Tonawanda News

September 8, 2013

Former mayor to redevelop vacant Webster Street building

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Plans are in the works for a long-vacant building on Webster Street after it was recently purchased by former North Tonawanda Mayor David Burgio.

The former Teddy Bear Carpet Co. edifice, empty since the early 2000s, was acquired by the Lumber City Development Corporation in 2006 who sold it earlier this year to Burgio, and his wife, Donna. 

The LCDC had owned the building for seven years, with an earnest attempt to turn the three-story, 10,000-square-foot structure into a boutique hotel — a vision meant to tap into the growth of the Riviera Theatre among other downtown successes.   

But when that concept fell apart, said Michael Zimmerman, planning and development coordinator for LCDC, they began looking for a new developer.

“It’s a great building and people were interested in it, but not as a hotel,” he said. “Finally we said ‘it’s been vacant for a long time and sitting on a vacant building is not helping anybody.’ If a hotel was going to happen there we would have made it happen. There was no momentum and there was other possibilities there.” 

Reaching out to contacts in the real estate world that at one point included former Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, the Burgios — with a history of developing two other properties along Webster, in the city at large and around Western New York — closed on the property in April. 

But with a $310,000 state grant originally tied to the LCDC’s plan for a boutique hotel still available, Burgio said he is now working through its historic status, like many buildings on the downtown strip, before he finalizes the next stage of his plan. 

At this early juncture, he and his wife are looking to start on the first floor, with a loose notion for a restaurant. The Burgios, who sold the Crazy Jakes property to its owner, Greg Doel, last year, and own another office building next door, also have a background operating hotels, but will instead veer toward other ventures.  

The duo is also considering adding an elevator and office space on the upper floors, which Burgio said haven’t been used in “50 or 60 years.” Discussions are still ongoing with the often-demanding New York State Historic Preservation Office to advance the project.

“You want to keep its historical elements but bring it into the 21st century,” Burgio said. “But it has to be economically feasible. We’re sticking to strategic ideas that will fit nicely downtown. A lot of it will be timing.” 

With carpet still pinned to the walls near the front entrance, and wide open spaces on the upper floors, the building, constructed in 1891, has been occupied by many businesses over the years. 

The Witkop & Holmes Furniture Store once utilized the space, and historical records show the third floor was used as a gentlemen’s club during the prohibition era when the city’s lumber business was booming.

Now, with new life slowly encroaching along the street, officials said while the blueprint to convert the building into an entity similar to the Mansion on Delaware in Buffalo has dissolved, moving toward with more restaurants and retail downtown still works into the city’s master plan. 

“It’s finally at a position where it’s going to, in short order, be something that adds to Webster instead of just an empty building,” Zimmerman added. 

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.