Tool & machine factory gets new life as apartments in Black Rock

The manufacturing facility in Black Rock that once made gauges to measure oil viscosity in cars is now home to its first residential tenants, after a yearlong conversion by McGuire Development Co.

The Buffalo-based developer spent $6.5 million to transform the former Buerk building into the Vintage Flats, with 33 boutique apartments – 23 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units. Located one block from a developing neighborhood on Chandler Street, the new apartment building is already half-leased, and the project’s first tenants moved in last month.

Vintage Flats Apartments

An old punch clock used in a mail area at McGuire Development’s Vintage Flats Apartments, on Grote Street in Buffalo Tuesday, December 6, 2022.

“The challenge of this project was how do you efficiently fit units into the space and celebrate the character of the building, without facing too many issues,” said Eric Ekman, McGuire’s vice president of development and acquisitions.

The two-story brick building features industrial style market-rate apartments with 24 different layouts, but all have ceilings of at least 12 feet, oversized windows with shades, and exposed brick or structural clay block. First-floor apartments have modern new concrete floors, while second-floor units have either restored or new hardwood floors, as well as ceilings with exposed wood joists for a rustic look. Five units in a former garage have ceilings that are 17 feet tall.

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Apartments range in size from just under 500 square feet – the most popular size for leasing so far – to just over 1,100 square feet. Rents start at $1,100 for the one-bedroom apartments, and $1,400 for the two-bedroom units.

Vintage Flats Apartments

A stairway at McGuire Development’s Vintage Flats Apartments, on Grote Street in Buffalo Tuesday, December 6, 2022. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

“That’s market,” Ekman said, adding that new tenants are mostly young professionals. “It’s a relatively accessible price point in the market, and the units work well.”

Corridor walls are decorated with commissioned ink-wipe prints by Buffalo artist Chris Fritton of Allentown, as well as historical images of activity at Buerk Tool dating back to 1957, from the Buffalo History Museum’s Hare Collection.

“We are pleased to give this building new life by creating modern apartments with attractive amenities,” said McGuire CEO Jim McGuire. The building was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places earlier this year.

Vintage Flats Apartments

A model bedroom at McGuire Development’s Vintage Flats Apartments, on Grote Street in Buffalo Tuesday, December 6, 2022.

Located at 293 Grote St., just off Elmwood Avenue, the 33,000-square-foot complex was originally constructed in 1921 as two separate buildings, which were later combined in the 1930s through a common lobby area. The first occupant was the Visco Meter Co., which made the Visco Meter and other devices for cars, and occupied both floors until the 1930s.

That’s when Buerk – which was founded in 1919 by Hans Buerk – began production on the second floor, and eventually occupied the entire complex, and then added a garage in 1965. It made precision machine parts for cars, and later produced parts and tools for the U.S. military and for companies such as Bell Aircraft. The firm’s products were even sent into space in 1958 as part of an early series of Jupiter-Redstone rockets.

Vintage Flats Apartments

The open kitchen and living room at McGuire Development’s Vintage Flats Apartments, on Grote Street in Buffalo Tuesday, December 6, 2022.

The company was sold to a group of employees in 2002, but filed for bankruptcy in 2019. .

McGuire bought the factory from the Buerk family in 2020, and undertook the preservation and rehabilitation, with a focus on maintaining the connection to the building’s history by retaining or salvaging historical elements. The building’s hallways, common areas and even apartments now display refurbished “load lifter” cranes, metal-clad fire doors, boiler plates, a punch clock and line-shaft equipment – many of which were made locally.

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