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Land purchase east of the Medical Campus eyed for apartments

A group of local real estate investors and developers have spent $2 million assembling more than a dozen vacant properties that make up about an acre of land along Michigan Avenue across from Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

While the investors are not yet talking about their plans, they're seeking to capitalize on the fast-growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus across the street and likely will pursue a mixed-use development with apartments and retail space.

Broker Vito Picone of McGuire Development Co., who represented the sellers, said the mixed-use concept would be mostly residential "because of all the people that are going to be in close proximity to the area."

The group – which includes Regent Development's David Huck, Somerset Cos.' Brett Fitzpatrick and Franklin Asset Management's Aaron Siegel – did not respond to requests to comment.

Calling itself Michigan-Redev LLC, the group paid more than $1.75 million to buy the land on Michigan and Maple Street from a pair of pharmacists who owned a pharmacy at the corner of Michigan and High Street. Under their Michigan Maple LLC banner, Thomas J. Caldwell and John Viniti had accumulated the other properties one at a time over many years, betting that the growth of the campus would increase the land value over time.

"They had the insight that someday this piece would be valuable, and they were right," said Picone, who initially marketed the land several years ago for $2.4 million. "I got an awful lot of calls on it, because of the interest that has been generated regarding the Buffalo medical corridor, and it so happens that Mr. Huck stepped up and he understood the value of the location."

The 14 properties include six on Maple Street and eight parcels on Michigan Avenue.

Additionally, the developers negotiated a separate deal with Robert L. Allen to buy a little house at 995 Michigan – sandwiched between two of the acquired parcels –  for $275,000. They also bought 240 and 242 Maple from Roswell Park, filling in the gap in the rear. In exchange, they also sold 975, 977 and 979 Michigan back to Roswell.

"It was a complicated deal," Picone said. "It took a long time to put all the parts together, but in the end it was a win-win for everybody."

The result is an almost solid block of grassy land in a prime location. Picone said the investors are looking at other nearby properties as well.

"The land sales in this area are just exploding, because of all the attention that has been drawn to this corridor, and rightfully so," he said. "There's an infrastructure and population that is going to need the services that are being constructed. We're catering to the needs of the growth in this area."

The proposal may face resistance from within the nearby Fruit Belt community, where some residents are tired of the impact of the nearby Medical Campus.

"Everything they're doing as far as development, the current residents don't benefit from it at all," said Veronica Hemphill-Nichols, founder and head of the Fruit Belt McCarley Gardens Housing Task Force. "Everything they're bringing in is for the future, and we're not part of the future."

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She noted that the "high-end rentals" in many of the projects around the Medical Campus cost more than monthly mortgage payments, while the retail and related services are aimed at the renters and medical population, not residents of the Fruit Belt and other nearby neighborhoods.

"What are you going to offer the community that's going to patronize whatever businesses you put in there?" she asked. "Will it be something that will cater to the Medical Campus and the community, or just the Medical Campus?"

There's also a moratorium on demolition in the Fruit Belt, which the city recently designated as a historic district, although that won't affect the vacant parcels that dominate the recent purchase. "If there are any structures, they can't tear them down," said Hemphill-Nichols. "The moratorium would have to be lifted first, and because it is a historic district, I don't see that happening anytime soon."

Instead, she said, "they should be focusing more on homeownership, because that's how you develop a community."

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