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Willoughby's planned 10-story building goes back to the drawing board

Ever wonder what happened to Willoughby Exchange?

It hasn't gone away. But it did go back to the drawing board.

Craig Willoughby's proposal for a 10-story apartment building at Main and East Ferry streets created some furor in the surrounding neighborhood when the auto insurance purveyor first promoted it over a year ago. So he and his partners have been tweaking it through a series of community meetings to overcome resistance.

"This is a real development that has not been abandoned," said Colby A. Smith, president and CEO of Colby Development LLC, an adviser on the project. "It's basically still in development analysis."

Under the $26 million proposal unveiled in April 2016, Willoughby would knock down the one-story, red-and-white building at the corner that houses his insurance agency's longtime home, and replace it with a residential and commercial building that he dubbed Willoughby Exchange.

The development group is also still working to line up financing.

"We have investors watching and analyzing the project approvals and timing before committing resources," Smith said.

Proposed updated rendering of Willoughby Exchange at Main and East Ferry Streets.

The project, aimed at downtown, university and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus workers, would feature more than 100 apartments and a 7,380-square-foot urban market, as well as Willoughby's agency office. Willoughby plans to live in the two-story penthouse owner's apartment.

According to the original plans by Silvestri Architects, the 125,000-square-foot red-brick and glass building would include eight stories of apartments above one floor of commercial and retail space on the ground level. The market-rate apartments would include 64 one-bedroom units, of about 990 square feet each, and 37 two-bedroom units, with about 1,140 square feet in each. The apartments would rent for $1,200 and $1,500 per month, respectively, plus $75 per month for covered parking.

The project also featured 19,000 square feet of commercial space, a three-story fitness studio with a pool and one level of underground parking.

But the proposal faced resistance from neighbors on Otis and Woodlawn, who complained that the building would be out of scale with the area, and would cast shadows on their homes. They called for Willoughby and his partners to reduce the building's size and impact.

The development team has continued meeting with neighbors, most recently in a large community forum in April. That's "generated some design considerations" that are being considered, alongside "additional financial modeling" and a further market study, Smith said. There's been no change to the overall density of the project or the height, but the size of the apartments and the number of one- and two-bedroom units has changed, he added.

There's no indication when it might come back before city agencies for consideration.

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