A new mixed-use development at Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway would include nearly 100 condominiums and apartments, eight retail storefronts and a three-level parking structure, according to detailed plans unveiled by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. Wednesday.
The proposed new $40 million project, if approved by the city, would mark a significant change for two corners on the west side of Elmwood, both north and south of Potomac Avenue.
It's aimed at transforming a prominent part of the Elmwood Village, near an Olmsted parkway, while catering to a diverse demographic mix ranging from young millennials to empty-nesters. At the same time, the project - dubbed Arbor + Reverie after a branding effort by Martin Group - also seeks to respect and preserve the Elmwood Village character.
"It's a change for the neighborhood, but it's a change that's well thought-out and it's based on where we see the puck going and how we think that neighborhood will change. We think we've adapted in a very thoughtful way," Ciminelli Executive Vice President Dennis Penman said in an interview with The Buffalo News.
Indeed, all the elements would be contained in two buildings whose irregular shape, height, landscaping, materials and scale were designed to fit with the desires and hopes of local residents, executives said in a bid to win neighborhood support. The unveiling of the plans followed more than 18 months of meetings with neighborhood groups and public forums to solicit opinions and input.
"It's a development that's designed to add sustainability to the neighborhood," Penman said.
Proposed development projects along Elmwood have been fraught with opposition from local residents, who have objected to everything from the appearance and scale of a building to the planned usage. Some have even urged a moratorium on new development along the strip, in the wake of new construction proposals not only by Ciminelli but also by Ellicott Development Co., Karl Frizlen and Chason Affinity, among others.
But Penman noted that change is coming regardless, and cited more than $400 million in public investments in that part of the city through the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, the Albright-Knox Art Museum and the Richardson-Olmsted Complex.
"Sometimes, change doesn't ask you if it's ready. It just happens," he said. "It's sort of an organic thing ... We're trying to get ahead of the curve."
The Amherst-based developer laid out its vision Wednesday evening to a public information sessions at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, describing how it would reuse 11 properties it acquired last month for $7.9 million from longtime owners Donald and Lori Leone. Officials presented their plans and displayed renderings of the two buildings before breaking into smaller groups to respond to questions.
Specifically, the project consists of two five-story buildings, separated by Potomac Avenue but linked by pedestrian walkways. Penman said they are similar in total height to the existing structures, but the upper-level residential floors are set back as much as 15 feet from the front to reduce the visual impact on the street.
The southern building, which will stretch south from Potomac along Elmwood and wrap around the corner at Bidwell, will be named the Arbor building to reflect the foliage and greenery of Bidwell and the Olmsted Park system. It will include 33 for-sale condos, 6,000 square feet of retail space and 14 parking spaces - seven underneath a covered part of the building and seven outside, including one for an electric-power ZipCar or a similar car-sharing service.
It will also incorporate the facades of the 1920-era storefronts along Elmwood, as well as the entire former Sunday Skateshop building at 587 Potomac Ave., which Ciminelli agreed last month to rehabilitate rather than tear down.
The second and larger building, named Reverie to capture what Penman called the "vibe of the neighborhood," stretches further north along Elmwood from Potomac. It will feature 53 rental apartments, 6,000 square feet of additional retail space, and 137 parking spaces on three levels - one below ground and two that share a high first floor. It's broken up in part by an arched gateway to an interior public space - where Bullfeathers restaurant used to be - that provides entry to both the building and the enclosed parking.
The Arbor condos will be largely two-bedroom and two-bathroom units of about 1,800 square feet, some with cantilevered balconies, but smaller units will also be available. Prices will range from $400,000 to $600,000, based on research Ciminelli did with Realtors to understand the market for "empty-nest" customers likely to be selling their single-family homes in the neighborhood.
By contrast, the Reverie apartments will be all rental units, with monthly rates ranging from about $900 on the low end to as much as $2,800, depending on the size and location of the apartment. The units range from studios to two-bedroom apartments - some with a den - and vary in size from 668 square feet to 1,678 square feet.
Additionally, a three-unit house at 588 Potomac Ave. will be rehabbed, while a deteriorating three-story house with eight one-bedroom apartments at 721 Ashland Ave. will be completely rebuilt, providing 11 more apartments between them, for a project total of 97.
By contrast, the existing buildings - many of which Penman said are in bad shape in the rear - have 9,800 square feet of total storefront space and 44 total apartments.
"The scale of this project really supports the neighborhood retail that's there and future retail, to create a sustainable community," said Amber Holycross, Ciminelli's senior development manager, who was the firm's point-person in meeting with community representatives.
The project also features plans for public and community space. A dilapidated structure at 584 Potomac Ave., along the Reverie block, will be torn down to make way for a public garden and playground.
The developer also plans a public plaza with a waterfall feature next to the Arbor building along Bidwell, possibly as overflow seating space for a restaurant. That's also a proposed location to return the "Tango Dancers," a black neon-display sign that until a year ago sat on the roof of one of the buildings. It's now undergoing restoration by NAS Signs, and Ciminelli is seeking city approval to bring it back to Elmwood.
Behind Arbor will be a "transportation park," providing access to the building and outside parking for residents. Bicycle racks and storage will also be created, behind Arbor, along the property perimeter and at the playground. A new bus shelter for the NFTA stop in front of the building will also be constructed.
Penman said the developer worked to address multiple factors or concerns expressed by local residents, such as preserving the vibrancy and retail feel of the neighborhood, ensuring the project was properly scaled for the area, and providing for adequate parking for both residents and store patrons. "You can only go around the block so many times to get a loaf of bread before you throw in the towel," he said.
HHL Architects also took into account the Elmwood Village design standards, and the preference for traditional architectural styles, by selecting primarily stone and brick materials, as well as some wood panels, rather than more modern-looking metal and cantilevered roofs. And the designs use landscaping on patios, balconies and the street, as well as "green" roofs, to bring out the Olmsted character, Penman explained.
"We really listened to what the community said," Holycross said.
If approved by the city, construction by LPCiminelli would begin in spring 2017, and will occur in two phases over three years. The first phase will cover the Reverie site on Elmwood, including the northern Potomac Avenue parcel and Ashland Avenue, and will last about 18 to 24 months. The second phase, covering the Arbor site, and including a temporary relocation of some stores from Arbor to Reverie, will be completed in 2020.