John Giardino, chief executive officer of Centerstone Development, has big plans for a long-overlooked east side neighborhood. Centerstone and HLM Holdings LLC are teaming up to construct a new continuing care retirement campus on the site of the Kensington Heights housing project. Demolition of Kensington Heights’ six, seven-story towers behind Erie County Medical Center should be underway this fall. But that is just the beginning.
The continuing care campus is part of a larger redevelopment plan (schematic after the jump) for the ‘Heritage Heights’ neighborhood generally bounded by the Kensington Expressway on the north; Grider Street on the east; East Delevan Avenue on the south; and Humboldt Parkway and the Scajaquada Expressway on the west.
Where others see decline, Giardino sees opportunity. The lawyer-turned-developer believes a comprehensive and coordinated approach and private sector investment are key to turning the area around. “The redevelopment plan shows the direction the community is headed, and investments driven by the private sector will show a community on the move,” he says.
Centerstone Development has begun the process of re-imaging the community from semi-abandonment to effective reuse. Many of the area’s industrial uses date back to the 1920’s or earlier. In 2005, the development firm purchased a remnant of Buffalo’s proud industrial past, the 145,000 sq. ft. former Curtis Wright airplane engine factory at 60 Grider Street. After an extensive $22 million renovation project, the building was rechristened as “Wright Place.”
The developers scored a coup when Sodexho leased 80,000 sq. ft. of space and opened a hospital laundry operation in December. Currently employing 150 mostly neighborhood workers, the payroll is expected to grow by another 50 to 75 workers in coming months. Sodexho is extremely pleased with the start-up of the facility, calling it their most successful launch to date due to low employee turn-over and a dedicated workforce.
By early summer, Giardino expects to have the balance of the building leased to another health-care related tenant. That unnamed firm is expected to create 75 jobs.
Talks are currently underway with a tenant that would occupy Two Wright Place, a new 115,000 sq. ft. facility to be built at the southwest corner of Grider Street and Northland Avenue (lead rendering). The prospective tenant is based in Ontario and has the potential of creating 400-500 jobs. If a deal is signed, work on that project could be underway in the fall.
One and Two Wright Place each utilize clean, modern architecture in a deliberate effort to re-brand the community. “The dynamic buildings create a presence in the community. The façades’ channel glass allows those passing by to see activity inside, see activity happening, and sends a message that new investment is happening in the area,” says Giardino. “It is not an obvious area for investment, build-out of Wright Place and demolition and subsequent redevelopment of the Kensington Heights property creates momentum and lays the groundwork for future growth.”
Centerstone has other property under option as they incrementally expand their presence in the neighborhood. Giardino believes that private sector investment up front will free up funding for the public sector improvements envisioned in the community-supported master plan.
Buffalo-born Giardino, with several completed development projects downtown and throughout the northeast, is particularly proud of his work on the east side. “Wright Place and Heritage Heights are just the beginning for the neighborhood,” he says. According to Giardino, “These projects send a message: This is the right place to invest.”
See the April print edition of Buffalo Rising for more on Centerstone Development’s plans for Heritage Heights.