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Developers unveil proposals for site of vacant hospital; About 150 residents weigh options at community forum

Should the vacant Millard Fillmore Hospital in Gates Circle serve as a new veterinary school or as a site completely reimagined as mixed-use development?

About 150 people were invited to consider those possibilities Wednesday evening during a community forum at the Burchfield Penney Art Center on the Buffalo State College campus.

It was part of what Kaleida Health, current owner of the Gates Circle property, has billed as a $1 million contest for a viable plan for the reuse of the former hospital site.

"Something great can happen something that's true to the [Frederick Law] Olmsted legacy, something that fits with the community, but even more than that, something that helps us take a great leap forward in the regeneration of the city," said Robert G. Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo.

Shibley moderated the forum.

The two finalists introduced at the event were Chason Affinity, which presented a proposal for a new School of Veterinary Medicine that would incorporate adaptive reuses of existing structures on the Gates Circle site; and Uniland Development, which is proposing a project called "Chapin Place."

Chapin Place would include condominiums, apartments and townhouses, as well office and retail space, a boutique hotel and a wellness center.

Incorporated into its design would be the creation of an Olmsted-style park on the axis of Chapin Parkway and an extension of Lancaster Avenue east toward Linwood Avenue.

Both proposals take elements from Olmsted's design of Buffalo's parkway system and incorporate them into the landscape architecture of their respective designs.

A project advisory committee led by Ted Walsh Jr., a former Kaleida Health board chairman, has been working for nearly two years to find a suitable developer for the site. Now part of Kaleida's project advisory committee, Walsh, along with his team, brought in a national organization called the Urban Land Institute. From that group, eight individuals came to Buffalo about 18 months ago and talked to more than 300 people in the community, issuing a report with recommendations for reusing the Gates Circle site.

Mark Chason and Harry Warren of Chason Affinity explained that they were influenced by a huge shortage of veterinary schools in the U.S.

"One of the main reasons is that it's extremely expensive to build a veterinary school because you need a hospital," Chason said. "Therefore, there are only 27 or 28 in the entire United States."

Warren described the current campus as "a landmark in our minds, but not a visual landmark. It's large brown brick wall that we see from Gates Circle," he said.

Carl Montante Jr., of Uniland Development Co., presented his plan with team member Martin Davidson, of Diamond Schmitt Architects of Toronto.

"The project is about building community," said Montante, whose design plan also seeks to enhance Olmsted's landscaping influence.

It would include a six-story apartment building, two-story townhouses and underground parking, as well as green roofs, solar shading and possibly geothermal snow-melting capabilities for some road surfaces, among other "green" initiatives.

Participants at the Wednesday evening forum were not invited to ask questions during the presentation, but were invited to talk one-on-one with the developers at a sort of meet-and-greet function following the the presentation.

A jury led by Shibley will select the winner of the contest, which will have been influenced by recommendations from a neighborhood advisory group and consultant developers. Ultimately, the winner will be chosen by the Kaleida Health board of directors.

After the board gets a recommendation, they'll have more work to do, including going through the process of transferring ownership, Shibley said.