

City officials are excited about the project too.

“This project has the potential to serve as a catalyst for innovation and downtown living in Niagara Falls,” Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said of the project late last year. “The synergy of new first-class residential options and the expansion of the innovation economy in our downtown is a tremendous win for our city.”

Although Campos said the depth of demand for market rate residential property in the Falls is still “unproven”, he said he believes the Falls is presenting the kind of opportunities that developers began finding in Buffalo a decade ago.

The newly created apartments feature large historic windows, interior light walls and plenty of exposed brick.

“Rehabbing old buildings and restoring their former glory is inherently cool,” Campos said. “It’s gratifying to bring buildings back to life.”

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