After years of neglect, developers are once again giving their regards to Broadway.
From the edge of downtown Buffalo to the neighborhood surrounding the Broadway Market, one of the city's primary routes through the East Side and into Cheektowaga is finally getting attention from several developers – albeit slowly.
But it's extending the city's redevelopment boom into more impoverished areas that have so far missed out on the boom.
A mix of projects – both for-profit and nonprofit – are reviving old and derelict buildings, converting them into apartments, office space and storefronts.
Some of the projects are close to the Central Business District, so they're a logical extension of what is already happening downtown.
That's the case, for example, with Ellicott Development Co.'s projects at 110 Broadway and the recently acquired Ferguson Electric Co. building at 177 Elm St., as well as the Tim Hortons building at 474 Michigan Ave., both near Broadway. The firm also owns a large portion of a block at Broadway and Bennett Street, plus some sporadic lots around that area, said CEO William Paladino.
"Broadway just happens to have a large number of older smaller historic buildings that developers can obtain tax credits on," Paladino said. "It’s the main commercial street into the East Side."
Others projects – such as HELP USA – feature affordable housing for low-income, elderly, homeless or disabled individuals and families.
Most significant in size, perhaps, is the Forge on Broadway, a major redevelopment of the former Buffalo Forge Manufacturing site by developers Stuart Alexander & Associates and SCG Development.
Located at 490 Broadway, the $50.7 million project aims to transform the industrial site into a residential community with two buildings. It will feature 230,000 square feet of space on 13 acres, with 158 apartments, retail space along Broadway, 25 townhomes, fitness areas, gardens and play space.
The project is under construction, with the roof going on shortly and the first phase of 50 apartments ready for occupancy by the end of April 2020. Another 50 will follow in May and the rest are expected to be done by next summer. Across Mortimer Street are another 6 acres of cleaned and cleared land, destined for a future project, possibly with a grocery store and more apartments.
"It’s a substantial opportunity, because it’s a good commercial piece, and it’s in the opportunity zone," the developer said.
Alexander – who has been developing affordable, market-rate and mixed-income housing in Western New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., since 1976 – said his project is a major investment and catalyst on the East Side.
"I’ve always had a desire to see something better happen on Buffalo’s East Side, even when I got back to Buffalo," said Alexander, a veteran city planner who is also founder and head of his namesake housing development firm. "The Buffalo Forge property was vacant for so long, and was clearly something that nobody wanted to work on, because of the brownfield situation. I saw that as an opportunity."
Yet even he – as well as other observers – admit to being surprised by the extent of fresh interest and activity that the Broadway area is now receiving, especially further from downtown.
"I’ve had a lot of calls by others, saying why did you do this project, and I think there’s an opportunity to capitalize on what you’ve done," Alexander said. "As a planner, I really can't attribute it to any well thought-out, creative, structural strategy. It's just opportunities that developers and the private sector are taking advantage of because they're there."
It's particularly ironic, he said, considering that the city "focused so much energy and attention" for decades to make something happen on the East Side, but to no avail.
"It's funny," he said. "Now, it's happening almost in spite of itself, and there was no grand plan, no grand strategy. It's counterintuitive."
Roger Trettel, a businessman who focuses on smaller redevelopment projects in or near the downtown core, was one of the first to tackle Broadway, with his Buehl Block project at 36 Broadway in 2005.
He said his broker at the time was floored when Trettel said he planned to renovate the building instead of just tearing it down for parking.
"His jaw hit the ground," Trettel said. "He thought I was truly nuts."
Trettel has since renovated 285, 290, 291 and 301 Ellicott, at the Broadway intersection, and then rounded out the block with 50 Broadway – a more recent project that now has arts group Studio Hue on the first two floors.
He's also a partner with Steve Carmina in the $5.2 million Nash Lofts project at Broadway and Michigan, as well with Cedarland Development Group on 642 Broadway, a "more speculative acquisition" of a 22,968-square-foot flex industrial building located across from St. Ann's Catholic Church.
"I think what is driving the lower Broadway development is just a natural expansion from the Central Business District and is associated with all the projects that have developed organically up and down the Ellicott Street corridor," said Trettel. But he said he is "frankly not sure what all is driving the mid-Broadway redevelopment."
One thing spurring interest is the availability of "relatively cheap properties" and vacant land, the availability of brownfield and historic tax credits, and the incentives and demand for affordable housing, as potential drivers.
Yet, he added, "I am surprised how relatively quickly it has happened."
Cedarland, owned by Dr. Fadi Dagher, also owns the former Sattler's and Kmart department store building on 5 acres at 998 Broadway and the former Eckhardt building at 950 Broadway. The developer and the nonprofit organization Designing to Live Sustainably, which hosted its Yimby Festival at 998 Broadway, launched a design competition in July for proposals to redo the Kmart, and Dagher said they are close to finalizing options for all three buildings.
"We have been working hard to bring more interests and businesses to this area," he said. "It looks like we are moving in the right direction."
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