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UB lacks details on Fruit Belt development, critics say

The University at Buffalo’s description of its plans to redevelop a housing complex near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus left a key city lawmaker and neighborhood advocates asking for more details this week during a lengthy meeting in City Hall.

Meanwhile, the future of the former Trico plant on the Medical Campus is unknown, as Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen gave few hints about how he will vote next week on a measure to designate it a local landmark.

UB intends to purchase the McCarley Gardens housing complex and redevelop it, but details, such as how UB will pay for the redevelopment and who is really in charge – UB or its foundation – are not complete, said Pridgen, who represents the area.

“I still have no more understanding of what will be proposed,” he said, adding that as a public university, UB needs to be more transparent.

In a presentation to the Council’s Community Development Committee, Michael J. Pietkiewicz, assistant vice president for government and community relations at UB, explained that the university doesn’t own the housing complex yet and that no one will be relocated before 2017.

UB is trying to reach out more to residents, increase its vendor contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses and make its employment applications more accessible to job seekers, he said.

Pietkiewicz’s presentation didn’t go over well with area residents.

“UB does not need McCarley Gardens,” said former Council President George K. Arthur, who is working with Fruit Belt residents. “It should be taken off the table.”

UB should share a relocation plan with the people who live there, Arthur said. “They’re causing those people to have restless nights,” he said.

In another matter, the landmark designation for Trico, at 791 Washington St., was sent to the Council from the Legislation Committee without a recommendation.

Pridgen said that generally, neighborhood residents were opposed to the designation.

Medical Campus officials said they are working with preservationists but have not found any feasible reuse for the property and would like to demolish it.

A local landmark designation would offer the building more protection from demolition, and the city’s Preservation Board submitted a landmark application to the Council.

But tenants would be drawn from other buildings in the central business district, and the cost to renovate the building wouldn’t be justified by the rental income it would produce, said James Militello, a commercial real estate broker who studied the building.