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Developers prepare to unveil Children's Hospital reuse plans

The development team behind the planned reuse of the former Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo site in the Elmwood Village has fine-tuned their proposal for a mix of condos, townhomes, apartments and retail space, and wants to unveil it to the public at the end of this month.

Sinatra & Co. Real Estate and Ellicott Development Co. said Thursday that Kaleida Health will finish vacating the hospital property at 219 Bryant St. on Friday, after removing the last of its personnel, equipment and other items during the past two months.

That's enabled the developers to finally move forward with more serious and detailed planning, now that they can get access to all parts of the hospital without interfering with staff, patients or other operations.

"That was the game plan all along. It's a very long process to decant and get a hospital that size vacated, especially with all the medical equipment and things of that nature," said Nick Sinatra, owner of Sinatra & Co. "There was a big chunk of the hospital that we didn't have the ability to do due diligence and plotting, based on the existing conditions. Now we've been able to get in there and do that, and have a better sense of what we can do or not."

The developers announced that they will hold a "community information meeting" on Jan. 31 to reveal more details about their intentions for the nearly eight-acre site, along with more specific site plans and some preliminary schematic designs for some of the projects. The meeting, which will be open to anyone, will be held at 7 p.m. at the Lafayette Presbyterian Church at 875 Elmwood Ave.

"We now have enough information on what we plan to do, where we can now take it to the broader community," Sinatra said. "We have a couple of areas we think we can get going sooner rather than later, so we want to see how that lands on people."

The "broad-brush" plans call for 40 to 50 condos for sale in the tower, about 200 apartments, 40 to 45 townhomes, a grocery store, and additional space for restaurants, retail and even commercial offices — but no other major features.

"We're not doing the charter school anymore," Sinatra said. "That idea is out."

Under the tentative plans, the condos would be located in the towers, while the apartments would be located in the towers, the old H-shaped hospital building on Bryant Street and above a proposed grocery store on Utica Street. They would be a mix of one- to three-bedroom units, ranging in size from 700 to 2,500 square feet. Pricing has not yet been finalized.

The townhomes and grocery would be located on empty parking lots on Utica. Sinatra said officials have "been meeting with a number of grocery tenants" but declined to release further details. "Conversations have gone really well," he said. "There's a lot of excitement around being on the site."

The project is expected to cost between $80 million and $110 million, and will take four to five years to fully build, over six phases. Officials have also selected a name for the project, which they will unveil at the meeting.

Sinatra and Ellicott also said they have hired Wendel Cos., Carmina Wood Morris and Silvestri Architects to begin design work on the initial projects that they are preparing to start. The rest of the design team will be hired and identified later, after the full investigation of the site and any potential challenges is completed.

“We can commence extensive investigative analysis of the main tower and connected buildings now that Kaleida has completed its decanting and removed its furniture, fixtures and equipment from the premises," said William Paladino, CEO of Ellicott Development.

However, Sinatra cautioned that the public review process will still take a long time before any shovels hit the ground. He said city officials are projecting it will take eight to 12 months to get through the municipal and other approvals, including working with the state-mandated environmental review process and various state and local agencies.

"This has a big community impact," he said. "There are lots of agencies that have to be involved."

The new Children’s Hospital is smaller than the old one, but it's designed to be more efficient and patient-friendly in its layout and equipment placement.

Kaleida in early November completed the long-awaited move of Children's from its longtime Elmwood home to the new John R. Oishei Children's Hospital on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The move, which was conducted in stages, followed months of detailed planning by hospital leadership.

Sinatra and Ellicott took possession of the former hospital property for $1 million on Nov. 13, following their selection by Kaleida last summer as the designated developers. They had replaced Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., which Kaleida had initially chosen, after the hospital company and developer failed to reach final agreements after more than a year of negotiation.

Since the summer, Sinatra and Ellicott have worked with a community-based "project advisory committee" comprised of neighbors, block-club leaders, business owners and other "stakeholders" to come up with a strategy for redevelopment. The developers and committee, which had previously been involved in talks with Kaleida and Ciminelli over the past five years, have met seven times to discuss the next steps.

"The community's been great to work with," Sinatra said. "The project has changed substantially based on constructive feedback from the community. It's a better project because of their input."

But he also acknowledged that there will be opponents and critics, especially since "in a project of this size, it's inevitable there are going to be requests for variances," including for height of new structures.

"You're going to have some people that can be critical, people who believe that the Green Code should not be challenged in any way, shape or form, people who believe that it's testament and no variances should be allowed," he said. "But the community that's impacted is very happy with the dialogue and how the meetings have been, and they're going to be excited about the plan."

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