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Apartments, townhomes planned for first phase of Central Park Plaza site

Construction could begin this summer on the first phase of a new residential development where Central Park Plaza once stood.

After years of planning, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. has unveiled details of a proposal to build the first of a series of apartment buildings and townhomes on the north and south sides of an extension of Chalmers Avenue at Holden Street.

It's the start of what would be a five-year, $100 million effort by Ciminelli Real Estate to bring hundreds of new residents to a 27-acre area of east of Main Street that is now mostly vacant land.

"I think it's going to be a catalyst to revitalize that entire neighborhood," said Dennis Penman, executive vice president of Ciminelli Real Estate.

The development firm owned by Paul Ciminelli is acting on behalf of the project's primary owner, Louis Ciminelli, who ran LPCiminelli until he was forced to resign in February to battle criminal corruption charges. Louis Ciminelli and his partners purchased and demolished the derelict shopping plaza and then cleaned and cleared the site under the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program.

Designed by HHL Architects, the overall plan calls for a mix of apartments, walk-up flats and townhomes, with as many as 717 residential units. It will include mixed-income, affordable and market-rate units. Some will be for rent, while others will be sold. Single-family detached homes are also a possibility in future phases.

There will also be a small amount of neighborhood retail services, such as a grocery store, restaurant and coffee shop. That's currently designated for a city-owned parcel on Chalmers Avenue that Ciminelli Real Estate is negotiating to develop.

Penman said the company intends to move forward gradually and will adjust plans based on demand.

"We will take each phase individually and build to whatever the market conditions are," he said. "I think the absorption that we're projecting is about right."

The first phase, estimated to cost $24 million and occupy 3.9 acres, will feature four three-story apartment buildings with 13 units each, for a total of 52 market-rate apartments expected to rent for between $900 and $1,500 a month.

The project also would include 32 single-family attached townhomes, with a mix of two- and three-bedroom designs, ranging in size from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. The company plans to market the townhomes, which will have garage parking, at prices between $200,000 and $230,000.

The neighborhood will be geared toward meeting a need for more "workforce housing," particularly for employees at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Penman called it a "transit-oriented" development because of the site's proximity to the Amherst Street Metro Rail station on Main Street and an agreement with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to reroute bus lines through the neighborhood.

"It'll be a bedroom neighborhood for the medical corridor," Penman said.

The buildings will be a blend of red brick veneer, fiber cement siding and other materials, with gray, blue, tan and green colors. The plan also includes 25,000 square feet of public park space, landscaping, a playground and play area, street improvements and bike racks, in keeping with Green Code requirements.

The targeted site stretches east from Holden Street to Manhattan Avenue and north from Central Park Avenue. Most of it is now vacant and grassy, with some trees along the streets. Ciminelli would extend both Hill Street and Chalmers Avenue into the middle of the site, where they will intersect in a traffic roundabout.

The proposal will be reviewed by the Buffalo Planning Board on Monday. Two zoning variances are also needed.

Penman said officials hope to start work on the first phase in mid-summer and finish within 18 months. But as soon as construction begins, he added, the developer will start planning the next phase.

"This is going to be a catalyst for a lot of opportunity in the neighborhood," Penman said. "There's a significant number of vacant lots that are adjacent to this site that will end up being infilled. There's already been investor interest in buying vacant houses and rehabbing them."

Ciminelli has also reached an agreement to sell a 2.23-acre parcel on the north end of the site, between Holden and Hill, to Elim Christian Fellowship for $289,900. Elim, located at 70 Chalmers Ave., is working with Belmont Housing Resources and David Pawlik's CSS Construction on a separate affordable housing project.

That concept, which has not yet been submitted to the Planning Board, calls for an apartment building with 30 two- and three-bedroom units aimed at tenants earning 60 percent of the area median income. The building would also include a community center, as well as an outside playground.

The affordable housing facility had originally been intended for a property on Chalmers across from the church. But with Ciminelli's interest in using that property for the grocery store and other retailers, the church agreed instead to swap for the Holden site.

"What we've been doing is cooperating with them on switching our focus," Pawlik said. "What was important for Elim was that a quality grocery store could complement the community, that could benefit everyone involved. We feel comfortable with the direction we're going, and at the end of the day, we should be in a really good spot."

The church and Pawlik expect to submit formal plans to the city for approval in a couple of months. They must wait until December to apply to New York State Homes and Community Renewal for 9 percent low-income housing tax credits to subsidize the project.

If approved, the $6.5 million Elim project would be funded in spring 2018, with construction starting November 2018. .

Ciminelli's and Elim's projects will also qualify for state brownfield tax credits because of the prior cleanup.

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