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Ciminelli gets final approval for 201 Ellicott market, apartment project

After years of planning – and weeks of debate – Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. Monday won the green light from the city for its plans for a new fresh foods market and more than 200 affordable apartments on a city-owned parking lot in Buffalo.

The Buffalo Planning Board unanimously backed the proposal by the Buffalo developer to construct a 220,000-square-foot complex of two buildings at 201 Ellicott St., on a 2.5-acre lot between the Central Library and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus terminal.

That vote came days after the Zoning Board of Appeals approved more than a dozen variances from the Green Code.

Together, that clears the way for cleanup and construction work to begin on the site by the second half of the year, after the monthly parkers at the lot – operated by Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps – have been notified and the 375-space lot is closed for use.

First Ciminelli has to complete its purchase of the lot.

The developer has reached agreement with the city on the overall terms of the purchase, whose price has not been disclosed, although it's assessed at $2.3 million. Project spokesman Matt Davison said the developer expects to file the "land disposition agreement" with the Buffalo Common Council within the "next couple of weeks," for lawmakers' approval.

Ciminelli has applied to the Erie County Industrial Development Agency for a package of sales, mortgage recording and property tax breaks, with the intention of passing through any benefits specifically for Braymiller Market, which will own its component of the project. Construction is estimated at $6.9 million for the store, which will be funded with $4.6 million in financing from Evans Bank, plus $300,000 in equity.

Retailers are normally not eligible for tax breaks, but more than three-fourths of Braymiller's business and revenues comes from its wholesale operation, delivering fresh and prepared foods and other products to restaurants and other businesses all over the region, Davison noted. About 65 to 70 employees will likely be hired, according to the ECIDA application, with 35 on-site at any given time.

"It’s a really important aspect for the financing of this project," Davison said. "You’re going to get some job creation from that and you’re going to have an operation that’s running from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at night and beyond."

Ultimately, he said, officials hope to start remediation and put a shovel in the ground by year end – with construction taking about two years before it's completed by July 2021.

"We’re excited to keep the project moving," Davison said. "We’ve been diligently working through it over the last several months and will continue to do so."

The effort by Ciminelli has been in the works for several years, since Mayor Byron W. Brown announced plans in 2015 to issue a request for proposals to redevelop the underused site a block away from Main Street. The goal was always to include housing and an urban grocery store as part of the project, but the specifics have evolved significantly based on changes in market demand and the costs of construction.

In particular, that was a factor in Ciminelli's decision – with the support of the city – to drop an 800-space parking ramp from its plans, which would have doubled the amount of parking available. Instead, only 29 spaces will be available, as the developer and city are betting there's enough parking available within a short walk, and that many of the residents of the new building will not have cars.

Plans by architects at CannonDesign now call for 201 units of affordable housing in a residential building that will rise seven stories along Oak Street and five stories along Ellicott, plus a single-story market of 21,640 square feet – mostly for the wholesale business.

The market would be operated by Stuart Green, owner of Braymiller Market in Hamburg, but only 9,280 square feet would be for retail.

"There’s a lot of excitement that we see in the community for this project, certainly for Braymiller Market but also for the entry of these 201 units in downtown Buffalo," Davison said. "The design team is excited. Stuart Green and his team at Braymiller are ready to go."

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