The $63 million project announced Monday for the 10-acre site at the former Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle – including a $28 million retirement community plus $35 million in residential space with some retail – is by far the largest that any of the three developers has ever tackled.
TM Montante Development is the lead developer, in partnership with Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates and Buffalo-based Frontier Industrial Corp.
With nothing in their portfolios approaching the scope of the Gates Circle project, and given its location at the junction of some of the city’s most elegant avenues, it’s fair to ask whether this team has the wherewithal to pull it off.
They insist they have the experience and ability to get it done.
“We have the internal capability and capacity to do this,” said J. Timothy Vaeth, president of TM Montante.
“This will be our largest project to date, but we wouldn’t have competed if we didn’t have the capability to do it,” Vaeth said. “We absolutely feel we’re up to it.”
In choosing the redevelopment plan for the site, Kaleida Health officials acknowledged how ambitious the project is and the challenges the developers face. “That’s why they put a good team together,” said Kaleida spokesman Michael P. Hughes. “If you look at the success of Canterbury Woods plus the background of Frontier, … you have a very, very credible development group; it’s the team that really stands out here.”
Montante and Frontier are planning market-rate residential apartments, middle-market condominiums and townhomes for sale, a large health and wellness center, a small grocery market and additional retail space. Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates is planning a city campus similar to its Canterbury Woods retirement community in Amherst.
“These are three solid partners who have demonstrated capacity in the past. And it’s probably the only way it’s going to get done, with three strong partners,” said Dennis M. Penman, executive vice president of Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.
The Montante family’s roots in real estate trace back to Michael P. Montante Sr., who founded Broad-Elm Tire and Service Center in Buffalo in 1935. The firm grew to own 14 stores at its height, with Broad-Elm Management handling the company’s real estate, and was successful enough that sons Carl and Thomas eventually decided to start Uniland Development Co. in 1974 as a separate developer.
In 1997, Thomas Montante split off, keeping Broad-Elm and then starting TM Montante three years later. He eventually sold the tire stores in 2008 to focus on real estate.
Since then, most of the firm’s work has been for industrial and mixed-use projects in the Town of Tonawanda, where it is currently working to move Unifrax Corp. from Niagara Falls. More recently, it acquired and is starting work to redevelop the former Spaghetti Warehouse building in downtown Buffalo into the Planing Mill, with a mixture of apartments and office space.
It also started an energy business called Montante Solar. It’s integrating solar panels into the structure of a new facility for FedEx, and Vaeth said the firm plans to incorporate solar or alternative energy into the designs for the Gates Circle site.
The goal, he said, is to make it the first LEED-certified “neighborhood development” in Western New York, referring to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Montante’s partner is Frontier Industrial, a nationwide demolition and specialty contractor based in Buffalo’s Cobblestone District. The firm offers dismantling, gutting, strip-out, salvage, cleanup and removal services throughout North and South America, and its principals have also undertaken redevelopment projects more recently, often in partnership with developer Samuel J. Savarino.
Among those efforts are Freight House Landing on Ohio Street, the Iron Works Music Club on Illinois Street, a large facility at 500 Seneca St. and the South End Marina on the outer harbor.
Frontier will invest in the Gates Circle project and provide services in “large-scale demolition” as needed, “if, in fact, we take down some of the large structure,” Vaeth said. However, he said, the team hopes to “save as much as possible” of the original 1911 homeopathic hospital that is at the core of the former Gates Circle facility.
Canterbury Woods is a “continuing care retirement community” that opened in June 1999 in Amherst, offering the full spectrum of care for a system of contracts that CEO Rob Wallace said is more akin to insurance than medical care. It’s even regulated by the state Department of Financial Services, along with the Health Department.
Located on Renaissance Drive near Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, the current complex includes 203 independent-living apartments, 40 patio homes, 32 assisted-living apartments and 48 skilled-nursing beds. The entire facility occupies more than 1 million square feet on 62 acres.
The complex is owned and run by Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates, which employs about 250 and whose roots in health care locally date from 1858. Formerly the owner of the Episcopal Church Home at Rhode Island Street near the Peace Bridge, it now also operates Episcopal Community Housing, with more than 200 affordable elderly and family apartments in the region, as well as the Episcopal Home Foundation.
“There is nothing like Canterbury Woods in the City of Buffalo,” Wallace said.
“There are folks who are Buffalo urbanites who have lived all their lives in the City of Buffalo and want to continue to live and age and be vibrant and independent within the City of Buffalo. They have no interest in a continuing care retirement community in Amherst or anywhere else. We believe there’s tremendous opportunity to serve those folks.”