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Editorial: Children's site is too important to languish

To most Buffalonians, it probably doesn’t matter so much who is leading the effort to reuse the property soon to be vacated by Women and Children’s Hospital. What’s important is that somebody is doing it.

In that regard, Kaleida Health made what looks like a wise decision in ending negotiations with Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. and turning to the combined strengths of Sinatra & Co. Realty and Ellicott Development Co., both of whom had previously expressed interest in the project. To have done otherwise would have risked further unreasonable delay on a project of defining importance not just to the Elmwood Village neighborhood, but all of Buffalo.

The intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Bryant Street is a critical location in Buffalo, if only because the presence of the hospital for so many years has contributed economic and social stability. For that reason, alone, it requires special care.

But in a matter of months, the hospital will move to its new, modern location in the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. That has created a community and corporate challenge on how best to repurpose some of Buffalo’s most valuable acreage.

Kaleida, which owns the hospital, has worked to find an appropriate use for the space. Nearly a year ago, it accepted the proposal of Ciminelli Real Estate, which planned to create hundreds of apartments and condos, a charter school, a day care center, hotel, shops and a soccer club.

Unfortunately, negotiations leading to an agreement for Ciminelli to buy the property, which Kaleida believes should have taken no more than two months, dragged on. “They couldn’t deliver what was promised,” said Jody L. Lomeo, Kaleida president and CEO.

As a result, Kaleida ended its negotiations with Ciminelli and turned to the Sinatra and Ellicott firms to produce a similar project. Again, Kaleida believes the process should be able to move forward after no more than a month or two of negotiations.

That’s what is important. The community needs to know that this project is on solid ground and not plagued by unwanted delays. It matters less who is doing it than that it is being done.

Plans are not radically dissimilar from the Ciminelli proposal. Leaders of the new developers say they remain committed to a “phased approach” to the project, while still focusing on residential reuse.
That could include market-rate rental and for-sale units. A Dash’s supermarket, which was in Sinatra’s original proposal, is also a possibility. The developers also pledged to retain the buildings where possible, to connect the site to the surrounding neighborhood and use design standards in keeping with the “neighborhood fabric” and the city’s new Green Code.

All of that is encouraging – just as Ciminelli’s original plan was. To be sure, the details of the plan are important to the neighborhood and to the city as a whole. But it counts for nothing if the project doesn’t move ahead.

Kaleida made a difficult but necessary decision in changing its preferred developer for this influential project. Residents can only hope that with that change, a responsible plan moves forward in an acceptable time frame.

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