Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra is proud of his lower West Side roots and his latest project is aimed at strengthening the area. Giambra is planning up to thirty new market-rate houses on scattered sites on Fargo Avenue and surrounding streets. The first of the houses will be underway within the next two weeks on Plymouth Avenue.
Giambra was born and raised in Buffalo and lived in the now demolished Lakeview Housing Project south of the Peace Bridge. For eight years, Giambra represented the Niagara District on the Buffalo Common Council. After leaving the Common Council, he served as Buffalo City Comptroller for ten years. He was Erie County Executive from 2000 until 2007 and is now a consultant and lately, real estate investor and developer.
Local housing organizations, long-time residents, and newcomers have transformed blighted housing and crime-ridden streets into attractive and safe communities, paving the way for additional reinvestment.
Nationwide, an increasing number of empty-nesters are moving back to cities so they can walk, shop, and once again have a sense of community where they live. Without children, empty-nesters often change their lifestyles in a way that favors urban living. More than previous generations, baby boomers are likely to be single as well as college educated, making them more likely to be drawn to urban cultural attractions such as performing arts, museums and fantastic restaurants.
High demand and few homes for sale is forcing prices higher and pushing some buyers out of areas such as Allentown and the Elmwood Village.
Frustrated potential buyers in recent years have been heading west towards Richmond Avenue. Once overlooked areas are seeing strong sales, and numerous homes are being renovated which is revitalizing neighborhoods and nearby business strips.
Grant and Connecticut streets have particularly benefited from and contributed to the rejuvenation of the West Side. Suburbanization, disinvestment, population loss, and the development of automobile-oriented shopping centers led to the decline of these commercial districts. Today, Karl Frizlen, Chris Siano, Prish Moran, recent immigrants, and others are bringing new life to these once sleepy streets.
Rich Products, Ellicott Development, D’Youville College, Bill Breeser, and Resurgence Brewing Company are investing in nearby Niagara Street which is quickly becoming a development hotbed.
“There’s pressure coming from Richmond Avenue to the east and from downtown to the south,” says Nicholas Giambra, Joel’s son and a real estate agent from Hunt who is marketing the new homes along with Hunt’s Stephanie DeMartino. “New investments along Niagara Street are creating pressure from the west.”
The return of higher-income residents to west side neighborhoods has stimulating improvements in retail activity. Rising commercial rents along Elmwood Avenue have also played a role.
New owner-occupied housing is a natural next step for the ongoing redevelopment of the West Side says Joel.
“I’ve completed two gut rehabs in the last two years,” says Joel. “It has allowed me to think about what the next steps might be. There’s an inordinate amount of vacant land in the city. I wanted to start on the West Side and fill in the hole in the donut.”
Working with Optima Design & Engineering, Joel has created four different floor plans appropriate for vacant West Side properties.
“We tried to incorporate features of existing homes on the West Side into the facades of the new designs,” he says.
The Olmsted One is a narrow, 25’ wide single-family house designed to fit on a narrow lot, typical on the west side. Under the current zoning ordinance that calls for new construction on lots that are a minimum 40’ wide but that will change in some neighborhoods under the proposed Green Code.
“This home is narrow but still functional without a driveway or garage,” explains Joel, “It will be ideal for smaller infill lots.”
The Olmsted Two and Olmsted Three will be upper/lower doubles with units of either two or three bedrooms.
“The plans have larger closets and bedrooms than you typically find in an existing residence on the West Side,” says Joel. “We’re putting suburban features in an urban structure.”
The Giovanna, named after Joel’s granddaughter due next month, is a duplex design. It will have two units side-by-side appropriate for a wider lot. A firewall will separate the units and they could be sold individually as townhomes.
Construction on the first home at 225-227 Plymouth starts this week, a Giovanna plan (below). It should be framed by mid-August. Joel will move into one of the units. “I am going back to my roots,” he says.
He has purchased about twenty vacant lots from private owners and at the In-Rem tax auction. Lots are available on Plymouth, Prospect, 7th Street, Fargo, York, and Busti. He has even purchased a vacant lot on Lakeview Avenue across from where he grew up. Homes will be built as they are sold. Pricing has not been finalized but is expected to be in the $150,000 to $200,000 range depending on floor plan and options.
Joel’s Executive Properties will serve as general contractor and Evans Bank is financing the project.
Joel says his target market is young professionals renting downtown in lofts that are looking to plant roots, empty-nesters, and the creative class that desire a low-maintenance residence in a historic, walkable neighborhood which he is calling the Olmsted Park/Connecticut Village.
“I believe there is a demand for new housing,” he says. “Not everyone wants to buy an older home.”
Get Connected: Hunt Real Estates’ Nicholas Giambra at 716.239.6432 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Stephanie DeMartino at 716.462.8835
Plans courtesy of Optima Design & Engineering