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'Full steam ahead' as One Seneca Tower project gets Planning Board OK

The Buffalo Planning Board Monday unanimously approved plans by the developer of One Seneca Tower to scale back a couple of new secondary buildings on the site, and introduce smaller spaces for local retailers that architects are calling "pavilions."

The seven new, smaller retail spaces will each be about 434 square feet and will line the east plaza edge along Washington Street, across from Coca-Cola Field.

"We've been calling them retail kiosks," said Adam S. Walters, a partner with Phillips Lytle LLP, who represented the developer, Douglas Jemal, the owner of One Seneca Tower, at Monday's meeting.

"The new name we're going with is 'pavilion,' a set of small retail shops that would be available to local businesses. They were designed to create some activity on the plaza, which the developer feels is the key to expanding the redevelopment of this site," Walters said.

Planning Board members expressed some initial reservations about the design of the small structures that incorporated metal panels.

Board members said the visual it would give would be one of an impenetrable wall of metal along the Washington and Pearl street sides of the plaza — and no amount of signage or landscaping could disguise it.

More changes underway – again – in plans for One Seneca Tower

After much discussion, the idea of introducing transom windows — small portals — to add light and visual interest was settled upon to mitigate the problem.

"What the board was concerned about and what they asked for were some very modest changes which were very easy to make," Walters said after the meeting.

"So we're very excited and it's full steam ahead," he added.

Walters said that some construction activity has already begun on the site.

"That's just going to increase with this approval," he said.

Alterations to the mammoth redevelopment project include converting the multistory South and West annex buildings for use by residents and stores, then adding two new buildings on the plaza, as well as a windscreen and landscaping.

Plans were presented at the meeting by Elizabeth Fuller, an associate architect with Antunovich Associates.

Plans for a new four-story apartment building on the plaza have been reduced to the one-story retail space that Jemal started with. The newly approved modifications also call for shrinking the footprint or shape of the new retail building to 8,000 square feet from 10,000, pulling the sides in by 6 feet to provide more space on the plaza level for landscaping and an outside seating area for patrons. Newly introduced is a covered walkway leading to the tower entrance.

Also, the apartments planned for that building are being shifted back to the South Annex building, to where they had originally been, along with retail space on the ground floor. A second, one-story retail building will be changed to 3,500 square feet from 4,000 square feet.

The South Annex building will have 37 apartments on its third and fourth floors, each of which are about 30,000 square feet in size, instead of a food court and kitchen.

Daniel Sack, a Buffalo resident who spoke at Monday's Planning Board meeting, said he was encouraged by the evolution of the design for the project.

"The facade treatments look much better than the hodgepodge of design elements we saw on the original elevations. It just seems like a more coherent design," Sack said.

"But I'm hoping the project can continue to evolve into an even better project both for Mr. Jemal and Buffalo," he said.

Sean Kirst: Returning One Seneca Tower to a symbol of civic promise

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