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Plan for Women & Children’s site gets mixed reviews

For Buffalo resident Jean Johansson, no place feels more like home than Elmwood Village.

Johansson was born in Women & Children’s Hospital, raised in a house just down the street, and still lives in her family’s area home.

But after hearing that Kaleida Health chose Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. Wednesday to develop the former hospital site on Bryant Street, she said she’s concerned her community is about to feel a little more alien.

“I’d like to see Elmwood scaled down,” she said. “I don’t think we need all the enormous buildings. Three stories is enough.”

Ciminelli’s $122 million proposal, “QueensLight,” features 249 residential units, retail space, a hotel, a second location for Tapestry Charter School, a new EduKids daycare center, underground parking, green spaces and a two-floor soccer park.

The developer will partner with InnVest Lodging Services, S(P)ark! Buffalo, Resource Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Delaware Soccer Club to bring its project to fruition.

Ciminelli’s proposal features a two-floor soccer facility on Utica Street, with a glass-enclosed indoor field on the bottom and a “green” roof on top. The roof would serve as a second outdoor field in warmer weather.

Rudy Pompert, Delaware Soccer Club’s director of soccer, said he is ecstatic about Kaleida’s decision.

“This is obviously fantastic for our club,” said Pompert, whose organization has about 2,000 members.

The director doesn’t have concrete plans for the space yet, but said he is looking forward to using the indoor facility for training programs, soccer practices and games – maybe even tournaments. The indoor field also would allow the club to move winter soccer practices from rented-out basketball gym floors to a new turf field.

“It’s starting to look more like soccer,” Pompert said, laughing.

Wendy Sanders, president of the Elmwood Village Association Board of Directors, said that while the soccer aspect is the proposal’s most unique feature, it also is a major point of concern for many residents, who cite noise control, nighttime lighting and parking.

The addition of a school also is a hot-button topic, but Sanders said that most other proposals for the site included a school, as well.

As for now, Sanders said the board remains cautiously optimistic about the development.

“What we want is that residents have input into the final completion of the project,” she said.

Sanders said the board plans to continue to meet with residents to discuss their concerns.

Michelle Voit, owner of the women’s clothing store Village Designs, said she hopes the development’s proposed residential and retail space will draw more customers to her side of Elmwood Avenue, near the Kaleida Health site. But she said she’s curious about how traffic signals will handle the influx of people who will accompany the proposed day care and school.

“I just think it’ll be interesting,” she said, grinning.

Voit said she preferred Sinatra & Co. Real Estate’s proposal because of its numerous residential options, and because she didn’t think Ciminelli’s proposal to put retailers in the middle of Hodge Avenue’s residential area is logical.

“Why are you putting retail in the middle of homes?” she asked. “It doesn’t make sense, but anything is better than a vacant lot.”

Her storefront neighbor, Bill Wisniewski of E Z Graphics, said he sees the merits of the redevelopment but is disappointed by the proposed architectural design, which he deemed too generic for the uniqueness and architectural prowess of Elmwood Village.

“We have Sullivan. We have Frank Lloyd Wright. We have Richardson,” he said. “And that’s the building we get? To me it looks like disposable architecture.”

Mary Ann Greer, owner of Blue Mountain Coffees, is happy about the potential customer traffic but holding her breath.

“I’m going to wait and see, because you never know how everything is going to fall into place,” she said.

email: chseih@buffnews.com