Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., which is already facing public criticism over one proposed project in the Elmwood Village, is now preparing to bring forth details of a second development project, this time featuring a supermarket in downtown Buffalo.
The Amherst-based developer will hold a public information session at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 to reveal a "conceptual plan" for its mixed-use project at 201 Ellicott St., to be anchored by a new Tops Markets store.
Ciminelli Real Estate, run by Paul Ciminelli, was named designated developer for the city-owned site in February. It is working with construction manager LPCiminelli - run by Paul's brother, Louis - as well as Allpro Parking, in which Paul Ciminelli owns a stake.
The firm has proposed a multi-story building featuring an urban grocery store of 15,000 to 20,000 square feet, a parking ramp, and either apartments or condominiums, meeting the goals set out by the city when it issued a "request-for-qualifications" last year to over 400 potential developers locally and nationwide.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown has previously set a goal of at least 2,000 new residential units in downtown Buffalo by 2018. But the lack of a downtown grocery store has long been cited by city officials and developers as an impediment to continued growth.
Williamsville-based Tops already has company-owned stores in the city at 1460 South Park Ave. and 1275 Jefferson Ave., and a franchise store at 425 Niagara St. owned by Supermarket Management Inc. It also has four other stores closer to the suburbs. But the nearest one to downtown – Niagara Street – is two miles from the Canalside area.
The 2.5-acre lot, which is currently used for 300 surface parking spaces, is bounded by Ellicott, Oak, Eagle and Clinton streets, adjacent to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus terminal, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and Hotel@the Lafayette. Officials note the site's proximity to Canalside, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the Larkin District, as well as the rest of downtown.
Erie Community College has also expressed interest in participating in the project, to accommodate an expansion, but it's not clear if the two-year college will be included in the final plan. The project may also include a public space feature.
“We’re excited to partner with Tops to bring another dynamic, fresh food option to downtown Buffalo, one that will provide convenient access to folks on the city’s adjacent East Side as well as residents and employees in the Central Business District," said Denise Juron-Borgese, Ciminelli's vice president of development and planning. "We hope to welcome a great turnout on Dec. 1 as we present our thoughts and plans to those in and around the area.”
The program will be held in the auditorium of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library main branch at 1 Lafayette Square. Parking vouchers for free parking at the Allpro parking lot at 437 Washington St. will be available at the event.
Ciminelli representatives will be joined by architects from Cannon Design and officials from Tops Markets to discuss the project. Project team members will be available to speak with members of the community at "information stations" in the lobby of the auditorium. The public can submit comment cards there or online feedback via the project's website.
This is the second information session that Ciminelli has held on a major project in the last two weeks, following one at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church for its mixed-use, two-building development proposal on Elmwood Avenue at Bidwell Parkway. That $40 million project, dubbed Arbor + Reverie, calls for 33 condominiums, 53 apartments, eight retail storefronts in 12,000 square feet, and a three-level parking structure, using 11 properties Ciminelli acquired earlier this fall.
Ciminelli officials say they spent 18 months working on the plans and soliciting input from neighborhood groups and public forums, in an effort to win over the community and preserve the feel of the Elmwood Village. But the presentation was met with criticism and even hostility by a number of people in attendance, who objected to the size, scale and even appearance of the proposed buildings.
In particular, neighbors complained that the project was too tall - at five stories versus three, as envisioned in the proposed Green Code - and would entail the demolition of a dozen homes to combine lots.
More than 100 Elmwood Village residents attended a followup meeting last week, and more than 130 residents signed petition letters in opposition to both the Ciminelli project and a separate one by Chason Affinity, according to Gretchen Cercone, president of the Lancaster Avenue Block Club. Club leaders hand-delivered copies of the letter at City Hall Monday afternoon.
"We ask you to respect the time and energy that so many planners, architects, block club leaders, and community members have put forth in order to develop a code that is respectful of the Elmwood Village in order to protect it for years to come," the letters said.