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Contractors begin demolition of Shoreline Apartments

The Shoreline Apartments are finally coming down.

Crews hired by Norstar Development USA began assembling Thursday morning on the site of the low-income housing project along Niagara Street to start the long-awaited demolition.

"It is finally coming down. We’re very happy about that," said Linda L. Goodman, senior vice president of Norstar, who has been involved in planning for this project for over 10 years. "Now it's time to rebuild it and provide affordable and middle-income housing for the residents of Buffalo."

Goodman said the demolition is expected to last three to four months, and should be completed by Memorial Day weekend. Construction then would begin at the far end while crews work their way toward City Hall. She said the weather should not affect the demolition process, so the contractors can work through the winter.

Norstar, in conjunction with the city and New York Homes and Community Renewal, is seeking to revitalize the 1970s-era community, to address complaints about the complex and better meet the needs of modern tenants. That means larger but fewer units, with an eye toward serving families.

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Also known as the Waterfront Apartments, the Brutalist-style complex was designed by Paul Rudolph and built in 1971, but many of the buildings and the original 472 units deteriorated over time. In 2004, 89 units in one building were taken out of service, while the rest were considered deteriorated and obsolete. It's been vacant since 2017.

Norstar's $45 million plan calls for the demolition of the 21 buildings and the remaining 383 units, to be replaced by 26 new structures with 214 new affordable apartments. The new mix will include townhouses and low-rise apartment buildings, with one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

The project is being funded in large part by $29 million from the state Department of Homes and Community Renewal, as part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's initiative to redevelop all of the state's Mitchell-Lama projects.

The developer completed the first phase of what it's calling the Niagara Square Apartments redevelopment two years ago, in February 2017, at the corner of Niagara and Carolina streets. That entailed the demolition of five buildings and construction of one new low-rise building and seven townhouse structures, replacing 137 old apartments – including the 89 that were already offline – with 48 new ones. All are now occupied with former Shoreline residents.

Editorial: Shoreline Apartments too deteriorated to keep

But the rest of the project was delayed due to opposition from some residents, preservationists and others, who criticized not only the new project and design – including some historic features and a proposed sculpture – but also the way they felt Norstar was treating current tenants. The Preservation Board even initially denied the $34 million second phase in July 2016, and asked the company to work with the State Historic Preservation Office to come up with a better plan.

That second phase involves demolition of 289 units, to be replaced with 166 new apartments.

Even after Norstar received city approval for its revised plans, it still had to finalize the state financing and overcome local resistance, including from longtime resident John Schmidt, who initially refused to leave and joined with a preservationist in a lawsuit to block the demolition.

In the meantime, most of the other tenants were relocated under a state-approved plan to other affordable-housing or senior buildings – such as Marine Towers, Pine Harbor, Parkview and Baptist Manor – while some chose to go with private landlords. They will be allowed to return, subject to income requirements, when the new units are completed, Goodman previously said.

Norstar describes the community as "mixed-income," but all tenants must still qualify through their income. Approximately 20% of the units – 35 apartments – will be aimed at households with incomes at or below 50% of the area median income, 97 units will be reserved for those with incomes at or below 60% of the median, and the remaining 34 units will be for those with incomes at or below 90%.

"We want to bring in the middle income. It really does help us mix the income and still keep it an affordable housing complex," Goodman said. "But when we designed these income target levels, we designed it with the former tenants in mind."

Goodman said the overall project should be completed within 24 months, but the first new buildings could be ready for occupancy by spring 2021.

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