Make room for a new culinary high school downtown.
Plans to convert the former C.W. Miller Livery Stable at 75 W. Huron St. into a second Emerson School of Hospitality cleared a major hurdle Wednesday when the Buffalo Board of Education signed off on a 15-year lease with the developers.
Lease negotiations have been ongoing for almost a year, holding up construction on the new school, which won't be ready for almost two more years.
"It's critical that the board take a vote on this tonight because the developer is waiting to start the project, start building, and every day that goes by it pushes the project back even further," Nathaniel J. Kuzma, general counsel for Buffalo Public Schools, told the School Board Wednesday.
Superintendent Kriner Cash acknowledged that talks with the developers, McGuire Development Co. and Mark Croce’s Buffalo Development Co., broke down several times over the course of the negotiations and the district was almost ready to pull out of the deal.
But the superintendent on Wednesday felt confident the school district was ultimately getting a "very fair" and "sound" lease.
The school district will lease nearly 102,000 square feet of space, paying out about $46 million over 15 years. Building aid from the state will cover more than $30 million.
School Board members raised questions about the lease, just as they have throughout this entire project, which has been years in the making.
"I feel that we missed the mark in not pursing the opportunity to build or purchase our own building," said Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District on the board. "I'm disappointed in that."
Ultimately, though, the board was unanimous in its support of signing the lease with a vote of 6 to 0. Board Member Larry Quinn recused himself, while board members Paulette Woods and Catherine Flanagan-Priore were not in attendance for the vote.
The State Education Department also approved the lease, under the condition it still has to review final plans for the project, Kuzma said.
McGuire and Croce – selected by the School Board last July as the preferred development team – will redevelop the historic six-story former horse stable into a culinary school that will complement the existing Emerson School of Hospitality on West Chippewa Street to create a city campus within downtown's hospitality district.
"You can't really do any better then to have a world-class high school for hospitality and culinary arts right here in the epicenter of this area," Cash said.
The building will include a public restaurant space, a private dining room, banquet and special-event space, kitchens, a bakery, food preparation and serving space, freight elevators, and distribution space for supplies, as well as standard classrooms, lockers and a gymnasium.
The popularity and success of the existing Emerson prompted the district to create a second one in the fall of 2015. Students were placed in an old elementary school in South Buffalo, with the expectation a new building would open in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year.
Now, construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019 with occupancy slated for January 2020.
"I think it’s a wonderful opportunity. I'm very, very excited for our students," said Patricia Pierce, an at-large member of the School Board. "I love Emerson. I love what it stands for. I love the way the kids want to be there. They're happy. They graduate."