Now that we’ve seen renderings and heard descriptions of Rock Harbor Commons (latest rendering shown), it’s time to talk about the overall vision for the surrounding village. Of course, The Commons is just one piece of the puzzle, and the puzzle is ultimately another puzzle piece. If you think about this former brownfield in Black Rock, it is ideally situated between a number of key communities. To the north is historic Amherst Street and to the south is Forest Avenue – a street that takes you to Grant Street and Elmwood Avenue. The collegiate village is also situated right at Buffalo State College’s back door.
The close proximity to all of these neighborhoods is easy for some people to see, yet harder for others. Project developer, Ed Hogle, feels that this property is a key link between struggling neighborhoods. Yesterday he went before the Common Council Waterfront Committee to discuss the greater vision of his village (see bottom rendering), and how a project such as this could help to reclaim much of what has been forsaken in historic Black Rock. During the presentation at City Hall, Ed asked that The City take a closer look at Tonawanda Street – what would it take to implement traffic calming and beautification measures? He also asked that The City designate a point person to the project – an idea that Commissioner Brian Reilly had, at one time, introduced (to the Common Council) to help developers navigate what can be a tricky process. The question was also raised regarding the status of The City’s auto impound – were there plans to move that initiative along? The auto impound is located directly in-between Buffalo State College and Rock Harbor Village. If that land was freed up (potentially for a Buffalo State College sports stadium), the distance from the student village to the college would be negligible.
The point is, once the boundaries of the student village are examined, it’s easy to see the relationship that this project have with its environs. Instead of being a 20+ acre former industrial site, this land in Black Rock could be used as a catalyst for change. To think that, not long ago, neighboring Squaw Island was a dumping ground on the water. Now it’s a beautiful park. I bet if you had asked residents about that transformation they would tell you that many people doubted if they would ever live to see the day. Years later we have another incredible opportunity to witness another transformation. We’re not talking about a piece of property the size of the BOA at the Outer Harbor – we’re talking about a landscape that is containable… where the buildings already stand and the infrastructure (for the most part) is already in place. The need for student housing has already been identified and Ed Hogle has been doing the roadshow in order to attract interested partners (one of them being The City of course).
If you take a look at the rendering of the village, you will, of course, see the Rock Harbor Commons building situated in the upper left hand corner. From there the village unfolds into a mixed use of hotel, collegiate and extended stay dynamics. The building connected (via an overpass crossing West Avenue) to The Commons is going to be designated for extended stay for visiting professors and their families. There will also be an eatery/cafe. The building to the north, across the large parking lot is described as a boutique hotel and condos. This will be primarily for people who want to live near a college community and attend lectures, classes, etc.. In this vision, the two connected buildings in the foreground of the rendering are respective Greek fraternity house and the Greek sorority house. The last building (on the edge of Scajaquada Creek would be reserved for a marine museum or boat-building facility. Look closely and you’ll see new diggs for The Yard – it’s an amphitheater to host concerts and performances. Nearby is a bridge leading to the Buffalo State College campus. Winding sculpture trails weave the village components together.
The other elements of the village include a sculpture park situated along the creek and bike path – visiting artists attending symposiums could help to create an urban Griffis Sculpture that would connect Rock Harbor with Hoyt Lake. Even the Atlas Steel train freight-house is being positioned for graduate housing – notice the glass and brick bookend buildings? I spoke with Ed Hogle regarding the viability of this incredible vision – particularly, who owns the land and the buildings? “I either own, lease or have equity partner agreements for the land,” he told me. “We might work in conjunction with other developers moving forward… we already have working equity partners on the balance of the entire property.” Now can you imagine the effect that this project would have on Black Rock and the surrounding neighborhoods? Stay tuned for more developments as they begin to unfold.
Just today (moments ago) Ed was handed his first building permit and the work will begin moving forward on interior remodeling of Phase 1 (The Commons). To learn more about the collegiate student village, visit the Rock Harbor Commons website. Take the virtual walk-thru. Ed is in the process of gathering community partners – other than email, additional contact information can be found at the site.