Work is scheduled to begin in earnest this week on a new residential development on the North Tonawanda waterfront, eventually bringing nearly 100 apartment and townhome units to a site overlooking the Niagara River.
Lou Visone Jr.'s Visone Enterprises will join city, county and state officials to break ground on Friday afternoon on the planned new River's Edge project at 600 River Road.
The $20 million development, which will be completed in phases, will result in several buildings constructed on the former industrial site, which is across the river from Grand Island and just north of Tonawanda Island. The developer hopes the project – one of the largest developments of any kind in North Tonawanda in decades – will spur further activity in the city, particularly along the water.
"We hope this is our entry into larger developments," said Tom Celik, project manager. "We hope this will be a harbinger to bring in more development in North Tonawanda, and hopefully bigger developers. It's a beautiful area that's just left in the past."
The project will start with a four-story luxury apartment building with 36 rental units, along with a separate eight-unit, two-story townhouse building, located next to the marina. The site has 500 feet of frontage along the river.
Plans call for 10 one-bedroom units, 24 two-bedroom apartments and two 3-bedroom units. They will range in size from 800 to 1,400 square feet. The townhomes feature one-story units at each end, with six two-story units in the middle. Rents will range from $1,100 to $2,000 per month.
The apartment building also will include 12 garages, plus a nine-unit exterior garage structure and "ample" surface parking, Celik said. The townhomes each have their own driveways and garages.
There also are two 2,500-square-foot retail buildings planned upfront on River Road, which could have two apartments each on an upper floor, depending on what the retail tenant might want. Celik said the developer is "talking to anybody and everybody who's interested" in those spaces, including a possible coffee shop, but "people want to see the buildings up and people living there and being successful before jumping the gun."
The first phase is not expected to open until spring 2018, but Visone is already taking calls for a waiting list, and plans to start pre-leasing as soon as its model unit is completed in early spring, Celik said.
A crane is already positioned on the site, driving piles as part of the site preparation, which is half-finished. Foundation work will start in a month.
"It has a lot of potential. It's by the water, and people love the water, and it's going to be fairly affordable," Celik said. "We're pretty excited. It should be cool."
If all goes well, Visone will then move to the second phase, which calls for another 36-unit four-story apartment building, a clubhouse, an eight-unit townhouse building and a 10-unit townhouse building. That's 98 units in all. Another five-unit garage also is planned.
The planned clubhouse will include a pool, gym, kitchen, party area and business cafe, as well as a barbecue area. Outside will be a gazebo and benches, with a walking path along the river that will be completely open to the public, at the city's insistence. The developer is even including a school-bus loading area near the clubhouse, so children don't have to walk out to River Road.
The project has taken more than three years to get to this point, in part because of a host of municipal delays, Celik said. The Niagara County Planning Board even rejected the plan at one point because of what Celik characterized as incorrect information, forcing Visone to start over and bring a veteran real estate lawyer into the process.
The developer has since obtained the necessary planning and zoning approvals, with several variances, and also received property and sales tax breaks from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency to help with the financing by Five Star Bank.
The 5.95-acre property was originally occupied by Niagara Iron Works – later Tonawanda Iron Works – from 1886 until at least 1972, and was then vacant until 1988, when A.J. Marine Construction began operating there until 2008.
Historically, it included railroad tracks and a pig-iron casting operation, and contained a metal warehouse that was recently used for storage until the site was demolished and cleared, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Visone remediated and capped the property in 2015 under the Brownfield Cleanup Program, under state supervision. The property is located within a Brownfield Opportunity Area and City of North Tonawanda Local Waterfront Revitalization Program area.