Upper Niagara Street, having seen a renaissance in recent years, is getting a significant boost. Ten floors worth. 990 Niagara LLC is proposing a ten-story mixed-use building at 990 Niagara Street just north of the Peace Bridge and opposite School Street. It would be built on the northern vacant portion of the property and contain 95 apartments, 3,800 sq.ft. of commercial space, plus enclosed parking for 148 cars on the first and second levels and in a two-story parking garage existing on the site.
The one-acre parcel sits on a bluff overlooking the Niagara River. If approved and built, 990 Niagara would be the tallest residential building constructed since The Pasquale at Waterfront Place opened in 2009.
The design of the building pays homage to Niagara Street’s manufacturing past while using modern materials and bold red accents to look forward to the neighborhood’s future. Exterior materials include brick, metal panels, aluminum framed windows, and open metal screening on the new building’s parking area on the second level.
Units will be a mix of one and two-bedroom plans starting on the third level. Rooftop common areas are proposed for the existing building on the site.
The property at 990 Niagara Street was purchased by the developers in November 2015 for $650,000 from Ciminelli Real Estate. It, along with 960-996 Busti Avenue to the south, are remnants of the Buffalo General Electric Company complex. The two-story garage on the site was constructed in 1923.
From the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form prepared by Kerry Traynor and Annie Schetag:
The reinforced concrete frame garage features brick curtain walls. A large garage door, located in the bay to south, accesses a ramp delineated on the south elevation by a sloping band of concrete. The windows on the first floor have been infilled, while industrial sash windows remain on the upper floors of the east elevation facing Busti Avenue. The aesthetic of each utilitarian building is in response to the requirements of its historic function, with simple brick articulation and the rhythm of the fenestration the primary detailing.
The entrance to the main parking level on the second floor occurs through a garage door in the south bay of the east elevation. The ramp is also accessed through an interior door in the southwest corner of the first floor. A ramp along the south elevation provides vehicular access to the second floor, which is defined by a grid of concrete columns with mushroom caps. The ceiling in this space is relatively low as one might expect in a parking garage. A large room, which historically functioned as a repair shop and printing space, is located to the west along the south elevation.
The buildings are not yet on the National Register. Besides Buffalo General Electric Company, former occupants of 990 Niagara Street include Hewitt Rubber, Buffalo Niagara Hudson Company, International Railway Co., Power House and Converter Station, Merchandising Export and Distributors, Multiform Dessicants, as well as Trico Products Corp. Former site uses include manufacturing, auto garage, and repair.
Rochester-based SWBR is the architect for the new building. It will perfectly bookend The Crescendo building at 1502 Niagara Street to the north. That seven-story building was redeveloped by Angelo Natale, Bobby Corrao, Frank Parisi and Carl Savarino and contains 41 apartments. Unlike The Crescendo, the new building at 990 Niagara Street is perpendicular to the river, affording downtown Buffalo skyline and Peace Bridge views to the south and Niagara River/Black Rock Channel views to the north.
The project needs a height variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The N-1S (Secondary Employment Center) district allows residential buildings (loft buildings) up to 90 feet. The proposed building is 124 feet tall.
The developers make a strong case for the Variance in their application to the City:
A taller, slender building will allow maximum views to the water from adjacent properties and the additional height will not impact those views negatively. On the lower two floors of the new building, we are designing the facades to be complimentary to the existing building on the site.
One option we explored was building a five-story building over the existing building and a seven-story building over the unbuilt area, maximizing the 90 foot height allowance, on the unbuilt section of the parcel. This creates an infeasible cost associated with building over an existing building and this would essentially create a seven-story wall across the entire site which would more negatively impact views from the east.
The benefit of designing a longer slender building to allow views from the east far outweigh the non-existent negative of adding 34 feet where there will be no view corridor. Compare this against our “as of right” ability to design a seven-story building across the entire site and you can see our taller design allows better views.
990 Niagara Street will join other residential development along upper Niagara that includes Ellicott Development’s 960 Busti (also part of the Buffalo General Electric Company complex) with 18 apartments, Ciminelli Real Estate’s The Mentholatum with 49 units, the previously mentioned 41 units at The Crescendo, in a number rehabs by Bill Breeser and Ellicott Development, and in a two-story new-build by Ellicott at 1088 Niagara Street.
The Zoning Board will review the project at its meeting on April 18.