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2 DEVELOPERS VIE TO ADD HOUSING IN ERIE BASIN MARINA AREA

Two local developers are proposing competing plans to add a significant amount of new housing stock to Buffalo's Erie Basin Marina neighborhood.

While both proposals would increase the number of residences in the vibrant Waterfront Village from some 320 units to nearly 500, the style of the new housing is quite different.

Ellicott Development Co. and Norstar Development USA, both based in Buffalo, have submitted ambitious proposals for the vacant, city-owned parcel located adjacent to the 11-story Admiral's Walk development.

The $39 million Ellicott Development plan calls for a total of 148 new brick-and-stone residences, clustered in three buildings on the five-acre site, including a 15-story, 58-unit condominium tower at the corner of Lakefront Boulevard and Waterfront Circle.

A set of three, 3 1/2 -story owner-occupied townhouses, located along Ojibwa Drive, and a luxury apartment complex, composed of a four- and six-story connected structures on the north side of the parcel, would complete the plan.

The units would vary in size from 900 to 3,200 square feet. Purchase prices would range from $210,00 to $480,000, while rental units would go for $1,035 to $2,640 per month.

The development would take shape in three phases, with the condo tower to debut in mid-2006. Residents of the development would have access to an outdoor swimming pool/fitness/spa facility proposed for the center of the parcel, with a retail component facing Lakefront Boulevard to serve all Waterfront Village residents.

"We're looking to following in the steps of what's already been built on the waterfront and fit with the trend of suburbanites looking to come into the city. So we're going for high quality, strong visual appeal and great amenities," said Ellicott Development principal Carl P. Paladino.

Norstar's $31 million plan proposes construction of 10, 3.5-story, townhouse-style buildings offering a total of 166 owner-occupied dwellings. Described as "townsuites," the brick, stone and stucco-faced units would be scattered across the parcel, some facing existing exterior roadways, others located on a new, interior street system.

The units would range in size and price from $116,900 for a 584-square-foot flat, up to $325,900 for a 2,160-square-foot multilevel townhouse.

The plan also includes two free-standing retail buildings to house such things as a grocery store, deli, coffee shop, dry cleaners or bank branch. A third retail/commercial site would be incorporated into the first floor of one of the residential buildings along Lakefront Boulevard.

Norstar also proposes a highly landscaped arterial -- Genesee Vista Boulevard -- running through the development. It would terminate in a traffic circle leading to a small, public plaza.

The proposed development would provide homes for a diverse range of buyers, from upmarket professionals to empty nesters to first-time buyers looking for a waterfront lifestyle, according to Norstar Executive Director James W. Pitts.

"We wanted to put something on the table that was unique, a new product, that would fit with existing neighborhood, but would appeal to broader range of buyers," Pitts said.

He said the "townsuite" concept makes it possible to group units in varying sizes and price points together in an exciting, urban neighborhood.

"The city also made it very clear that they wanted service retail in the mix and we think we've come up with an appropriate way to blend it into the new neighborhood," he said.

Neither developer is requesting public subsidy beyond applicable Empire Development Zone benefits.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who announced plans to employ a formal request for proposals process for the first time to decide the future of the prime development site last fall, said he is pleased with the quality of the plans from Norstar and Ellicott.

"This is going to be a very delicate decision because we have to select a development that is going to fit into a very successful neighborhood where residents have made significant investments and demand is very high," the mayor said.

The proposals will get a thorough review from the city's Office of Strategic Planning, with final selection by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency board by early summer. Input from a panel of Waterfront Village residents and the Downtown Neighborhood Development board also will be weighed.

Carole Z. Holcberg, president of Buffalo-based Holcberg Limited Real Estate, called the Waterfront Village site a "rare gem" and said the city is right to approach the selection of a developer with caution.

Paladino, a veteran commercial and residential developer, will be teaming with a frequent development partner, Buffalo businessman Frank J. McGuire, and Buffalo Sabres Managing Partner Lawrence Quinn, who oversaw construction of HSBC Arena and is currently involved in development of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

Buffalo architect Charlie Gordon crafted the design for the project.

Norstar will partner with Gabriel Bodor Architect, of Toronto, on the project. The two created about 700 similar "townsuites" in Toronto. DiDonato Associates, Jansen-Kiener Consulting Engineers, Buffalo Engineering P.C., and MJ Peterson Real Estate, all of the Buffalo area, are key partners.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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