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Uniland ready to rebuild near Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus

Uniland Development Co. planned to start demolition work Tuesday to make room for a medical office building, hoping to capitalize on its proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus a few blocks away.

The developer received Buffalo Planning Board approval Tuesday morning to construct a three-story, 23,000-square-foot building with parking at 520 Ellicott St., at Tupper Street, on the north end of downtown.

That’s one of the former sites of Frey the Wheelman, a truck repair and wholesale parts distributor, which sold its 1.45-acre property to Uniland last summer for $1.3 million and moved to Cheektowaga.

Plans call for demolishing four existing buildings at the site that housed Frey’s retail business, and consolidating three addresses at the L-shaped property into one that will house the single building and a 52-space parking lot.

The city’s Preservation Board already approved the demolition, and Uniland will start construction “as quickly as we can get the building down” after asbestos abatement and site preparation, said Michael Longo, director of planning and design for Uniland. The goal is to have it “up and operational” in eight or nine months, he said.

The new $5 million facility will be anchored by Bronx Dialysis Center, which is owned by DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc., one of the nation’s largest providers of kidney dialysis services. DaVita, a publicly traded company, operates or administers 2,179 outpatient dialysis centers serving about 170,000 patients nationwide, plus 91 facilities in 10 other countries.

The dialysis facility will occupy the entire first floor and part of the second floor, totaling about 8,500 square feet of space. No other tenants have been identified yet, “but we’re pretty hopeful,” Longo said.

The steel-frame building would feature a tan brick veneer and architectural concrete stone, with dark brown aluminum bands, accents at the main entrance and precast windowsills. Uniland agreed to add decorative stone elements to the doorway on Tupper Street to enhance it as a future main entrance.

“The building blends in well to the architecture of the surrounding buildings,” Longo said. “We’re taking away an eyesore that exists, and we’ll have a first-class medical building. We’re improving the property a lot.”

The clinic will have its main entrance on the parking lot, where patients would arrive by car or wheelchair van after entering from either Ellicott or Washington streets.

But the building will also have separate entrances on Tupper and Ellicott to enter stair and elevator vestibules to get to tenants on the upper floors.

“There’s no doubt this is a vast improvement from what we’ve looked at for 40 years,” agreed Planning Board member Cynthia Schwartz.

Uniland separately plans to revamp Frey’s former one-story warehouse across the street at 505 Ellicott into a two-story, 40,000-square-foot building, occupying the same ground footprint but with an extra floor.

The developer will repave the parking lot and put in decorative fencing and landscaping, while using decorative glass and precast trim on the building.

Longo said the firm considered mixed-use and residential for the second site, “but it’s not really working for us,” so officials anticipate that will also be office space. No tenants are lined up yet.

“We would love it to be medical space, but we don’t have a definite medical tenant,” he said. “We definitely want to get spinoff from the Medical Campus. That was the intention. That’s why we bought the properties.”