Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation’s revised plans for its project at 201 Ellicott Street were a disappointment to some but the company’s modifications were made based upon feedback from City officials, downtown area stakeholders, and changing market conditions.
Original plans for 201 Ellicott called for 40,000 sq.ft. of retail including a 12,000 to 15,000 sq.ft. Orchard Fresh market, 110,000 sq.ft. of office space, four and twelve-story buildings with 200 apartments and condo units, parking for 800 cars, and a public plaza. The revised design includes 201 affordable apartments in a building with five floors along Ellicott Street and seven floors along Oak Street and a 20,000 sq.ft. Braymiller’s Market at the corner of Ellicott and Clinton streets.
Since its unveiling in 2016, a substantial amount of commercial office space has either come online or has been announced as planned, i.e., One Seneca Tower, 1091 Main Street and 500 Pearl. Various market-rate and high-end residential developments have also come online downtown and throughout the city. Additionally, a Downtown Housing Demand Study, commissioned jointly by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. (BUDC) and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, called for housing options at a variety of price points, and in the downtown core, affordable options have been limited at best. The City and the community have emphasized the desire to see additional affordable housing throughout the city including downtown Buffalo.
“These factors presented a unique opportunity to focus on more affordable apartment offerings and therefore support greater diversity among residents who can live, work and enjoy downtown city living,” says Matt Davison a project spokesperson for Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation. “With the elimination of the project’s previous office component, it was determined that the current design would be the best fit for the site, the surrounding community need, and current market realities. By no means is this a ‘bait and switch;’ it is a thoughtful, responsive evolution of the project.”
The ten previously announced market rate apartments have been changed to affordable units, in response to market need. The project concept is now 100% affordable, not Section 8 housing. The apartment mix would be 131 one-bedroom units with 623 sq.ft. of living space and 70 two-bedroom units with 850 sq.ft. and an expected rental range of $660 to $1,260 per month. This range aligns with 50% to 80% of the average median income (AMI) and will be a great addition to the housing options currently available in downtown Buffalo. For a qualified individual, a range of 50% to 80% AMI is an annual income of approximately $26,000 to $42,000.
“We are extremely excited to help bring about a residential development that will be affordable, further expanding accessibility for downtown living beyond market-rate and high-end offerings,” says Davison. “Affordability in this project is underscored by Braymiller Market which will make fresh produce and specialty foods available to an under-served area of the city.”
Market realities and Orchard Fresh’s parent Tops Markets’ financial reorganization required Ciminelli to revisit plans for a full-service grocery store the City wanted incorporated into the project. The primary Western New York supermarket chains build large facilities, generally around 100,000-140,000 sq.ft. Even smaller local and national chains need 40,000 to 50,000 sq.ft. Based on the criteria required by these operators, the demographics of the downtown core, at this time, cannot support that type of enterprise.
The project’s 20,000 sq.ft. market is the right solution at the right time because of Hamburg-based Braymiller Market’s unique business model of selling fresh produce and specialty foods directly to customers through a retail store and directly to local restaurants and institutions through its wholesale operation. Like many market operators, Braymiller Market seeks to ultimately own their purpose-designed building and focus on their business mission. Simply stated, they are in the business of fresh food, and not of being a landlord with mixed-uses above them. The unique and modern design of the market, put forth by world class architecture firm Cannon Design, responds to these parameters and the overall project goals.
While the building is primarily one-story, the corner of Ellicott and Clinton is marked by a two-story volume with a dining mezzanine and a second mezzanine supporting staff functions is located toward the center of the building. The fresh food market will be supported by a parking area that can be used as a flexible hardscape. It is bordered to the south by the residential building’s “front yard” landscaped gathering area. These spaces can host a variety of activities, ranging from farmers markets and food trucks to performances and other events.
The overall project is being developed to the Green Code; however, zoning variances will be requested for the residential building which will support some key project concepts of vibrancy, mobility, and health & wellness. The market component is an “allowed use” but variances will also be requested for the market design.
The loss of a 400 car surface parking lot without plans for any replacement parking has raised eyebrows, particularly from Rocco Termini, owner of The Lafayette to the west which only has a small parking area of its own. However, a Buffalo Place Access & Infrastructure Committee study (January 2019) showed downtown off-street facilities were 63 percent occupied during the peak period, with 22,034 of 34,734 available spaces occupied, leaving a surplus of 7,490 spaces downtown wide.
There is a surplus of off-street parking in Downtown, but not located within walking distance of core employment – 2016-2018 Downtown Access Study, Buffalo Place
“201 Ellicott is proactively expanding mobility options to those that will live work and shop at this development to offer a more comprehensive solution that brings additional benefits with respect to health and wellness and environmental stewardship,” says Davison. “This is a very accessible development site with excellent walkability, adjacency to multiple forms of public transit, and close proximity to many different parking options. There are over 400 daytime spaces currently available within a short walking distance of the 201 Ellicott site. Our team has studied any potential traffic impacts of the proposed development.”
The planned on-site parking for the market will fully support the market’s needs and off-site parking accommodations will support the needs of the residential building. In addition, the development will be a Mobility Hub, featuring ease of access for mass transit, car-sharing, ride-sharing, bicycle-sharing, and of course, walkability. Finally, the project will be a member of a Transportation Management Association managed by GObike Buffalo that will afford both residents and market staff with numerous alternative transportation benefits.
“Our proposed concept reflects these transportation considerations and it is exactly the type of development that both the Green Code and our community have prepared for and envisioned,” says Davison. “This project will contribute to the overall livability and continued resurgence of downtown.”
201 Ellicott is a progressive development that will contribute to the growing vibrancy of the city by adding important, affordable residential density to the urban core, while coupling it with the much-anticipated fresh food market offering. These are two of the specific components that were identified in a BUDC-commissioned study as lacking in the downtown core. According to the Infrastructure & Public Realm Master Plan, the following issues were identified as concerns raised by the community:
- Too much surface parking has negative impacts on connectivity, walkability and perceived safety
- Need for more multi-modal infrastructure
- Interest in growing car and bike sharing
- Downtown living can be enhanced by a grocery store, new residential development, retail and family-oriented public space
- Improve coordination with transit services
- Investment in the area/nodes around the Flower District/NFTA Terminal/Firemen’s Park area (Ellicott Street)
The project fills a number of downtown voids including a fresh food source and affordable apartments and also fills a physical void- the reuse of a 2.5-acre parking lot. For those wanting a new downtown tower, there are better sites for that.
According to Davison, “201 Ellicott will add to the vibrancy of downtown Buffalo, the number of people living in the neighborhood, and help support surrounding businesses.”