The good news for residents of the Elmwood Village is that they are not the first out of the chute. As Kaleida Health seeks appropriate reuses for Women & Children’s Hospital on Bryant Street at Elmwood Avenue, those neighbors are the beneficiaries of two previous undertakings to repurpose buildings the health system was closing. The evidence suggests that this process is better defined than the others and could lead more surely toward a happy outcome.
Kaleida is in the process of moving out of the neighborhood that Women & Children’s has occupied for 125 years. A modern new hospital, the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, is under construction at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and, as with previous efforts at the Deaconess nursing home and the Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle, Kaleida is seeking to leave the neighborhood in good hands.
It hasn’t always been an easy process. At Gates, for example, the initial winner of the competition among developers was a plan to put a veterinary school in the building. It was an intriguing and creative idea, but it fell apart. It took some time before another project, which includes high-end senior housing, was approved. That project got a dramatic boost last month with the implosion of the old hospital.
This time, Kaleida is taking an even more disciplined approach to determining the future of the property. In seeking requests for proposals from developers, it began with more than two years of collaboration and discussion involving more than two dozen representatives of the health system and the community. That included neighbors, block club leaders and business owners. Kaleida also sought input from political leaders and the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning. It’s a vastly different, more community-minded process than the one in 2000, when Kaleida angered the hospital’s neighbors with a plan to close the Bryant Street hospital.
In addition, the current effort features greater transparency and stricter requirements than previous processes. It establishes a framework for development and creates a set of constraints and a “values statement” for the community. It stresses continued community involvement and encourages developers to consider public transportation, the city-owned parking ramp, urban design strategies and green space. The plan also gives preference to developers who clearly state their plans for any public incentives and who also have a track record and ability to finance and complete the project on time. Developers will be required to pay damages of at least $1 million to Kaleida for any breach of the terms.
And here’s the thing; Developers are interested. Among them are Ellicott Development and Sinatra & Co. Real Estate. Sources have also said that Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. and Uniland Development Co. are other likely bidders, though neither company would confirm its interest. In addition, Kaleida has reported interest from out-of-town developers. The company has facilitated that interest by conducting half a dozen tours of the building for developers, architects and planners, by answering questions and by providing online access to its building plans. It’s been a smart and broad-based process, one that can only make success more likely. We’ll know more soon; the responses are due by Dec. 7.
There is another critical factor that distinguishes this effort from previous ones: Buffalo, itself, is in a far different place than it was even a few years ago. The city is coming back; indeed, the Medical Campus is one of the principal drivers of its revival. Buffalo’s developers seem to be building everywhere, believing – with good cause – that in today’s economic climate, they are making wise and profitable investments, both in their businesses and in the future of a city on the move.
The resurgent city is also, no doubt, among the factors that make the neighbors of the existing hospital comfortable with a change that they opposed with daggers only 15 years ago. Confidence is on the rise everywhere in Buffalo, and it makes a difference.