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Historic Williamsville mill to become plaza centerpiece; Anchor restaurant, boutique retailers and upscale lodging among plans for site

Williamsville residents have speculated for years about what the renaissance of the dilapidated 1811 water mill on Spring Street might look like. For the first time, a developer has laid out an $8 million vision of what it's likely to be.

The old red mill and a new addition would house a restaurant that would cater to individual patrons as well as private parties, said David Chiazza, vice president of Iskalo Development.

The historic building -- one of the oldest in the region -- would be on a new public plaza that would also feature boutique retailers and upscale residential suites for guests looking for something beyond a standard hotel experience, he said.

"The exercise that we went through over the last seven months was really to tell ourselves whether or not we could commit significant resources toward executing this project," he said. "We can't spend 18 months working on something and not have it materialize. Once we decide to engage in a project formally, we don't walk away from it. We'll deliver a great project here."

Chiazza presented the preliminary redevelopment plan to the Village Board this week, and he was met with interest and tentative support by trustees.

"I was actually pleasantly surprised," Mayor Brian Kulpa said of the redevelopment proposal. "I was a little fearful that in order to make it work, that they would go in excess of what the village had preapproved. I was happy to see that it stayed within the village plan."

Chiazza said the restaurant anchor is appealing because it continues public access to the property. Though he wouldn't name the restaurant, he said the business is a regional brand and not part of a national chain.

The business has not yet signed on as a tenant but has been been working closely with Iskalo Development over the past six months to offer input on its facility requirements, he said.

The restaurant would occupy two main floors of the mill building and expand into a four-story addition. Two of those floors would be for restaurant use, while the lower park level and fourth floor would house about six residential "hospitality units."

In keeping with the historic nature of the mill and associated buildings, the developer would maintain the structural integrity of the main mill building, an existing single-story addition and an adjacent mill house. The plan also creates better access between the mill and Glen Park, which the mill property overlooks.

Iskalo proposes moving the white Zent house off the property, preferably to the Amherst Museum.

The most notable areas of construction would be the addition of two buildings:

*The four-story addition to the north of the main mill building, with large windows to take advantage of the park view.

*A two-story, mixed-use building on the south end of the plaza that would incorporate the existing Mill House and feature about five boutique retail storefronts on the first floor and a half-dozen or so residential "hospitality units" on the second floor.

Chiazza described the hospitality units as akin to upscale hotel suites or studio apartments designed for guests planning short-term stays in the Williamsville area. Each unit would have a kitchenette and distinct living and sleeping areas.

These units would be supported by reservation, personnel and housekeeping services provided by the Lord Amherst Hotel on Main Street, which Iskalo Development acquired over the summer.

Though he presented the concept plan for reusing the Williamsville Water Mill parcel this week, construction is not expected to begin until 2013.

Iskalo Development must still sign a final development agreement with the Village Board, secure the anchor tenant and finalize design and financial plans. Financial plans will likely include an application for public subsidies.

Currently, Chiazza said, the project would cost Iskalo Development about $8 million and result in the construction or reuse of 34,000 square feet of space. Any plan would also need to be vetted and approved by the state Historic Preservation Office.

Meanwhile, the village is on the hook for completing about $400,000 worth of building stabilization work, including foundation, paint and roof work, before transferring title to the developer. Most of that money is coming from federal and state grant money, though the village has borrowed $100,000 for its share of the costs.

Both the village and the developer must also come to terms on the reconfiguration of Spring and Rock streets and the required expansion of public parking. The project calls for at least 100 new parking spaces.

Jeff Kingsley, chairman of the village's Mill Restoration Committee, said he was impressed by Iskalo's presentation and sees it as a step forward.

"I think it will be an extraordinary regional draw," he said, "that retains the historic aspect of our icon in perpetuity."