‘A mini-hospital’: $23 million Roswell Park Scott Bieler Amherst Center nears opening

Mon, Aug 14th 2023 04:52pm

Jon Harris
Buffalo News

On a chilly morning in mid-December 2021, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center officials joined with major donors and politicians in Amherst to slice special shovels into a ceremonial pile of dirt to kick off construction on one of the institution’s largest expansions in recent years. It was a day of smiles, though those grins were hidden beneath face masks – a requirement for the event about 18 months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, the masks are off, and that ceremonial pile of dirt is the nearly complete $23 million Roswell Park Scott Bieler Amherst Center at 203 Park Club Lane – the cancer center’s first new-build outside of its sprawling downtown Buffalo campus.

Named after major Roswell Park donor Bieler, CEO of West Herr Automotive Group, the two-story, 30,000-square-foot structure with an eye-grabbing exterior visible from the I-290 is scheduled to open Sept. 11, according to the cancer center’s website.

“We’re excited about the finishing touches underway now as we get ready to greet our first patients at the Roswell Park Scott Bieler Amherst Center in a few weeks,” said Roswell Park spokesperson Annie Deck-Miller, who declined further comment until the building opens.

For Roswell Park, the new center is an important part of its plan to adapt to the changing health care market, grow its offerings and expand its reach. It brings Roswell closer to a big part of its patient base, adding services in Amherst at a time when more than two of every five of its patients live north of Buffalo. It also enhances Roswell’s outpatient services as the health care industry shifts more care out of the hospital.

On a recent tour of the structure with building owner and developer Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., which officially started project construction in spring 2022, technicians from various medical equipment companies were busy with installation and set up of several millions of dollars’ worth of imaging technology.

Design-wise, Ciminelli Development Manager Erik Wagner called it a “pretty detailed interior fit-out,” with plenty of soffits, elevation changes and different kinds of wall and flooring materials throughout.

For Roswell Park, the completion of the Scott Bieler Amherst Center creates what is essentially a Northtowns hub, especially when paired with the Ciminelli-owned 31,000-square-foot building next door at 199 Park Club Lane that is leased to Roswell Park Hematology Oncology Northtowns and Breast Care of WNY.

At the Scott Bieler Amherst Center, patients will be able to access services such as chemotherapy infusions, imaging, lab work, pharmacy services and treatments available through clinical trials. For many patients, it could eliminate the need – in most instances – to travel to Roswell Park’s mothership on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, fitting into a larger health care trend of meeting patients close to where they live.

The new center further bolsters a growing medical spine in Amherst – just a few miles away, Ciminelli is developing the $63 million, 160,000-square-foot 716 Health, expected to become a destination for orthopedics and sports medicine in a location adjacent to the Northtown Center ice rink. Both projects benefited from tax breaks: up to $3.7 million for the 716 Health project and $393,750 for the Scott Bieler Amherst Center.

Paul F. Ciminelli, president and CEO of project developer Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., said when Roswell Park was initially looking for a suburban location, the cancer center wanted a “very patient-friendly location” with easy access, ample parking and high visibility. Plans for the project date back to at least early 2020, when Ciminelli submitted plans for what was originally pitched as a three-story, 40,000-square-foot building.

“It gives them great accessibility, so they can pull from all over Western New York, pretty much within 20 minutes of this location,” he said.

Ciminelli likened the Scott Bieler Amherst Center to “a mini-hospital,” giving Roswell Park the ability to “treat a lot of their patients pretty extensively out of this facility.”

A large patient base

It’s no surprise Roswell Park zoned in on Amherst for an expansion.

Right after that ceremonially groundbreaking in late 2021, President and CEO Candace S. Johnson said that more than 44% of the cancer center’s patients come from communities north of Buffalo.

“Driving into Buffalo sometimes is a challenge,” Johnson told The Buffalo News then. “They want to get treated in their neighborhoods. They want to be able to drive a short distance to get chemotherapy, or maybe to have a scan and so forth. So we’re going to provide those services here.”

Once the Scott Bieler Amherst Center is complete, services from Roswell Park’s existing 7,564-square-foot space at 100 College Parkway in Amherst will transfer to the new building.

According to Roswell Park’s website, the 100 College Parkway site will close temporarily after Sept. 8 and later reopen with a focus on survivorship and wellness services.

A larger Roswell Park

The completion of the Scott Bieler Amherst Center fits into an ongoing growth spurt for the 125-year-old cancer center. While the Amherst project bolsters Roswell Park’s presence in the suburbs, the cancer center also has a growing statewide alliance called the Roswell Park Care Network. In fact, Breast Care of WNY and Roswell Park Hematology Oncology Northtowns at 199 Park Club Lane are part of the Care Network, which stretches from Western New York to Schenectady and from Watertown down to Long Island.

In addition, Roswell Park late last year rolled out its state-funded mobile lung cancer screening unit. The cancer center also is constructing its new community outreach and engagement building at 907 Michigan Ave. in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt, seeking to bring more programming to the neighborhood immediately surrounding its 29-acre campus.

While it also has grown its main hospital – expanding recently from 133 to 157 inpatient beds – the expansion beyond its home base means the cancer center’s geographic reach is larger than ever.

That’s proven in its most recent annual report: More than 49,100 patients received active care at Roswell Park during the fiscal year ended March 31, which was up almost 5% from the prior year.