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Editorial: Niagara Street undergoes a striking turnaround

If you haven’t been on Niagara Street lately, it is worth taking a drive to witness the amazing transformation underway.

Once a forlorn West Side thoroughfare, even the road itself was bad – bumpy and unpleasant. Now the ride is much smoother for the most part, and there are surprising views out the car window. Many of the old manufacturing buildings shuttered long ago are reopening after extreme makeovers into eateries, shops and apartments, many of them quite expensive.

This remarkable rehabilitation is taking place along a 1.3 mile stretch of Niagara Street parallel to the Niagara Thruway and the Black Rock Channel.
News staff reporter Mark Sommer described the work taking place, and News photographer Derek Gee illustrated the movement with striking aerial and ground-level photos of those repurposed industrial buildings.

The sheer number of new apartments coming on line is evidence that Niagara Street is the city’s next hot housing market. And with those lofty spaces come lofty prices, with some rents exceeding $2,000 a month.

Right now there is a healthy mix of incomes, cultures and generations on the street. That could change as the strip becomes a destination.

Millennials especially are attracted to recently opened businesses and housing. That cohort will see a jump in August with the opening of 1,000 student apartments at Forest and West streets, one block east of Niagara Street. These students will be joined by residents of the former New York Central Freight House nearby on Tonawanda Street, which developers are converting into 37 apartments and some retail space.

Heading south, the Crescendo, at 1502 Niagara St., offers striking views of the river for residents of its 41 apartments. It was what won over Angelo Natale, owner of Natale Development, and Bobby Corrao, the company’s president, five years ago when they scouted the place. As Sommer wrote, “developing the Crescendo helped jump start Niagara Street’s comeback.”

The two largest developers on the street, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. and Ellicott Development, have expansive visions for their properties.
Ciminelli plans to develop 49 apartments in the Mentholatum Building, 1360 Niagara St., with retail or a restaurant on the ground floor (plus a new building with apartments and retail on two recently purchased parcels next door).

Ellicott Development is working on two of its six properties on Niagara Street and one on Busti Avenue. The company has plans for the others.
William Paladino, chief executive officer of Ellicott Development, talked about Niagara as a desirable spot on the river, which explains why his company purchased the properties and held them for eight or nine years: “We were hopeful.”

The rebirth of Niagara Street is following the model of Ohio Street, a once-desolate, dilapidated industrial road. After a makeover narrowed the road and added bike and walking paths and new lighting, developers moved in to create housing.

Infrastructure underpins progress, and on Niagara, just the promise of those improvements has spurred growth. By 2019 Niagara Street’s four lanes will drop to two, with a center turn lane, in an effort to slow traffic. The city will sport its first two-lane “bike cycle” on the west side of the street. Add to that new lighting, sidewalk improvements, green medians, stormwater retention and curb extensions.

As Sommer wrote, plans by Buffalo’s Department of Public Works and the Buffalo Sewer Authority to make improvements along Niagara “convinced some developers to invest.”

“I’m just astonished that things are moving so quickly,” said Barbara Rowe. She is president and co-founder of Vision Niagara, a nonprofit that worked closely with city officials, businesses community groups, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning to develop the middle section of Niagara Street.

With that work barreling along, city officials should consider erecting a sign: Welcome to the new Niagara Street.

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