By Gerald Kelly
I own a real estate financing company. But for the first 17 years of my career I was a city planner. I have lived in the Elmwood Village for the past 45 years. Hence, my interest in Chason Affinity’s project at the corner of Forest and Elmwood avenues.
This past Christmas shopping season, for the first time in our nation’s history, internet retail sales surpassed what economists call bricks-and-mortar retail sales.
And who benefits the most from this trend? Amazon and national and big-box retailers who have the strongest online presence. And who typically benefits least?
Our own neighborhood retailers. They typically have less internet presence, so they particularly need bricks-and-mortar shopping in this new e-commerce world.
How do we help our beloved Elmwood Village fight this trend to remain commercially viable? I think this project is an ideal response. It will bring much-needed bricks-and-mortar buying power right onto Elmwood Avenue. New higher-income shoppers within walking distance of our merchants and restaurants.
Furthermore, the always contentious issue of parking is dealt with by actually adding new surplus off-street parking in addition to the parking reserved for residents.
I am not an architect, so I don’t claim expertise as to the best design, but regarding some of the important features of this project:
• The height of the building. The nice stepped-back design above the third floor with the fifth floor now eliminated and the fourth floor barely visible.
• The length of the building. The landscaped pocket park facing Elmwood breaks up the Elmwood facade, along with the multiple smaller retail spaces and townhouse facades. Few people actually know which is Buffalo’s longest building, a full football field in length. It is the North Park Theatre building on Hertel Avenue. But no one ever complains about the structure because it is not noticeable since it is broken up into a variety of nice storefronts.
• The environmental features of the building. There is the large increase in the porous drainage to minimize stormwater runoff, plus the collection and reuse of rainwater and snowmelt in a hidden cistern.
• The condominium home ownership feature. This expands our Elmwood Village housing options and further promotes neighborhood stability.
• The streetscape frontage. It is a major improvement over the blighted residential structures that are set way back from the street, have no parking and have for many years served inadequately as retail stores.
I know the developers have had over 30 community meetings to obtain input and have revised their design multiple times, since no large project ever satisfies everyone.
But as we take the Elmwood Village into the reality of the 21st century, I think this project will help us preserve our beloved commercial district as it faces the important challenges of the years to come.
Gerald “Jerry” Kelly is president of Gerald Kelly Capital Corp.