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Second time around Kaleida deserves credit for sticking to its plan to redevelop Gates Circle site

Kaleida Health is taking another stab at remaking the mothballed behemoth that was once Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle. Let’s hope this time the developer of choice is able to make it happen.

Uniland Development Co. and two other developers have submitted separate proposals for the old hospital, which closed in March 2012 after merging into Buffalo General Medical Center as the Gates Vascular Institute.

This is the second time Kaleida Health has set out to find a developer for what will be a massive project. The hospital complex is 882,000 square feet of space and consists of 13 buildings on a 10-acre site. And it’s old, dating to 1911.

Given those facts, figuring out a viable plan for reuse was never going to be easy.

Chason Affinity Cos. LLC found that out last year after winning an earlier competition with a promising-looking $65 million proposal to put a veterinary school in the facility. The idea seemed, as Kaleida President and CEO James R. Kaskie said at the time, “visionary.” It made sense in a country with only 28 veterinary schools, just one built in the last quarter-century.

Unfortunately, the plan failed after a breakdown in negotiations between Chason Affinity and Devry Institute, a private, for-profit educational organization that operates the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in the Caribbean. That sent the region’s largest hospital system back to the drawing board for proposals to redevelop the site.

Kaleida is offering the same $1 million prize for the winning developer, and makes clear that the money will be awarded only after a developer succeeds in taking title to the property.

The creativity employed in offering a million-dollar reward for the best proposal was a clear sign of Kaleida’s commitment to the community. Rather than walk away from its medically obsolete site, the company is working hard to improve one of Buffalo’s famed circles.

The ambitious deal for a veterinary school fell through, but three developers responded to the newest request for proposals, issued in July to 59 firms locally and nationally.

Amherst-based Uniland, the only one of the three identified so far, resubmitted its proposal from the first competition. That called for a $110-million, six-story apartment building, two-story town houses, underground parking, a boutique hotel and office and retail space.

Kaleida officials will be able to draw on their previous experience not only for the second go-round for Millard Fillmore Gates but also in the reuse of Women & Children’s Hospital. That facility is moving in 2016 from its Bryant Street location to a new building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Kaleida expects to seek proposals for the 7.5-acre Bryant Street site in early 2014.

The first attempt at repurposing Millard Gates has turned into a teachable moment for everyone.