When it comes to successful commercial districts in the city of Buffalo, Elmwood Avenue has been the longtime forerunner, until just recently. In recent years, Hertel has been playing catchup, and it looks as if there is no slowing down for the street any time soon. After speaking to Delaware District Common Council member Joel Feroleto earlier this morning, I learned that the storefront vacancy rate on Hertel, between Parkside and Delaware, is pretty much nil. Feroleto told me that there are only three “vacancies”, and all three are in the works. Sinatra is fixing up his recent purchase at the corner of Commonwealth, which will most likely rent out fast. Then, a chapel at 1235 Hertel is being converted into 9 apartments (see here). And there are even plans (coming soon) for the old Garangelo Café (1197 Hertel), leaving the street pretty much buttoned up. That means that it’s the perfect time to look westward, toward Elmwood. The Hertel dynamics need to start spreading further down, which would result in much needed connectivity with Uniland’s 20 acre project (see here).
While Hertel is firing on all cylinders, Elmwood continues to remain somewhat stagnant. Feroleto said that he recently walked the street, from Forest to Allen, and came across 20 vacant storefronts. Together, we attribute the rash of vacancies to a number of issues. Feroleto says that Elmwood suffers greatly at the hands of a few NIMBYs who attempt to block or change every project that comes up. He also said that lack of parking is an issue, which could also be an issue on Hertel, but now that Hertel has so much business infill, more people are walking longer distances to source their needs (movies, coffee, retail, etc.). Elmwood is broken up into a number of mini-stretches, separated by residential pockets. People don’t walk as far, because they tend not to walk from one commercial pocket to another. That means that they get into their cars, and spend more time looking for parking spots, instead of walking further distances. Currently, there is a plan on the table for All-Pro to start charging at the parking lot by JP Bullfeathers (now closed) – $3 to park all day during the week, and $5 to park all weekend long. The idea is facing opposition by the same people who are fighting everything else on the street, saying that it would set a precedent for more paid parking lots on the street, which Feroleto believes could not be further from the truth. So the parking lot could simply sit empty until the day that Ciminelli submits a new set of project plans (the developer withdrew the last set of plans due to villagers fighting the project).
Feroleto says that if Elmwood doesn’t get its act together, it could start to impact property values. “Hertel is booming,” he said. “And Elmwood is fighting every project that is proposed. It’s difficult to do anything on Elmwood. Hertel is getting all the murals these days because the neighborhood loves them. Nobody fights the changes. When Joe Dash announced that he was putting millions of dollars into a new supermarket on Hertel, he was met with a round of applause at a public meeting. The only person that spoke out against the supermarket was a guy from the Elmwood Village. Hertel has become a very welcoming, pro business district, and people are loving the changes.”
Elmwood’s ultimate savior could be a couple of the big projects that are currently on the table – the Chason Affinity Companies project at the corner of Forest (see here), and the Elmwood Crossing project that is proposed for the former Children’s Hospital site (see here). Arbor + Reverie would have been a good win for the street too, but we know what happened with that plan.