Ellicott Development’s proposed retail building at 1088 Niagara Street is scheduled to be reconsidered by the Planning Board tomorrow morning. Neighborhood residents will be gathering tonight to discuss the controversial proposal at West Side Community Services, 161 Vermont Street at 6:30 PM. The meeting has been organized by Councilman Rivera’s office. Ellicott Development representatives are scheduled to attend.
Due to public opposition, the proposal was tabled by the Planning Board on November 5. Ellicott Development is proposing a 4,600 sq.ft. retail building for the vacant 1.59 acre parcel. It will house a 2,000 sq.ft. Tim Hortons with room for a second restaurant or retail tenant.
The project does not fit in with a redevelopment plan prepared by neighborhood stakeholders and residents.
Vision Niagara has been working with One Region Forward to create a vision scenario for this stretch of Niagara Street. One Region Forward is a broad-based, collaborative effort to promote more sustainable forms of development in land use, transportation, housing, energy and climate, access to food, and more. Their vision calls for big changes to what it calls the “Upper Rock Neighborhood” in the form of reuse of existing historic properties, infill construction, streetscape and pedestrian improvements, green infrastructure, canal access, and new park space.
Vision Niagara has prepared two alternative concepts. One with the new building at the Niagara/Albany Street corner, the second putting the restaurant in Ellicott Development’s vacant two-story building next to the site at 1050 Niagara Street.
From Vision Niagara:
If a Tim Hortons is slated for Niagara Street, what Vision Niagara (Facebook page) has discussed with Ellicott since this summer are better-designed, more urban solutions. The location, at the Niagara/Albany/Fargo intersection, is significant and unique as the northwesternmost point of intersection between the Niagara-River-oriented Black Rock street grid, and the north-south street grid of the rest of the city. The intersection has unique qualities, with Marco’s Restaurant on the east, the Agway building to the north, the industrial architecture of 1050 Niagara to the south, and the art-deco gas station in the wedge between Niagara and Fargo.
The footprint of the planned new building would fit nicely into the front section of 1050 Niagara, and provide an excellent anchor to market space in the rest of the building. Vision Niagara has found numerous examples (see images) of Tim Hortons restaurants, as far afield as Dubai, fitting nicely into existing buildings, and contributing nicely to an urban streetscape. Right here at home, of course, is the example of the new “destination” Tim Hortons at the Harbor Center.
But if a new building is absolutely necessary, Vision Niagara is calling for the building to be built to the curb on Niagara Street (which also doubles as the Riverwalk in that area), with access off the signalized Niagara-Albany intersection, rather than a new access road. Also, Vision Niagara is suggesting a two-story building (perhaps with sit-in dining space upstairs, talking advantage of the view across the Niagara River) using design cues from nearby (say, from Marco’s Restaurant, or the industrial building next door). This will help build a sense of place at that intersection, which will likely lead to other improvements there that would enhance the value and marketability of Ellicott’s buildings.
Also, it would enhance the value and marketability of whatever building Ellicott may ultimately build on the vacant land at the northeast corner of Albany and Niagara (that they have informal right-of-first-refusal on). So, if a new building must be built, investing in a better building and site plan now may not give immediate payback to Ellicott, but it would set the stage for better things down the road that could pay off for them in the longer run.
Finally, the Vision Niagara section of Niagara Street (which historically was known as “Upper Black Rock” or “Upper Rock,” to distinguish it from the neighborhood to the north that came to be known as Black Rock) shares many characteristics with the mixed industrial Larkin District, but lacks a central gathering space akin to Larkin Square. 1088 Niagara is one of a few places in Upper Rock where such a square could be created. Bottom line: it’s too important a place to “throw away” on yet another cookie-cutter, auto-oriented, suburban Tim Hortons.
This stretch of Niagara Street has a number of new projects including a significant investment by Rich Products into its Atrium complex, Resurgence Brewing opening at 1250 Niagara, the planned renovation of 1225 Niagara into a restaurant and apartments, and Sugar City and 12 Grain Studio locating on the 1200 block.