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People Inc. buys planned medical facility on Hertel from Uniland

Uniland Development Co. is still working on its plan to convert a former warehouse at Hertel and Elmwood avenues into a medical office building, but now its previously unknown tenant has become the owner instead.

People Inc. on Tuesday purchased the property at 800 Hertel Ave. from Uniland, paying $5.528 million for the 2.49 acres of land and the one-story building that sits on it.

That site on the northwest corner of the intersection will become the new home of the nonprofit agency's Elmwood Health Center, which will relocate and double in size from its current site a few blocks up the street.

At 32,953 square feet, the new facility will be a major increase in space for the clinic, which now occupies 13,000 square feet at 2128 Elmwood. That will provide opportunities to provide enhanced medical care in a single location, with a variety of affordable health and wellness services available for residents in that underserved area and for developmentally disabled patients throughout the region.

It's also on two bus lines and offers plenty of parking for patients, with 27 spaces planned, officials said.

"We love the facility, on a main corner," said Rhonda Frederick, People Inc. president and CEO. "It just offers so much more space, in a convenient location, with better parking."

The facility will continue to offer internal medicine; audiometry; neurology; speech, physical and occupational therapy, pediatric and adult medicine, social work, behavioral health, counseling; and podiatry care. That system allows doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical support staff and social workers to operate as a team, with coordinated care for patients.

Additionally, the expanded location means People Inc. can also add new services, such as a pharmacy, a special wheelchair clinic operated by an onsite durable medical equipment provider, and a new dental clinic that will be co-located to provide dental care, particularly for people with developmental disabilities. The new building will more than double the number of examination rooms from 10 to 22, while providing for four treatment rooms for primary and specialty care.

It currently has 45 employees at Elmwood, but Frederick expects that number to grow with the services and patient count.

People Inc. is still seeking funding for the project, but plans to open the larger Elmwood Health Center on Hertel in early 2021. The agency will then shift staff from other leased space to the old facility at 2128 Elmwood, which it also owns. That building will still have a day program in the rear, but the clinic area will be reconfigured to office space, Frederick said.

"We're getting squeezed for space," she said. "It'll be an opportunity to get out of some leased space, but also to give us some breathing room in other buildings that we do own."

Uniland plans North Buffalo medical office building at Elmwood-Hertel

The expansion represents a big coup for the nonprofit, which had been seeking more room for the crammed health center but wanted to stay in the same neighborhood because of the need. People Inc. has operated the Elmwood Health Center at its current location for 25 years, starting in 1994 with just 500 patients.

It now sees more than 5,500 patients — about half from the neighborhood and the other half hailing from as far as Niagara Falls and East Aurora — and officials expect to grow that to 7,000 with the additional capacity. However, they also expect shorter waitlists, because of the increased capacity.

"We're out of space, with a long wait list, and we wanted to do something and stay in the same general area," she said.

Landing People Inc. is also a major win for Uniland, which purchased 20 acres of land around the heavily trafficked North Buffalo intersection a year ago, and then announced overall plans to redevelop the entire site into a mix of office, retail and residential space over the next few years. It has long said it is seeking a large retail tenant — such as a drugstore, grocery store or entertainment venue — to anchor the main intersection and drive the rest of the project around it.

But then it introduced its plans for the medical office building in early July as its first major project there, without identifying People Inc. or indicating its intention to sell the site. But that was the intention all along, Frederick said.

Uniland Construction, an arm of the Amherst-based developer, will still rehab and build out the existing abandoned former warehouse on the site, while constructing a 3,000-square-foot addition and parking area.

Meanwhile, the developer remains the owner of another 18 acres of land around the heavily trafficked intersection, as well as a vacant three-story building at 1934 Elmwood. The company said it is working with another unidentified business to finalize a deal to operate on another part of the site.

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