Sinatra & Company Real Estate has picked up another significant property in the Elmwood Village near Children’s Hospital – the former Cadet Cleaners. Developer Nick Sinatra began looking at the 40,000 sq.ft. building around the time when he was submitting his proposal for Kaleida’s Children’s Hospital Site. When I asked Sinatra about the building that closed last week, he told me that it was all part of “the bigger picture”. Sinatra felt that part of the final destiny for the Children’s Hospital Site was to incorporate a number of coinciding developments in order to strengthen the project. He had already picked up the former Casa-di-Pizza building (Elmwood/Hodge) where he proposed to build a mixed-use development with Dash’s Market as an anchor.
Sinatra felt that the mixed-use Dash’s Market project would help to leverage his more broad ranging vision for the Elmwood Village. Picking up the Cadet Cleaners building (corner of Utica and Atlantic) was also part of that plan. Sinatra is proposing building apartments and condos at the sprawling complex, and had at one point engaged Sophia’s Restaurant to be a tenant. Originally, the idea behind picking up the Cadet Cleaners building was to strengthen Nick’s Children’s Hospital Site proposal for West Utica, where he was proposing to build townhomes.
I must admit, that when I first saw the Dash’s concept (not part of the Kaleida proposal), I got excited. At the same time, I figured that the plan hinged on whether or not Sinatra would be chosen as the developer for Kaleida’s hospital footprint. Now that Sinatra has picked up the former Cadet Cleaners, his original intentions for the Elmwood Village are becoming clearer. Personally, I thought that his Kaleida proposal was the best out of the four submitted. Bundled with the rest of these projects, including his mixed-use Elmwood development with a Sinatra’s Restaurant (wine bar and jazz club), I am more perplexed than ever.
I wonder if anyone ever looked at the broader picture for the neighborhood, or whether the Children’s Hospital site was considered as a sort of vacuum with no consideration for the rest of the opportunities that abounded at the time?
It was back in June that a development team led by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. was picked as the chosen developer for the Children’s Hospital Site (see here). At the time, I believe that there were a lot of people who were surprised by the decision, especially since the announcement was made out of the blue, with what appeared to be little, real community involvement. After the original showcasing of projects at Kleinhans Music Hall, there was pretty much silence leading up to the announcement. The public had been told that there would be a more transparent process, and that a Community Advisory Group would meet more than they did. From what I understand, no formal community recommendations were made. And what ever happened to that community engagement to achieve the final decision?
Looking back, a lot of people were excited to see Sinatra Real Estate and Dash’s come together to create a food market on the street. Although that was not part of the plan/parcel that was being considered, it was still part of an incredible vision in the Elmwood Village. Without the rest of the project, or at least part of the project, it is unclear if the food market is still on the table – and that’s unfortunate. Not to mention the apartments that were planned above the market. Buffalo Rising spoke to Utica Block Club President Bob Pederson about his view on the community process, “We are excited about finally transforming this parcel from a century-long commercial operation to the kind of residential/retail project that will be a worthy asset for the neighborhood. We look forward to working with Sinatra on bringing it to fruition as soon as possible.”
It’s unfortunate that Sinatra’s rowhouses on Utica will not come to fruition. I’m all for a soccer field or two in the right place, but when it comes to the Elmwood Village’s needs, I would think that housing (rentals and condos) would trump the fields. The rowhouses would create better walkability on a street that has certainly suffered from poor planning decisions over the years.
Sinatra’s overarching goals for Utica and Elmwood would have created a lot of buzz for a section of the street that desperately needs growth, while retaining the neighborhood feel. It appeared that there was a major groundswell of support for the project too, with words like “no brainer” being bandied about. Sinatra‘s plan retained the mom ‘n pop feel, while growing the neighborhood exponentially. When I first saw the plan, I even called my wife and told her that she needed to “Check this out immediately!”
At the time, Sinatra said that he wanted to work with the community to develop a tower plan for the hospital site. That, I believe, was the icing on the cake. If the community/neighborhood was brought into the fold to create something that was dynamic and functional, instead of something that looks like it could still be a hospital, the Elmwood Village could have had an incredible win on its hands. I feel that the Community Advisory Group did not listen to the community when they pulled the rabbit out of the hat. Sinatra’s plans speak for themselves, especially when bundled with the company’s other projects that would amplify the project.
At this time in Buffalo’s renaissance, we don’t need a good plan, we need a great plan. When the announcement was made, a lot of people that I know were caught off guard. I live in the Elmwood Village, right around the corner from this site. I was born at Children’s Hospital. I have spent my life helping to build up this neighborhood. I have dreamed of the day when the hospital would be consolidated onto the Medical Campus. Now I only want to see the best project developed at this site, and I believe that Sinatra hit it out of the park. I’m not sure how the final decision came to pass, but it doesn’t pass the muster in the eyes of many who live in the neighborhood.
Sinatra’s $161 million privately funded Keleida proposal included an estimated 50 townhomes, 300 market-rate apartments and 50 upscale condominiums over three phases on Hodge and Bryant, green space, public art, reuse for Gallagher Ramp, and a Phase 3 main hospital development with upscale condos, 122 apartments, charter education, and retail and restaurant space. Add to that the Cadet Cleaners and Dash’s Market projects and we would have a real winner on our hands, instead of a proposal on our hands that is simply so-so. Without reversal decision from Kaleida, chances are that we might not see a Dash’s, a Sophia’s and some of the other side development plans that Sinatra was planning. With this in mind, it might behoove Kaleida to take a step back and examine the larger picture, and rectify what appears to be a flawed process that steered it to the decision that it made.