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Planning Board unanimously approves concept for tallest building

A plan to construct Buffalo's tallest building cleared its first hurdle Tuesday when the city Planning Board unanimously approved a conceptual design for the 40-story structure.

The mixed-use building -- proposed for South Elmwood Avenue and West Mohawk Street, one block north of City Hall -- is the brainchild of Bashar Issa, a Manchester, England, developer. With a $361 million price tag, the building would be not only the city's tallest structure, but also its costliest.

The structure's proposed height, surpassing HSBC Center by 33 feet, raised some eyebrows among Planning Board members.

Susan Curran Hoyt called its size "slightly out of scale" for its location.

"It should be about 75 feet smaller," Hoyt said, suggesting that would make it a better fit for Buffalo's central business district.

Harry L. Warren of Cannon Design, the project's principal designer, said it would not be overly big compared with buildings going up in other large cities.

"It is tall by current Buffalo standards," Warren said, describing it as an "iconic" structure that would raise the bar for downtown construction.

Cynthia Schwartz, another board member, noted that "some of the buildings we love the most were out of scale" at the time they were built.

Horace Gioia, also a board member, called the 40-story tower plan "progress" for Buffalo.

Preliminary plans call for offices on the lower 20 floors, with a 300-room luxury hotel and 80 high-end residential units on the top levels. Parking for more than 1,100 vehicles would be incorporated beneath and on several floors of the structure.

The next step for Issa and his development team will be shopping the building concept to potential office tenants. The tower will be marketed to out-of-town businesses as a high-quality, less-expensive alternative to office space in Toronto, New York and Chicago.

At a projected monthly lease rate of $30 per square foot, it would be priced at the top of Buffalo's Class A rent scale but at the low end of rents paid in those larger cities.

The current timetable for the privately funded project calls for completing an environmental impact study by early fall, submitting final construction plans for city approval by the middle of next year, beginning construction in early 2009 and completing work in spring 2011.


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