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Buffalo News,   January 5, 2000  by Jay Ray

      Amherst is now officially the proud owner of a sprawling, four-story historic building on Mill Street.

       The $5 million deal to buy the St. Mary of the Angels Motherhouse and about 100 acres from the Sisters of St. Francis religious order was basically a done deal months ago, but Amherst formally closed on the property just last week.

       As in any closing on a house, there were a number of contractual details that needed to be worked out -- the sisters, for example, didn't move out of the historic building and into their new home on Reist Street until November -- before the town took the keys and title to the property, which was done last Thursday, explained Town Attorney Phillip A. Thielman.

       But now comes time when Amherst has to give serious thought about what to do with the property.

       Amherst and the state agreed to purchase the Mill Street property nearly two years ago as part of a $5 million package to protect the motherhouse and preserve the surrounding land as a major park.

       The plan called for the town to designate a use for the building -- preferably housing for senior citizens -- then sell or lease it to a developer for that purpose.

       On Monday, Amherst officials took a step in that direction by agreeing to negotiate with Peregrine Cos. of Syracuse.

       Peregrine has offered to buy the building for $2.3 million and make annual payments in lieu of taxes totaling $30,000.

       Peregrine plans to convert the building into 130 to 140 apartments, with rents of $1,400 to $1,800 a month rents, for senior citizens who need help with such daily tasks as bathing and dressing. Peregrine also would lease to the town 10,000 square feet for a youth facility for $1 a year.

       Originally, the Town Board was cool to Peregrine's offer because it was not the low-income senior citizen housing that officials wanted to provide. But with only three developers interested in buying or leasing the building from the town, some officials think Peregrine's offer may be the best financial option for Amherst.

       Meanwhile, the town is just in the beginning stages of turning the surrounding property into Amherst State Park.

       Amherst is expected to hire a park planner by the end of the month to help the town and state come up with a blueprint for what is supposed to be a passive park, said Robert C. Walter, the town's landscape architect involved in park planning.

       "We're planning a rather extensive public participation period and would like the consultant to facilitate that for us," Walter said.

       But the park study would take at least a year, which makes for an awkward transition period.

       The land is owned by the town now and can be used by the public, Thielman said, but technically it hasn't been opened as a park yet.

       Amherst hopes by spring to at least have boundaries, entrances and trails marked for the public, Walter said.

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