Coming soon to a former urban hospital site near you: Elmwood Crossing.
That's the name for the proposed redevelopment of the former Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo into a residential and retail community straddling the Elmwood Village and Allentown.
Overall, the project, expected to cost up to $110 million, will include:
- About 200 apartments, 40 to 50 condos for sale and 40 to 45 townhouses
- Reuse of most of the former hospital buildings
- A new six-story building with apartments and retail at Elmwood Avenue and Bryant Street
- A new four-story building on Utica Street, with an urban grocery, boutique shops and apartments
"This project, we think, is in the crossover between two of Western New York's greatest neighborhoods, the Elmwood Village and Allentown," said developer Nick Sinatra, one of the project partners. "We think this project is a bridge between the two neighborhoods."
The eight-acre hospital campus has been largely vacant since the hospital moved about a mile away in November to Oishei Children's Hospital. Sinatra & Co. Real Estate and William Paladino's Ellicott Development Co. unveiled new details of their plan to transform the neighborhood during a community meeting on Wednesday in Lafayette Presbyterian Church on Elmwood.
The project received a mixed reception from the more than 300 people who attended – with many voicing concerns about a six-story building proposed for Bryant and Elmwood avenues that would exceed the number of stories allowed in the city's Green Code.
Steven and Jennifer Nassivera, residents of Hodge Avenue, have lived in the neighborhood for more than a dozen years and are excited about aspects of the plan that call for retaining and reusing many of the historic buildings on the site. But they said they are concerned about other parts.
"We are concerned about the parking… and about the traffic. It's already difficult to get out of Hodge Avenue and onto Elmwood Avenue," Jennifer Nassivera said.
The variance required for the six-story building is a disappointment, said Steven Nassivera.
"It does make you wonder with this Green Code, with all the work that went into it and all the concerns, was it all in vain when new buildings start popping up asking for all these variances," Steven Nassivera said.
Tom Halloran, of Richmond Avenue, a 35-year resident of the neighborhood, isn't bothered by the prospect of a new six-story building on Elmwood.
"There's a nice little group in the neighborhood who are the naysayers and they caused a lot of problems for the Chasen project but, thank God, it's finally moving forward. It's a breath of fresh air to see those 11 houses (demolished), and I can't wait to see those 40 condominiums go up," Halloran said.
Others, like the Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice, wondered whether poorer residents of the city would benefit with the prospect of new construction on the project.
"Buffalo is a union town, and we need good union jobs from this investment. We need a Project Labor Agreement," Laubenstein said.
"We're not talking the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls area. We're talking right here. There are poor people that need work and this is one of the biggest projects in our city and in our region," Laubenstein said.
The developers released conceptual ideas in early January, but they've since created more specific designs for the two new buildings. They hope to get started on at least one of the buildings as soon as this summer, but that depends on what they hear from residents and how long the municipal review takes.
"We'd like to keep moving forward on those projects, while we continue to study the other uses for other parts of the project," Paladino said.
Other specifics include:
- A restaurant and stores on the ground floor of the new building on the site of a parking lot at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bryant Street, plus apartments with balconies on the upper five floors. The top floor of the red-brick-and-white-stone building would be set back from the street.
- A four-story building with an urban grocery store at 188-204 West Utica St., that would more than triple the size of the 15,000-square-foot former pharmacy located there now.
- Renovation of the 4,000-square-foot, two-story former Hodge Pediatrics building at 125 Hodge into a new day care center, with a 5,000-square-foot, one-story expansion and a playground.
- Three clusters of townhouses next to the grocery building on West Utica.
- Forty to 50 for-sale condos in the former hospital's Variety and Tanner towers, along with apartments and a 75-room hotel on the first three floors.
- Commercial office space in the hospital's Alfiero Building, just east of the towers.
- Historic renovation of the old MD and Annex buildings into apartments.
- Two apartments in a house next to Alfiero, at 187 Bryant.
Plans call for using historic tax credits for the Tanner Tower, so the developers would not be able to make significant changes to that building. Paladino said most of the hotel functions will likely be in the Variety Tower, which will not be a historic reuse. He said he expects the hotel to be flagged with a national brand, with a pool, fitness center, meeting space and possibly a cafe or restaurant.
Paladino said the developers are still negotiating with "a few different operators" for the grocer, which would take up 25,000 to 35,000 square feet on the first floor of a new building on West Utica Street. That building would also have boutique shops and three floors of apartments. As with the six-story building, the top floor of the new four-story building would be set back from the street.
The city's new Green Code restricts the height of new buildings in the neighborhood to three stories. Sinatra and Paladino plan to seek height variances for the two larger buildings, although they plan to otherwise comply with the regulations as far as possible.
That could draw concern from residents who want to see new developments adhere strictly to the city's Green Code.
"We think it fits in very well to the site and to the surrounding neighborhood," Sinatra said, referring to the immediate nearby blocks. "There are going to be some folks that will not support it because of its height, but the surrounding neighborhood groups like it."
Paladino noted that other buildings in the neighborhood are taller than the six-story building his team would like to construct.
"In the context of the neighborhood and what's been built, we're not asking too much to go up to those heights," Paladino said. "We feel it'll be a better project with the density that we're looking to create."
Sinatra said the developers are "taking on a huge risk" with one of the city's largest private development projects.
"It's important for us to maximize the square footage that is here," Sinatra said.
The development team has spent six months formulating their project. Earlier this year, the team was selected by Kaleida Health to take over the hospital reuse project from Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. The design effort included an advisory committee of local neighborhood group representatives and other stakeholders from the nearby community, who have been working with Kaleida since the hospital relocation was first announced.
Children's Hospital moved in November to the new Oishei Children's Hospital facility on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Kaleida Health completely vacated the eight-acre property at 219 Bryant last month, after removing the last of its personnel, equipment and other items. So Sinatra and Ellicott couldn't get into most of the older buildings until now, and haven't finished evaluating options for the facilities with their architects and engineers.
"That's the thing we're the least up on," Paladino said. "We haven't dived in yet."
The developers are dividing the project into about seven phases, including the purchase and repair of the city-owned parking ramp on Elmwood, between Hodge and West Utica. The old hospital towers and other buildings will likely be among the last phases.
If all goes well, the developers hope to finish most of the project by late 2019 or early 2020, but Paladino acknowledged it could stretch to as far as 2022 if discussions and reviews take longer.
"We're going to work hard to get something started right away," Paladino said. "Kaleida doesn't want to see another Gates Circle. The immediate neighborhood wants to see the same."
"Everyone wants this to happen as quickly as possible, so we're going to get on the calendar and just keep plowing ahead," Sinatra agreed.