Tugby-Lennon project on Niagara Street commences

The 300 block is scheduled to get some upgrades. Savarino Companies started work on a project centered in the old Press Box bar that hopes to transform that block into a mixed-use residential and retail space.

A long-stalled project, that its developer hopes will begin to revitalize an historic section of Niagara Street, is back on track.

Buffalo-based developer, Savarino Companies, says it has "pulled permits" and begun work on the restoration of 324 Niagara St. and two adjoining buildings. The long-stalled $3.5 million project is centered on two historic commercial row buildings, the Tugby Building and the Lennon Block, located at 320 and 324 Niagara St., and will be known, when it's completed, as the Tugby-Lennon Building.

The project is designed to return the abandoned buildings back to their original mix of uses, with ground-floor commercial spaces and apartments throughout the upper two floors. Completion is expected in spring 2022.

The original plan for the development called for the opening of a brewery inside the former Press Box Restaurant building, part of the three structure complex. But delays in the project led Buffalo's Community Beer Works to withdraw from the development.

"A lot of it is the same project, just without Community Beer Works," Savarino Companies President Sam Savarino said. 

The development was first announced in 2016, but repeatedly encountered unexpected delays. Then dubbed the 324 Niagara Street project, it had received grant funding from both Empire State Development Corporation's USA Niagara arm and the city's NFC Development Corp.

Those grants have been renewed. The project will also receive $155,000 in tax abatements through the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

The remaining financing for the project will come from Community Preservation Corporation and federal and state historic tax credits.

"USA Niagara is very excited to see construction commence on this critical block of Niagara Street,” USAN President Anthony Vilardo said. “Savarino Companies’ project shows the continued upward trajectory for the market-rate residential market in downtown Niagara Falls.

The rehabilitated buildings will feature a mix of 10 one-and-two-bedroom apartments across the upper two floors and 4,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space.

Savarino, who has a history degree from the University of Buffalo, and whose company has been involved in numerous historic renovation projects in Buffalo, believes the project will benefit from its location "right in the middle of a very historic street."

"There's always an interest in the story of a building," he said. "And it's always great when you can bring that story back to life."

The Tugby Building and Lennon Block are two of the five contributing buildings that comprise a series of connected structures that stand on Niagara Street between Third and Fourth streets. They are the only largely intact collection of mixed-use buildings that demonstrate the history of what Savarino said was once a dense commercial corridor between 1895-1923.

The Tugby Building was commissioned in 1909 by Thomas Tugby, an early settler of Niagara Falls and one of its most important businessmen because of his thriving souvenir store business, the Tugby Bazaar.

The Lennon Block was constructed by John Lennon, a general contractor and real estate developer in 1904. The C. Kurtzmann and Company piano store was the building’s first commercial tenant.

"We're trying to follow the original look of the buildings," Savarino said. "It's a typical approach we have when we're doing this type of construction."

Courtney Samuels-Cox, Savarino vice president, said the development is "small but impactful."

"This project is important to the downtown revitalization due to its location near the corner of Niagara and Third Streets. It will be a showcase of Niagara’s historic charm and we are proud to contribute it to this exciting up-and-coming downtown neighborhood," Samuels-Cox said.

Savarino said the project is also a sign of an improving environment for economic development in the Falls.

"The city has done a very good job of putting out what they had available for development," Savarino said. "This plan is important for Niagara Street. I think the general overall development picture is betting better there."

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