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Costly parking forces Ciminelli to adjust downtown tower

Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. is reworking its design for a high-rise apartment building on Ellicott Street after estimated costs for underground parking threatened the project's viability.

The company still hopes to have final plans ready by late summer for its proposal to build an 18-story residential, office and retail tower anchored by an Orchard Fresh grocery store at 201 Ellicott St.

The proposal includes an 800-space covered parking ramp, including underground parking, to make up for the surface lot that it would eliminate.

But the company ran into a stumbling block when early cost estimates came back with the parking structure costing more than $80,000 per space, far "more than we anticipated," Ciminelli Executive Vice President Dennis Penman said.

To bring that price tag down sharply, the company redesigned the parking to put significantly more of the spaces above ground. The new design brought the expense down to "significantly less than half" the initial projection, Penman said.

"We were kind of pushing it underground, but we'll bring some of the spaces above grade," he said. "Subterranean parking spaces are just dramatically more expensive."

The developer will still have to excavate deeply because the site is a former brownfield that must be cleaned to state standards, so the project will still incorporate underground parking. It's a similar problem to what Ciminelli faced with the Conventus building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"It's just striking the right balance," Penman said. "It’s a very active project, and we have a significant amount of staff time devoted to it."

The project – which was sought by Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown as a means to redevelop a vacant city-owned block – would feature more than 200 apartments and condominiums, three floors of office space, a public plaza and a mixture of shops and restaurants.

Plans also include a community garden for residents and a seasonal farmer's market, as well as public art and an enormous display screen on the wall of the nearby bus terminal to show movies or sporting events to a large crowd.

The goal is not only to add to the inventory of available housing downtown, meeting Brown's goal of 2,000 new units by 2018, but also to introduce new retail services, including a downtown supermarket. Orchard Fresh is run by Tops Markets.

The 2.5-acre site is bordered by Oak, Clinton, Ellicott and Eagle streets, and is adjacent to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus terminal, the Central Library and the Hotel @ the Lafayette.

Ciminelli Real Estate was named designated developer in February 2016 and unveiled its initial concept in November. Since then, Ciminelli executives have been working with architects from CannonDesign and city officials on design and feasibility issues.

Penman said negotiations are "pretty far along" with Tops regarding the grocery. "It's an ongoing process," Penman said. "It's complicated. There's a lot of different uses there."

The company hopes to bring final plans to the city for review by late summer or early fall.

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