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City to weigh 10 potential developer groups for LaSalle Metro Station reuse

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LaSalle Metro Rail Station

This is the LaSalle Station of Metro Rail.

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The push to redevelop the LaSalle Metro Rail station and surrounding acreage is generating more interest than any previous real estate bid by the city, as the growing economic revitalization and development boom of the last decade draws more attention not just locally but nationally.

A total of 10 developers or groups submitted responses to the city's "request for qualifications" in early May seeking firms that had the capacity, experience, and interest to tackle the project. That's more than the six that applied for the Mohawk Ramp redevelopment, which went to Douglas Jemal's Douglas Development Corp., and far more than the two bids for 201 Ellicott, ultimately undertaken by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.

"The strategy is working, and the momentum is building," said Brendan Mehaffy, the city's economic development commissioner. "People are seeing the projects that are happening, that we've put out there. They're sensing the opportunities are growing, and they're responding to the vision we've put out."

These are not formal development proposals with details on any project envisioned  for the seven-acre site, but just the interested developers assembling their teams and providing their collective resumes in try to get the job.

City officials plan to winnow down the list to a smaller group, which will work with the city and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, as well as the surrounding neighborhood and broader community, to capture public input and understand the potential of the site.

They will then be asked to submit formal proposals for redevelopment, from which the city will choose a designated developer. Mehaffy noted that the site is large enough that more than one group could be selected to collaborate.

"We've received a real strong set of quality responses. So we'll go through the responses, consider the various factors, and determine how many will go through the process with us," Mehaffy said. "This is new for us, and we think this will be a better way to capture the community's input with potential developers going through the community process with everybody else." 

The LaSalle Station property – including the building and the adjacent Park-and-Ride lot – covers six parcels at 3000, 3010, 3018, 3030 and 3036 Main, plus 447 Beard Ave. Three are owned by the city and three by the NFTA. In seeking bids, the city is seeking to advance the development activity along Main Street, put the acreage to more active use and take advantage of the proximity to public transportation. 

Officials did not specify any requirements for any project or the type or number of housing units. Instead, the city focused on creating "an equitable transit-oriented development" that would include "affordable and/or mixed-income housing units" and "an activated first floor." The Metro Rail station would be integrated into the project.

Five groups were previously disclosed as having bid, including those led by or including Ciminelli, Uniland Development Co., McGuire Development Co., Generation Development Group and Savarino Companies.

Uniland is working with social services agency and affordable housing provider People Inc., while Generation teamed up with BRP Companies of New York City. McGuire is collaborating with Baltimore's SAA-EVI – led by David Alexander and Ernst Valery – and Utah-based Blackfish Investments, while Savarino is working with Philadelphia-based affordable housing developer Pennrose and MSquared, a women-owned real estate development and impact investing firm.

Other bidders include the Albanese Organization, Beacon Communities, BFC Partners and CB Emmanuel, Kanaka Partners and Legacy Development. BFC, led by Donald Capoccia, and CB Emmanuel, led by Benathan Upshaw, are both New York City-based affordable housing developers. Kanaka and Legacy, both based in Buffalo, are owned by Dr. Greg Daniel and Frank Chinnici, respectively.

Garden City, N.Y.-based Albanese is a full-service real estate developer and project manager focused on New York City, New Jersey and Long Island. Beacon Communities is a Boston-based multifamily housing developer that owns and manages about 19,000 units of affordable, market-rate and mixed-income housing. Both Albanese and Beacon would be new to the Buffalo market.

Mehaffy said the community engagement process will take at least six months and as much as a year, so the request-for-proposals would not be issued until the middle of next year, with selection happening by the end of 2023. He noted that the city is also separately seeking bids for the redevelopment of the Department of Public Works' Broadway Barns site, but those bids aren't due until the end of July.

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Seeking to advance the development already underway along Main Street in Buffalo, city officials are hoping to turn the LaSalle Metro Rail station and seven acres of surrounding land into a mix of housing and first-floor retail, with an attractive streetscape and public area.

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