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Developers back $70 million new Emerson School project

A pair of developers want to take a crack at creating a second Emerson School of Hospitality in downtown Buffalo as part of a larger project that would add a new office building and parking ramp near the medical campus.

Uniland Development Co. and Rocco Termini's Signature Development Buffalo LLC want to construct a three-part complex on Ellicott Street. They hope to win a bid with Buffalo Public Schools to create a new state-of-the-art culinary and hospitality school with a restaurant on the site.

The new $70 million project would be located at the north end of the block bordered by Ellicott, Oak and Tupper streets. The site includes both a Uniland-owned property at 505 and 525 Ellicott, where a warehouse formerly belonging to Frey the Wheelman now stands, as well as adjacent land that Termini owns at 400 N. Oak St.

It's the second effort in recent months to expand the Emerson model. Krog Corp. had hoped to put the second Emerson school inside its nearby Trico Building, at 817 Washington St. The specialty school had been a core part of Krog's $90 million project, but Buffalo Public Schools abruptly pulled out of the plan late last year after continued delays caused district officials to lose confidence that the building would be ready by September 2018.

Instead, the district has issued a new call for development bids, with formal proposals due by Feb. 1.

[Related: Krog will need new approval for tax breaks for Trico Building]

Uniland, run by Carl J. Montante, and Signature have not won the new contract, although the team intends to submit a bid. But company officials concluded that, given the district's 18-month timeframe, they needed to get a jumpstart on municipal approvals.

So in an unusual move, the developers submitted their application for site plan approval Tuesday with the Buffalo Planning Board, even without having Emerson as a guaranteed participant.

Buffalo Public Schools officials did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Uniland spokeswoman Jill Pawlik said officials didn't know yet whether the proposal would go forward without the culinary school.

Like the district's current Emerson School on Chippewa Street, the new location would include classrooms, kitchens, a bakery, offices, a banquet facility and a public restaurant, which would be accessed from Ellicott Street, where a growing array of restaurants and breweries are changing the landscape. The proposed four-story school building on the 505 Ellicott site, with a one-story corner section, would total 76,500 square feet.

In addition to the school, the project also includes a six-story brick and aluminum panel office building at the corner of East Tupper – which Uniland would construct and manage – as well as a precast concrete-and-brick parking ramp with 380 spaces on four levels along Oak. The ramp would be connected to both the school and the office building. Officials said they are currently seeking prospective office tenants.

Uniland and Termini are both highly experienced in commercial real estate work, with an array of completed school, hotel, restaurant and commercial projects.

Uniland last year completed the 12-story Delaware North Building at 250 Delaware Ave., including the headquarters of Delaware North, Westin Buffalo, Patina 250 and Jake's Cafe. The company also converted the former Dulski Federal Office Building into the Avant seven years ago. Termini restored and renovated the Hotel @ The Lafayette, including its apartments, banquet facilities and restaurants; the Webb Building; the Foundry Suites on Elmwood Avenue; and several loft apartment conversions.

“We have experience meeting deadlines and exceeding client expectations,” Uniland Vice President Michael Montante said in a statement announcing the plan. “We look forward to the opportunity to share our proposal with the school district.”

The pair are working in partnership on the new project with architectural firm Carmina Wood Morris PC.

“Combining my site on Oak Street with Uniland’s properties on Ellicott Street literally expands our options to create the best proposal," Termini said. "This location puts the students right on Ellicott with its pedestrian and vehicular traffic from the adjacent residences, offices, restaurants, markets and theater district destinations plus the medical campus two blocks north.”

The project will require approval from the Planning Board, which may receive its first review on Monday, as well as from the state Education Department and Erie County Health Department for the school and kitchen, respectively. The developers also plan to seek tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

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