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Ciminelli’s remarkable housing proposal extends city’s resurgence to East Side

There have been many reasons for Western New Yorkers to believe that Buffalo’s economic resurgence is not some transitory flash in the pan, but a real and sustainable trajectory that bodes well for years to come. And now, there’s another: The benefits of the city’s renewal are creeping into Buffalo’s East Side, where development and opportunity have long been strangers.

LP Ciminelli, a Buffalo development company, is planning a $70 million housing development in the Fillmore-Leroy neighborhood, the largest such development on the East Side in decades. With it, other developments are expected to follow suit.

The project is planned to cover 27 acres on the site of the former Central Park Plaza and will include about 600 rental units – four-story apartment buildings, three-story walk-up flats and two-story townhouses. They will support a mixture of incomes and are meant, in large part, to house the people in the jobs being produced on the Main Street corridor from the University at Buffalo’s South Campus to the UB Medical School, which is moving to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The neighborhood is 86 percent African-American and, as critical as the project is for an underserved part of the city, it is also a positive sign that Ciminelli went about planning for it in a way that was inclusive and respectful of the area’s residents. Among the steps along the way were community meetings, for which the company was praised on Monday.

“They were attentive to listening to the concerns of the people,” said Renee Keith, executive director of Elim Christian Fellowship, which is adjacent to the former plaza.

There are several other positive aspects about this project, including:

• It restores a neighborhood that had been split by Central Park Plaza, which was demolished in 2012 and 2013. Three principal thoroughfares – Hill Street and Wade and Chalmers avenues – will be reconnected. The project doesn’t call for retail but is expected to attract new businesses.

“What we are doing is re-establishng the street grid and knitting that neighborhood back together,” said John Ciminelli, the company’s senior vice president. That’s a significant achievement.

• The project is friendly to mass transit, with the Amherst Metro Station nearby. What is more, by re-establishing the street grid, the possibility exists for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to establish additional bus routes.

• The project is expected to produce its own ripple effects, including – if residents’ hopes are realized – opening of a supermarket.

• Other than seeking tax credits for brownfield cleanup – something that is of significant benefit on its own – Ciminelli is not seeking any additional tax breaks. The company has real skin in this game; its leaders obviously believe in the long-term prospects for the city and for this development.

And for good reason. The economic growth occurring around Buffalo are real. They’re not based on silver bullets, but on developing new, high-tech economies that will be self-sustaining and producing wealth for decades to come. The effects are radiating around Buffalo, and while that is terrific for the community as a whole, it is especially good news that the renewal is reaching into the city’s East Side.