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ECC proposal adds hotel at city campus Giambra plan includes lofts, more classrooms

Under a private-public proposal unveiled Friday, the Erie Community College City Campus could add student loft apartments, a boutique hotel complex topped by upscale co-op apartments, and at least one new classroom building.

Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra has teamed with Buffalo developer Rocco Termini to come up with a blueprint for about $75 million in new facilities at the downtown campus.

"When we get through with this, there will be ECC North, ECC South and ECC Wow," Giambra said.

Giambra also sees potential for the campus to evolve into a "communiversity" -- a facility where several educational institutions offer classes in shared facilities. He said officials from the University at Buffalo, Buffalo State College, Niagara University and St. Bonaventure have been contacted.

"They do it in Denver and New Jersey, and I think we can do it here. It could become the model for community colleges in New York State," Giambra said.

The plan envisions ECC's hospitality and restaurant students operating the hotel as part of their curriculum. The school's business majors would have a hands-on role in overseeing retail and parking operations.

Giambra, who has long championed expansion of ECC's City Campus to make it the jewel of the county's community college system, proposes constructing three buildings north of the current facilities. The structures would be developed and owned by a private, for-profit entity, with ECC as the main tenant.

>Non-traditional sources

Termini, who has a track record of tapping non-traditional funding sources for his downtown housing and commercial projects, plans to seek funds through the state Dormitory Authority, plus various tax credits and state Empire Zone benefits.

"The excuse has been that we don't have the money to do this. Well, that excuse will no longer be valid if we go the public-private route," Giambra said.

Early this month, the ECC board of trustees reached an agreement with Giambra on expanding the downtown campus, but the question of financing remained unanswered.

ECC President William A. Mariani said he has been briefed on the Giambra-Termini proposal and thinks it has potential.

"I love the idea of a public-private partnership, and I'm thrilled at the prospect of creating a 'communiversity.' But the devil is in the details, and we've still got distance to cover to bring it to fruition," Mariani said.

The proposal is a more grandiose version of earlier plans that called for adding classroom space and parking to accommodate more students and more programs on the downtown campus.

>Three structures

The updated concept calls for adding three, large-scale structures:

A 160,000-square-foot classroom building on the block bounded by South Division, Oak, North Division and Elm streets, on the site of the former Great Lakes Collections headquarters building. The structure has an estimated price tag of $40 million.

A multiple-tower student loft apartment building on what is now a parking lot bounded by North Division, Oak, Eagle and Elm streets, directly north of the new academic building. It would incorporate parking for about 600 vehicles.

A combination 60-room hotel and 16-unit, upscale co-op apartment complex on a site now used as a surface parking lot, bounded by Ellicott, Oak, and Clinton streets, just north of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's administration building and bus terminal. The approximately $15 million building also would include retail space and underground parking for 600 vehicles.

>Elevated walkways

The proposal includes a half-dozen elevated walkways, linking the various structures and other ECC buildings to the Central Library.

Previous plans had called for a parking garage on the NFTA's Ellicott bus loop, which fronts South Division. Giambra and Termini now see that site used as green space.

Termini, who has rehabilitated the nearby Ellicott Lofts, Ellicott Commons and Oak School housing projects, envisions "cutting-edge cool space" that would enhance ECC and spur urban renewal.

"It will add new life to downtown on several levels, going from 'what was' to 'what is,' " Termini said. "It's exciting for downtown Buffalo, and it's a great opportunity for ECC and its students.

Termini acknowledges he will have to be aggressive to "chase down" the needed funds, but he said he believes it can be done quickly enough to begin construction next fall.

"There's some very complicated financing that has to take place, but it's doable. This is a real project, not pie-in-the-sky," he said.

Cannon Design is poised to start preliminary architectural designs in February. Giambra, Termini and ECC officials are expected to meet with State University of New York and Dormitory Authority officials in March to get the ball rolling.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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