Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation will have the chance to transform an Elmwood Village neighborhood that is losing Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo as its anchor institution.
Hundreds of apartments and condominiums. A charter school and daycare. A boutique hotel and retail shops. And a soccer club.
That’s the grand vision of Ciminelli, picked this week by Kaleida Health as the designated developer to reuse the aging hospital complex.
But it’s only a concept. And observers caution that a lot has to happen before construction begins on the complicated, $122 million redevelopment project.
“I just think it’s so preliminary,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, who represents the neighborhood and served on a Kaleida Health community advisory committee for the hospital site. “We’ll see what stays, what falls by the wayside.”
Kaleida Health officials said Ciminelli’s was the best of the four proposals received for the nearly eight-acre site, which will come available in fall 2017 when the new Oishei Children’s Hospital opens on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
The system’s selection of Ciminelli as designated developer follows a lengthy process during which Kaleida Health sought community input. Kaleida Health and Ciminelli now must work out a contract for the property and Ciminelli must begin seeking the necessary public approvals for the project.
“We thought we brought a total, comprehensive solution to the redevelopment and the repurposing of the site,” said Paul F. Ciminelli, president and CEO of the company.
How it happened
Kaleida Health’s search for a developer for the hospital site started soon after the system announced in 2012 that it would build a new Children’s Hospital on the Medical Campus.
The hospital system in 2013 began working with an advisory committee of community stakeholders to guide the redevelopment process, and based on their work issued a request for proposals from developers seeking to reuse the Bryant Street complex.
Kaleida Health went beyond “just being a good citizen” in following an extensive process of seeking public input, said Robert G. Shibley, the dean of architecture and planning at the University at Buffalo and chair of the advisory committee.
Ciminelli Real Estate ultimately was joined by Ellicott Development Corp., Sinatra & Co. Realty and Uniland Development Co. in responding with plans for the site. The public offered extensive feedback on the four proposals at two community meetings and through follow-up emails.
An internal Kaleida Health committee reviewed the materials collected by the advisory committee, and the public feedback, and recommended the system’s board of directors appoint Ciminelli Real Estate as the designated developer. The Kaleida Health board accepted this recommendation at its June meeting on Monday.
The Ciminelli Real Estate proposal, dubbed QueensLight, calls for a combination of tearing down, reusing and building anew on the 7.9-acre Elmwood Village property.
The heart of the hospital is a complex of seven interconnected buildings, totaling 617,000 square feet, between Bryant Street and Hodge Avenue, that were constructed between 1917 and 1995.
Ciminelli plans to spend $122 million to convert the complex into a mixed-use development. Tenants include residential apartments, retail shops, a charter school, daycare, soccer club and hotel. Cannon Design is the designer on the project, which has four other partners.
“If you look at it at the end of the day, our project, in terms of size and scale, is lessening the impact in terms of its current use,” Ciminelli said.
Dennis M. Penman, Ciminelli’s executive vice president, said undertaking a project of this size and scope, at an existing hospital complex, presents challenges.
“It’s like eating an elephant, there’s so much of it,” he said.
Penman said they initially thought they would do a significant amount of demolition, but after going through the complex of buildings, they opted for a selective demolition and more of a reuse approach.
The company plans to keep about two-thirds of the existing hospital structures as part of its redevelopment.
What goes where
Tapestry, a K-8 charter school, has committed to taking up the existing Alfieri Building for a second location.
Ciminelli wants to make the entire hospital building three floors and connect it to the 10-story Variety-Tanner buildings. The rest of the Variety-Tanner buildings would be residential. The buildings would have condos and luxury rental housing, as well as townhomes constructed in the front of the building along Bryant.
The proposal calls for taking off a portion of the structure to pull it back 25 feet, while also removing the “skin” of the building and replacing it with a more residential-seeming façade.
Next door on Bryant, the 1911 H-shaped building would house a new 72-suite, boutique hotel run by InnVest Lodging. At a vacant site at Elmwood Avenue and Bryant Street, Ciminelli would construct a five-story, L-shaped building with retail space and 38 apartments.
A 374-space underground parking ramp is planned on the Hodge Avenue side.
Ciminelli also partnered with the Delaware Soccer Club for a two-floor soccer facility on Utica Street, on the location of an abandoned pharmacy. Plans call for a glass-enclosed indoor field, with a “green” roof that would serve as a second, outdoor field in warmer weather.
The companies all offered mixed-use redevelopment proposals, featuring residential and retail, with similar educational, lodging or recreational components.
So what made Ciminelli’s plan stand out?
Frank Curci, the chairman of Kaleida Health’s board, said Ciminelli’s track record as a developer, its financial health, its strategy and timeline for putting the proposal in place and the perceived benefit to the neighborhood all were factors in the board’s decision to name Ciminelli the designated developer.
“When we looked at this we thought this was a great plan for the community,” said Curci, the chairman and CEO of Tops Markets. “We wanted to leave this building as something good for the community.”
Ryan, the Assembly member, said he thought the Ciminelli proposal also was viewed favorably because it wouldn’t require a public subsidy to be financially viable. He said Sinatra’s proposal also appeared to be fully privately financed.
“That’s a big change for how we run development projects in the City of Buffalo,” Ryan said.
Ciminelli confirmed that the company was not seeking a subsidy for the project at this time. He and Penman said Ciminelli would pursue brownfield cleanup tax credits if they apply, and would do the same with historic tax credits if any portion of the project qualifies.
Will it happen?
QueensLight is just a proposal, however, and much can change between now and the final version of the project.
“You have to think of these proposals at this stage as concepts, thought experiments, ways of understanding alternatives, ways of assessing, and confirming, or adjusting to, what developers hear from the community,” UB’s Shibley said.
Ryan lauded Kaleida Health for setting up the community advisory panel, which he served on, and for arranging for independent evaluations of the financials of each project. But he said, ultimately, this was the stage of the process controlled by the hospital system.
“Now they have to go through the public vetting process,” Ryan said.
That includes the city Zoning and Planning boards and the Common Council. An environmental review also is required, Penman said.
He said the project already has received extensive public feedback but Ciminelli will do its own outreach to community stakeholders. The company sees two main groups – the homeowners on and around Hodge and Bryant streets and the businesses along Elmwood Avenue served by the hospital.
“What we want to try to do ... is to be able to knit the project into those two constituencies so that it adds a value to the entire neighborhood,” Penman said.
Ciminelli officials said they hope to start the formal design and approval processes as soon as possible.
Kaleida Health administrators said they don’t want to wait as long as they did when beginning the reuse of the Millard Fillmore Gates Circle site, which now is being redeveloped by TM Montante and Canterbury Woods.
Penman said construction would begin in fall 2017 and take place in four phases, likely starting with the construction of the retail and residential building at the corner of Elmwood and Bryant, along with the hotel and the charter school.
Construction would take two or three years to finish, Ciminelli said.
Hospital officials said they will do everything they can to help Ciminelli begin construction the moment Kaleida Health moves out of its Bryant Street home and into Oishei Children’s Hospital. Kaleida Health and Ciminelli now will negotiate a contract for the property. Curci said it is a sale of the parcel, but the hospital system didn’t go into this process to make a significant profit off the transaction.
“As you know, this is the start of the process,” Curci said. “I think it’s likely that there will be changes to it. We think that it will probably look and feel like what the vision is right now, but we all know that it’s a process and that could have impact on this.”