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Five developers vie to redevelop Women & Children’s Hospital site

Five developers – four local, one from Syracuse – are vying for the right to redevelop the Bryant Street campus of Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo for as much as $100 million, after the facility moves to its new home on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in two years.

Kaleida Health, the hospital system that owns Children’s, on Tuesday announced the identities of the firms that responded to its highly anticipated request-for-proposals to reuse the 125-year-old campus in the Elmwood Village. That campus will be abandoned and sold by Kaleida after the new John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital opens at 818 Ellicott St. in late 2017.

The potential redevelopment plans were submitted by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., Ellicott Development Co., Sinatra & Co. Real Estate and Uniland Development Co. – all from Western New York – and by Pyramid Brokerage Co.’s Syracuse office, whose broker, Neville Gruenberg, is representing an as-yet unidentified client. Pyramid also has a sister brokerage office in Buffalo.

Kaleida did not provide any details of the five proposals, but said that a “preliminary review” of them “show a range of interests and ideas, including developing housing, lodging, retail and more.”

“The response has been great and the proposals are high quality,” said Michael P. Hughes, senior vice president for Kaleida Health. “This sets up strong competition between the developers which, in turn, will only benefit the community.”

Kaleida executives, its board of directors, and its project advisory committee will spend the next 90 to 120 days considering the proposals, first to make sure they comply with the specific terms and requirements of the RFP itself, and then to vet and compare them. Hughes said the developers’ proposed timeframes are “in line” with the RFP, and the projected costs range as high as $100 million for one.

“The development community wants to move with pace, as does Kaleida Health, so as soon as we move out as a whole, the groups want to make sure they can begin immediately,” he said. “At this point, we need to get to work and do our due diligence to make sure the respondents met the criteria.”

The project advisory committee, comprising nearly two dozen neighbors and community leaders, was formed to advise the health care system about the redevelopment process. It is chaired by Robert G. Shibley, dean of architecture and planning at the University at Buffalo.

“This process was guided by community stakeholders, and because of that involvement, we have a document which clearly lays out the community vision for reuse, and expectations for developers,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, who represents the neighborhood and was also involved in crafting the RFP process. “Thankfully, Kaleida Health created a process which values community involvement and engagement.”

Officials also plan to host a public exhibition for the five developers to share their plans with the community. Neighbors and community members who are interested in the plans can visit Kaleida’s special website for the reuse process to offer feedback.

Representatives of Ellicott and Sinatra could not be reached for comment. Anne Duggan, spokeswoman for Ciminelli, declined to elaborate on the firm’s plans. “Our team is extremely excited about our submission, and we look forward to having the opportunity to present it to Kaleida and the public,” she said.

Women & Children’s Hospital’s 7.9-acre property consists of seven interconnected buildings, totaling 617,000 square feet between Bryant Street and Hodge Avenue. The buildings were constructed between 1917 and 1995. The campus also includes 187 Bryant and 125 Hodge, which houses Hodge Pediatrics, an electrical substation and a maintenance garage, as well as a second two-acre parcel a block away on West Utica Street that is now used for parking.

The announcement by Kaleida comes less than 24 hours after the RFP responses were due back to Kaleida, and follow an initial and cursory review of the documents. It also comes one day after hospital executives and other leaders celebrated the topping-off of construction at the new Children’s Hospital, when the ceremonial final steel beam was raised to the top of the 12-story building that will house 183 patient beds.

“There’s a lot of excitement, and people would be pleased with the potential options,” Hughes said.

Kaleida issued the RFP Sept. 8, after more than two years of work to create a process that would be both deliberate and transparent to the community. The goal was to open up the effort to more potential developers, both locally and nationally, while ensuring that the respondents would be capable of financing the project and getting it done on schedule. The process also calls for more community involvement than in past efforts, mandates consideration of the neighborhood’s character, and requires more disclosures by the developers about their plans, including whether they will seek public tax incentives to support the project.

“It’s a really different way to do development in the city of Buffalo,” said Ryan, a critic of tax breaks. “It’s the first time ever that developers had to reveal upfront what they’ll be seeking.”

Those changes came in response to criticism of numerous past redevelopment projects in the city – besides the two that Kaleida has been involved with – in which plans either fell through or developers sought out public subsidies after projects were awarded. “The community will be involved every step of the way,” Ryan said. “There will never be a time when the community will be surprised by the plans that will have been developed, because the community will be part of the process.”

The RFP was sent to more than 300 developers across the country, but although “we got some good inquiries from people outside of New York State, none of them submitted,” Ryan said.

Still, “we got good interest,” he said. “It’s very positive.”