As soon as fall 2022, MRIs will replace RBIs when a $63 million medical and surgery complex opens on land now home to parkland and sports fields in Amherst’s Audubon neighborhood.
The project, delayed over the past year, received a key final approval late Thursday and work at the site could begin this summer.
A $300 million development in Amherst that involves an unprecedented public/private land swap that could reshape a vast section of the town is one step closer to becoming reality.
“I’m happy that we’re at least rounding third base and heading toward home,” said Dr. Brian McGrath, an orthopedic surgeon and lead partner in the group pursuing the project.
The venture is a starting point for the expansive Amherst Central Park plan that would reshape the vast area including the former Westwood Country Club, the public Audubon Golf Course and the town’s Northtown Center recreation complex.
Several youth sports teams and leagues must find new places to play to make way for the UBMD project. But town officials say this development will help lead to better recreational, commercial and residential opportunities in central Amherst.
"It's a remarkable scenario to get to this complicated of a transaction and have all the parts start to fill in," Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said Wednesday.
“UBMD represents a windfall for the whole community,” Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said.
UBMD is working with Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. to construct a 163,200-square-foot, one- and two-story medical building on about 15 acres at 500 Maple Road, just to the east of the town's Northtown Center ice rink complex and south of Millersport Highway.
McGrath said the tenants include UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, which would move from its current location on Harlem Road; UBMD General Surgery; an ambulatory surgery center operated by physicians from UBMD and Kaleida Health; a General Physician PC primary care office; and a Great Lakes Medical Imaging/UBMD Radiology center.
The Amherst Town Board last summer rezoned the UBMD site and approved a contract with Bones and Guts LLC, the group of doctors and investors behind the development.
The Amherst Planning Board had approved a site plan for the project in September, but the developer submitted a new plan for review after making changes to the proposal. Attorney Sean Hopkins told the board Thursday night that the alterations included increasing the size of the building from 137,500 square feet and boosting the surface parking from 621 spaces to 816 spaces.
For eight years, Amherst leaders, owners of the former Westwood Country Club and neighbors on surrounding properties have wrangled over how much development – if any – is suitable for the 170-acre site.
Board members reviewed and approved the site plan for the structure and determined the project would not significantly harm the environment.
The project generated little public discussion Thursday, with just one neighbor, Arlene Merowitz, raising concerns about traffic and drainage if the project goes through.
She's had good experiences with UBMD doctors but, Merowitz said, "I just wish they were putting their project somewhere else."
Hopkins responded that the newest version of the project no longer extends North Maplemere Road into the development site and water won't run off the site onto adjoining properties.
He emphasized that this is a standalone project and it is not directly connected to the larger planned redevelopment of the property just to the east of the UBMD site.
This project is the launching point for an ambitious redevelopment of the town’s athletic fields and Audubon Golf Course – and the transformation of the former Westwood Country Club into a nature park.
But town officials and Mensch Capital Partners, the private developers who own the Westwood site, see the UBMD proposal as a critical element – McGrath deemed it "the linchpin" – in reaching a final deal after years of negotiations.
Future phases of the Amherst Central Park plan include converting Westwood into a public park with a theater and arts venue; transforming the 18-hole Audubon course into a 9-hole course with a virtual reality golf center and new sports fields; and new residential, commercial and athletic space running along a central green.
Kulpa said the next step is determining what must be cleaned up at the Westwood site and how much this will cost.
Then, he said, the town can sign a sale agreement that would see the town sell 38 acres to Mensch in exchange for the 170-acre Westwood site.
The larger redevelopment planned for the area, estimated to cost $300 million, would take place over the next decade or so.
Revenue generated by the private development, including the UBMD project, will be used to pay for public improvements in central Amherst. This includes new athletic fields to replace those at the UBMD site.
The Williamsville Jr. Football program will hold its upcoming season at the North Amherst Recreation Center and the neighboring A.J. Jurek American Legion Post 1672, both in East Amherst, Kulpa said.
The Amherst Girls’ Softball league will temporarily move to a different ballfield at the Northtown Center complex, but the town hopes to build a new field or fields for the league at either the Jurek post or the former Buffalo Shooting Club property on Maple Road, the supervisor said.
D’Youville College’s baseball team also used a field at the UBMD site, but its season has ended, Kulpa said, and the town is working to accommodate that program as well.
“We’re trying to raise the level of all of our youth sports fields and facilities,” he said.