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Ellicott Proposes a Strong Mix of Uses for Webster Block

Ellicott Development’s proposal for the Webster Block envisions a mixed-use building bringing 24/7 activity to lower Main Street.  Ellicott Development and the Sabres organization have each submitted proposals to develop the full-block, City-owned site bound by Main, Scott, Perry and Washington streets.  Ellicott is teaming with Castle & Mosey LLC on its project.
Encompassing the entire block, Ellicott’s complex consists of a 12-story hotel, office, retail and residential building at the north end of the property fronting on Scott Street from Main to Washington streets.  Public and private parking facilities, office space on the 6th floor above the parking component and retail space fronting along Main and Perry Streets would occupy the southern end of the complex. 

The primary building material will be brick.  Pre-cast and steel elements will be used to add visual interest to the project and special care will be taken to mask the parking from view.  The entire north side of the parking ramp will be covered by the hotel, office and residential building.  The first two levels of the parking along Main Street and the ground floor parking along Perry Street will be hidden by the retail and tenant storage space.  Screening, warehouse-style window frames and other architectural treatments will be used to minimize the visual impact of the parking above the retail and tenant storage space.  
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The complex will include 140 hotel rooms and suites, 110,250 square feet of office space, a restaurant, retail space, and 42 luxury apartments.  Retail space, parking areas, and lobbies will occupy the first floor.  Hotel services and parking will occupy the second floor.  Office space will be located on the 3rd, 4th and 6th floors of the building.  The 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th floors will include 140 hotel rooms, consisting of 116 standard rooms and 24 suites.  Apartments would occupy the 10th, 11th and 12th floors.
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Design
The project will follow the intent of the Canal Side Design Guidelines, which called for a stepped approach with lower lying, lower density buildings to the west of Main Street, and taller, higher density buildings to the east of Main Street.  Guidelines also suggest active first-floor uses, corner elements, pedestrian-level canopies, hidden parking, rooftop terraces, and building materials such as brick, stone and steel.  
Led by architect Charles Gordon, the design team drew its inspiration from its lower Main Street context, especially its proximity and relationship to the historic waterfront and nearby significant architecture:  First Niagara Center, the HSBC Atrium Office Building, One News Plaza, and the soon to be redone Donovan Building, One Canalside.
The Donovan Building to the north is eight stories, and the HSBC Atrium to the east is six stories.  The project will present a varied and interesting skyline with the hotel and residential tower rising several stories above the parking structure.     
A six level, L-shaped hotel/residential tower located above the parking/office components, is configured to provide a prime viewing experience toward the foot of Main Street and toward the historic canals, presently in construction.  Building materials for the residential tower include brick with glass corners, especially at Scott and Main.  The glass corners will reduce the overall bulk of the tower and expand opportunity for extensive views.  The proposal envisions that the long leg of the “L” facing the waterfront will be more transparent, with larger windows as befits its orientation, while the Washington Street and Scott Street façades will be characterized by smaller “punched” windows.  The tower will have both fixed and operating windows.

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A new pedestrian-scaled street that connects Washington Street with Main Street is proposed to break the block into two sections.  This new street is critical to establishing the Webster project area as a strategic urban design “hub” which seamlessly unites existing downtown amenities and strengthens the transition between the larger blocks east of Washington Street and the smaller blocks of the Central Wharf.  Further, the proposed new street reduces the overall scale of the project area and provides a comfortable pedestrian environment with valuable corner retail opportunities.  
“Back of house” services, office entries, and primary parking entries for both hotel and parking area will be located on Washington Street.  Primary parking access is proposed from Washington Street to preserve Main Street’s pedestrian environment.
Hotel
Even after taking into account the new Marriott Courtyard proposed for the Donovan Building, a market study conducted for the project supported the plans for a new 140-room hotel at Canalside.  
“It will be a select-service hotel, similar to a Hampton Inn, that targets the business, family and leisure traveler,” says Paul Gregory, Ellicott’s vice president of development.  “There’s enough demand downtown for another hotel today and we believe the demand for rooms at the Inner Harbor will only increase in the future.”
Gregory says the hotel will be a national chain, will not have a big food and beverage operation, and only a limited amount of meeting space.  
“The building’s location on light rail is important, it opens downtown to our guests,” he says.
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The first floor of the twelve-story building will be dedicated to the hotel lobby and operations, an apartment lobby, an office lobby, a restaurant, a newsstand, an indoor pool, and an enclosed loading area.  The hotel lobby will be partially two stories high with expansive windows looking out onto Scott Street (above).  An open staircase will lead to a second floor breakfast area and conference rooms overlooking historic Canalside.  The second floor will also include a fitness center, a business center and administrative and support space. 
Office
Office space will be located on the third, fourth and sixth floors.  The sixth floor on top of the parking component will have 73,000 sq.ft. of office space, one of the largest floorplates in the region.  As a comparison, Larkin at Exchange’s floor
s are approximately 60,000 sq.ft. in size.
“The sixth floor will be one big open floor,” says Gregory.  “There’s nothing like that in downtown Buffalo, besides maybe Main Place’s third floor.  It’s pretty unique to Buffalo.”

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While the market for older, Class B office space in downtown remains weak, the market for more efficient Class A office space remains relatively tight.  The Central Business District realized a positive absorption of office space in every year from 2005 to 2011.  From 2010 to 2011, the vacancy rates in the Buffalo office market decreased to 8.2 percent, which compares favorably to the national average of 16.5 percent.  
Notwithstanding, these figures, Ellicott recognizes the potential challenges in the office market, especially given the uncertainty surrounding One HSBC Center.  In the event the national and/or local office market deteriorates and financing for the office component is not available, the 6th floor office component will be withdrawn from the project and the overall size of the project will be reduced.  If a tenancy is discovered that may require more large office floors, they can be inserted.

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Residential
The top three floors will contain 42 high-end apartments, ranging in size from 1,200 square feet to more than 3,000 square feet.  The residences will feature hardwood floors, imported tile in the bathrooms, granite countertops, walk-in closets, and laundry rooms with washer and dryer hook-ups.  Each unit gets two parking spaces.  
Residents will be able to take advantage of the many amenities and services offered by the hotel, including concierge and housekeeping services.  The apartments, hotel rooms and office floors will offer views of Canalside, the Inner Harbor, downtown Buffalo and the Buffalo River. 
Based on market research and experience, Ellicott believes there is strong demand for high-end rental apartments in downtown.  Ellicott currently owns over 287 mid to high-end rental units in and around downtown.  Occupancy rates at their comparable properties have consistently exceeded 95 percent.  The average number of days required to re-lease Ellicott’s vacant units has generally been less than 30 days, and their rentals rates have consistently exceeded $1.15 per square foot.  
“Our success has been at the high-end of the market,” says Gregory.  “These will be large and well-appointed.”

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Retail
The retail market presents the greatest challenge according to Ellicott Development.  Retail space will be divided into smaller storefronts with entrances no more than 75 feet apart.  The project will be built to the build-to lines on all streets, except along Main Street, where it will be set back to permit a 20 foot wide, more pedestrian friendly sidewalk and allow for patio dining and landscape improvements.
The retail market in downtown Buffalo, especially for large national tenants, is virtually non-existent.  However, considering the limited amount and sizes of the retail space, Ellicott believes that there is enough current demand among small boutique retailers and restaurants to justify the space allocated. The developer has had preliminary discussions with several local restaurant operators who have expressed an interest in the area and at least one local retailer.  
Parking
The parking facility, oriented towards Washington Street, will have a total of 1,089 parking spaces, including 841 spaces for the general public, subject to a preference for the building’s office and retail tenants, and 248 private reserved spaces for hotel guests and residents of the building.
Entrance/exits to the public parking will be located on Washington and Main streets near the south end of the block.  The Main Street exit will facilitate traffic patterns by permitting right hand turns for northbound traffic exiting the site.
The Canalside master plan identified five sites for structured parking representing more 2,200 parking spaces.  A couple of these sites are no longer feasible (Marine Drive) or the parking has been substantially curtailed (Aud site).  As a result, Gregory says there will be strong demand for structured parking.
“We’ll be providing parking for daytime downtown employees, event parking and for Canalside,” he says.  
The proposed parking is anticipated to positively impact the surrounding area.  By providing critical parking to Canalside, the project will allow the more sensitive parcels to the west of Main Street to be developed from a more historical perspective.  By providing parking for arena events, the project could also help free up the surface lots in the Cobblestone District for future development.  

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Development Team
Ellicott Development is teaming with Castle & Mosey LLC on the project.  The principals are currently developing a $30 million, mixed-use project at 5195 Main Street in Amherst that includes a 120-room hotel, 33 luxury apartments, a restaurant, 4,000 square feet of retail space, and a parking garage.  
Ellicott Development has been responsible for more than $500 million in real estate development projects, ranging from new construction to historic rehabilitations.  Together with its affiliates, it owns and controls more than five million square feet of office, commercial and residential space, including more than two million sq
uare feet of office space in downtown Buffalo, seven hotels with three more under development, 287 mid to high-end apartment units with another 71 units under construction, and more than two million square feet of retail space throughout Upstate New York and Western Pennsylvania.  Ellicott Development employs more than 500 people locally.
Castle & Mosey LLC and its affiliates have substantial real estate holdings throughout Western New York and Southern Ontario, including office buildings, shopping centers, hotels and self-storage facilities.  Castle & Mosey and its affiliates employ more than 700 people in Western New York.
Process
Each of the two potential development teams will be making formal presentations to the City in coming weeks.  A developer for the site is expected to be named in August.  If selected, Ellicott Development proposes to begin construction next May and complete work by December 1, 2014.  
If chosen, Ellicott Development says it will encourage the Sabres to participate in the development of the commercial space along Perry Street and allow the Sabres to connect directly into the project with an overhead walkway across Perry Street.
Ellicott Development, one of the region’s busiest developers, has a number of projects underway and planned.  For those clamoring for Ellicott to begin work on the Creamery building on Scott Street and the long-planned Court Street Tower, Gregory urges patience.
“We have a lot of projects underway,” he says, and rattled off a list of their current Buffalo developments including reuse of the Graystone Hotel, conversion of the former New Life Assembly of God church at 189 N. Pearl Street, new apartments at The Bellasara in Allentown, and redevelopment of the former Grace Manor Nursing Home on Symphony Circle.  
Gregory says Ellicott is currently pursuing an office tenant that would anchor the proposed Court Street building.  The tenant is expected to make a decision on its space needs in “a couple months.”  As for the Creamery, plans for the property are still not settled but Gregory says they “plan on getting to it.”  Other projects in the pipeline include redeveloping two Main Street church properties: Our Lady of Lourdes near the Medical Campus and the former Mount St. Joseph Academy property at Jewett Parkway.
Gregory believes their proposal is a strong one, would add to downtown’s momentum, and would become a hub of activity at the foot of Main Street.  
“This is shaping up to be an exciting year for Buffalo,” says Gregory.
Note: The Sabres’s have not revealed their proposed project’s design.  It calls for two hockey rinks, a sports bar/restaurant, garage parking for 900 cars, and a 200-room hotel.  Buffalo Rising will give their project equal exposure if they so desire.  

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Written by WCPerspective

WCPerspective

Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

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