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Elmwood Crossing project drops boutique hotel in favor of more apartments

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Developers Nick Sinatra and William Paladino have made another change in their plans for the conversion of the former Women's and Children's Hospital of Buffalo into Elmwood Crossing, dropping a proposed 75-room boutique hotel on four floors of one of the towers because the hospitality market has been so battered by the pandemic.

Sinatra & Co. Real Estate and Ellicott Development Co. originally proposed a specialty hotel to take up the first six floors of the former hospital's Variety Tower, with the lobby, banquet and back-of-house functions on the first two levels and the rooms occupying the third through sixth floors. That would have provided an option to service the surrounding community.

But that was before the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the hotel and restaurant industry, which have still not fully recovered from the effects of the shutdowns, reduced business activity and continued hesitation of many consumers to travel or dine out. In turn, that's made lenders reluctant to support new ventures.

"That’s become a challenge to be able to put something forward to finance that," said Tom Fox, director of development for Ellicott.

So the developers now plan to put 45 more apartments on the floors three through seven, while marketing the first two floors for commercial space, officials told the Buffalo Planning Board. The developers are seeking to amend the original planned-unit development designation and zoning conditions that they obtained several years ago, when they began the $150 million redevelopment project.

"Since that time, a lot has happened, most notably the Covid pandemic. And with that has come a significant change in programming for the project site," said project attorney Marc Romanowski of Rupp Baase.

The developers last month disclosed that they had eliminated plans for a large grocery store at 204 West Utica St., and would retain and renovate an old house at 187 Bryant St. that neighbors urged them to keep. The developers now plan another apartment building with 36 units in place of the grocery, although the project will still have other smaller-scale retail space. It also switched the townhomes it plans for 180-188 West Utica to rentals.

A pocket park would wrap around the house instead of replacing it with green space. The carriage house in the rear would still be demolished and converted into the park.

But those changes affected the conditions of the PUD - related to greenspace and transparency waivers - while abandoning the hotel does not.

"We thought it was appropriate to come back and have the planned unit development amended," Romanowski said.

The attorney noted that the changes would reduce the impacts, not increase them. However, at the request of the developers, the Planning Board tabled the amendment so that the architects could provide additional revised drawings, to avoid confusion before any vote.

The board noted that it had received seven or eight written comments on the application. The developers and the city are also defending the PUD approval against a court appeal.

"The changes at the West Utica site are among the more important for everyone to understand what is being requested" said Board Vice Chair Cynthia Schwartz.

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