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Hope builds at Gates; Kaleida Health should be commended for working to find new use for hospital

Regardless of who wins the competition to design a new use for the vacant Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle, the public can rest assured that the current property owner has done its part to create a viable solution.

That's encouraging, given that some businesses might have simply walked away from such a problem. Kaleida Health has done just the opposite, spending years and much effort in figuring out what to do with the vacant hospital.

As recently reported in The News, about 150 people were invited to the Burchfield Penney Art Center to hear ideas for reusing the hospital property.

Kaleida Health is taking an innovative approach in finding a viable plan, touting a $1 million contest for the best idea. The two finalists introduced the other night were Chason Affinity and Uniland Development.

Chason Affinity proposes turning the site into a school of veterinary medicine. While initial reaction might be to scoff at the idea, it is the sort of big thinking too often lacking around here. Working in favor of such an adaptive reuse of the existing structures is the fact that there are only 27 or 28 such schools in the entire country, according to one of the Chason principals.

Uniland is going in a completely different direction with its "Chapin Place" proposal. It would include condominiums, apartments and townhouses, as well as office and retail space, a boutique hotel and a wellness center. Its design would incorporate the creation of an Olmsted-style park on the axis of Chapin Parkway and an extension of Lancaster Avenue east toward Linwood Avenue.

Without judging the ideas themselves, the two finalists should be applauded for the work done so far. Both parties have managed to shape exciting proposals to redevelop an enormous property at a key location in the city.

Even more encouraging is that both proposals take elements from Olmsted's design of Buffalo's parkway system. As Robert Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, said, something great can happen … something that's true to the Olmsted legacy and fits in with the community.

Kaleida has shown that it is a good corporate citizen in spending the time and money to figure out the next step for its retired hospital facility. A project advisory committee led by Ted Walsh Jr., a former Kaleida Health board chairman, has been at work for nearly two years to find a suitable developer for the site. The committee contacted the Urban Land Institute, a national organization, and from that group eight individuals came to Buffalo about 18 months ago to talk to more than 300 community members and later issued a report with recommendations.

A jury led by UB's Shibley will determine the best proposal, influenced by input from a neighborhood advisory group and consulting developers. Ultimately the winner will be selected by the Kaleida Health board of directors.

The judges should have a wealth of material from which to work. The process bodes well for nearby residents and the community as a whole.