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Firm unveils Elmwood Village hotel plan

A development firm has taken the wraps off a $25 million proposal for an eight-story hotel/condominium complex at the northern gateway to Buffalo's Elmwood Village.

A group of neighborhood residents were the first of the plans for a 200,000-square-foot development. Chason Affinity Cos., which recently purchased 11 properties at the intersection of Elmwood and Forest avenues, unveiled the plan to them Saturday.

The ambitious development would include a 125-room, four-story boutique hotel; ground-floor retailing; a restaurant; and three levels of condominiums, including a pair of 4,000-plus-square-foot penthouse units.

"This is something we've been working on for over a year and have taken a very thoughtful approach," said Affinity President Mark Chason. "Our concept has an artistic urban feel to it with uses that make sense for that location."

This marks the second time in three years a local developer has unveiled plans for a development at Elmwood and Forest. Savarino Cos. in 2006 faced strong opposition from neighbors for a less-ambitious $7 million project that included a four-story hotel and limited retailing.

While that project eventually gained city approval, Savarino shelved it after researching deed covenants on the properties that restrict use. Affinity executives acknowledge they'll face the same restrictions but say they hope to win over the neighbors.

"We need to work with surrounding residents and businesses on this and want to be good neighbors. No project ever gets 100 percent support, but we think a majority will be very excited about this," Affinity Chief Executive Jeffrey Birtch said.

The building, designed by local architect Charles Gordon, would feature a "stacked" design, with the first floor built out to the sidewalk and upper floors getting progressively smaller.

"It allows us to build a larger building with great density without overpowering the site. It can be tall without appearing tall," Birtch said.

The building also is designed to anchor the high-profile intersection, with a rounded, lighthouselike tower at the corner. And exterior facade materials also vary, with extensive use of glass on the corner tower and lower floors and a mix of brick styles and colors on upper levels.

The rear of the building, which overlooks Granger Place, is designed with windows angled to face adjoining portions of the structure rather than directing down into backyards. Parking for 160 vehicles is incorporated into the first two floors of the building, completely out of view.

"There would be nothing else like this in Buffalo. It's more like something you'd see in Toronto," said Chason, who lives a few blocks from the site.

The developers met with immediate neighbors of the site last February, months before the company purchased any of the properties, to get their input on what type of project would be appropriate.

"They were very clear that they weren't interested in student housing, which is something we were thinking about, so we went in a different direction," Chason said.

Affinity Cos., which last fall debuted the first phase of the $100 million Collegiate Village, a student housing complex off Eggert Road in Cheektowaga, initially thought student residences would also make sense at the Elmwood-Forest corner due to the proximity of Buffalo State College.

But Chason said the nearby presence of the college, the Albright-Knox and Burchfield Penney art museums and the densely populated residential neighborhoods that surround the site also make it a great spot for a hotel and condos.

He said proposals for a 90-room hotel as part of the Richardson complex renovations and Uniland's planned 22-story condominium tower a half mile away at Gates Circle will not conflict with Affinity's concept.

"Right now there are no hotel rooms in that part of the city, so there will be plenty of demand," Chason said. "And we feel the market can support 20 units of build-to-suit lofts."

At this time, no hotel operator has been chosen, and Affinity has not locked in a price range for the residences.

Affinity hopes to start construction in spring 2010, with completion by the end of 2011.

In addition to Collegiate Village, the 15-year-old company has built several residential projects in Buffalo-area suburbs and has a portfolio of housing and office developments in Texas and Arizona.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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