Looking back, 2019 was a good year for downtown area development. Residential construction is on a record-breaking pace, Douglas Jemal’s redevelopment of Seneca One received a giant boost from M&T Bank, Canalside construction is finally gaining traction, and development along the Buffalo River is heating up.
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Nine projects were completed in 2019, twenty-two are currently under construction, and seventeen were announced. With the curtain closed on 2019 and the decade, below is a recap of the development activity that occurred in the downtown area last year.
The appetite for downtown living will be tested in coming months. There are a staggering 1,072 units underway within or near the central business district. That represents a 49 percent increase over the 2,190 units that have been completed since Elk Terminal Lofts kicked off downtown’s residential rebirth twenty years ago.
2019 was a below average year for unit completions with 114 units coming online spread across seven projects. The largest was Priam Enterprises’ The Marin with 70 units on the upper floors of the former Main Seneca Building. A dozen units were completed in the renovated building at 82 Pearl Street and Ellicott Development’s 500 Pearl mixed-use building had a dozen units as well. Ten apartments were constructed on the second floor of 45 Allen Street by Clover Management. Chris Jacobs took a similar approach and put five apartments on the second floor of 12 E. Tupper Street. Ellicott Development also constructed three apartments at 207 W. Huron Street and finished and sold two new townhouses at its Waterfront Place development.
Consider 2019 the calm before the storm because fourteen projects are currently underway with 1,052 units ranging from affordable apartments to high-end townhomes. Two projects with over 200 units are under construction. The largest, The Grid, includes 218 apartments and is being built by Cedarland Development and D&S Capital Real Estate at 1159 Main Street on the northern edge of the Medical Campus. Nearly as large and closer to the heart of downtown, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. is constructing a Braymiller’s Market and 201 affordable apartments at 201 Ellicott Street.
A significant new complex is taking shape at Broadway and Mortimer Street. The Forge on Broadway will include 159 residential units, with 85 percent of those being affordable. In a second phase, for-sale townhomes are planned on the northern edge of the site along Sycamore Street. Krog Corp. is constructing 130 apartments in the former Trico complex on Goodell Street in the Medical Campus, part of a mixed use project that will include an extended-stay hotel and office space.
Ellicott Development is wrapping up work on its Symphony Circle Active Living project. The senior housing complex includes 119 units and is being built on the site of the demolished Lazareth Nursing Home on North Street. Jemal Development has 104 apartments coming online soon at One Seneca. The residential component occupies the upper floors of the annex buildings on both sides of Main Street.
These six large projects are significant. Downtown’s biggest project to date is The Lafayette with 115 units. There’s more on the way. Ellicott Development has 13 apartments coming soon to The Cooperage on Chicago Street. Itis the final component of a project that saw restoration of one building and substantial additions to it to include retail, restaurant, and recreational space. Ten apartments are being built at 15 Allen Street where a salvaged historic façade is being re-incorporated into a building that will be just steps from the Medical School. Also in Allentown, six studio apartments are being created in a renovated building at 136 N. Pearl Street.
A half dozen apartments are being built by Ellicott Development at 270 Michigan Avenue, the last portion of the former Buffalo Envelope plant that is now predominantly office space. Work and sales are underway at Ciminelli Real Estate’s The West End project in Waterfront Village. The development’s first phase includes twelve townhomes priced from $850,000.
In the Theater District, Benchmark Group is creating two lofts in the AMC Theater complex along Washington Street and Uniland Development has two units under construction at nearby 505 Ellicott Street that will be home to HANSA, a co-working space.
Eleven projects with 678 units were proposed last year stretching from the Old First Ward to the Medical Campus. The largest is Douglas Jemal’s proposal to convert the former police headquarters at Franklin and Church Street into 175 apartments. The first phase of the Silo City’s redevelopment would bring 158 units to the American Malting Co. complex.
At the edge of the Medical Campus, Symphony Property Management proposed The Lawrence, a 131-unit apartment building. The project stirred up neighborhood opposition and is likely to be redesigned. In the Old First Ward, Karl Frizlen and Jason Yots are proposing to convert the former Barcalo manufacturing complex on Louisiana Street with up to 90 residential units.
Sinatra & Company revised the design for its Heritage Point project at Canalside. Plans call for 61 apartments, office, and retail space. NEMO Development dusted off plans for 30 townhomes along Lakefront Boulevard in Waterfront Village. That proposal needs approval from existing Lakefront Commons owners which may be a stumbling block.
Legacy Development, the new owner of Theater Place, has plans for 15 apartments for the third through fifth floors of the Theater District complex. Legacy is also proposing seven townhouses for a vacant lot at 8 St. Louis Place in Allentown. Schneider Development is adding six new condos on the second floor of 210 Ellicott Street bringing that building’s unit count up to 36.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara is planning three units at 72 Sycamore Street, an historic property it is acquiring from Rocco Termini. Two townhouses are proposed for 431-33 Ellicott Street north of Genesee Street where a one-story building would grow by two floors under plans drawn up by eco-logicSTUDIO.
The biggest downtown news of 2019 was M&T Bank’s decision to consolidate its technology divisions in Seneca One tower. M&T signed a long-term lease for an initial 330,000 square feet of space in the complex with options to expand. By the middle of this year, M&T plans to have at least 1,000 of its employees in the building, and expects more than 1,500 to be located there within three years. The deal takes a large chunk of office space off the market and makes Douglas Development’s job of filling the remainder of the complex a bit easier.
Ellicott Development opened two office properties last year. 1091 Main Street is a six-story, 167,000 sq.ft. office building connected to the former Our Lady of Lourdes church in the Medical Campus. The developer also opened 500 Pearl, a mixed-use complex that includes a parking ramp, retail, hotel, apartments, and 52,000 sq.ft. of office space on two of its floors.
Two projects with office space are underway. Krog Corp’s reuse of the Trico complex includes 123,000 sq.ft. of offices. The Buffalo News reports that ACV Auctions is potentially leasing space in the building as it continues to grow. Uniland’s latest downtown project at 505 Ellicott Street will be home to co-working space HANSA in 32,000 sq.ft. of space. Ellicott Development is renovating three floors of a six-story building at 270 Michigan Avenue for office use.
One hotel opened, one new hotel is underway, and two were unveiled last year. Ellicott Development opened the 110-room Aloft hotel in 500 Pearl Street. Ellicott also proposed a nine-story building east of its 1091 Main Street project that would include retail space, parking and a 104-room hotel.
The Krog Corp. is putting a 105-room extended-stay hotel in the Trico complex. That project is scheduled to come online in spring 2021. OnCore Golf along with Doug Swift and Joe Carubba are proposing a 120 to 160 room hotel in a golf-centered entertainment complex to be built on Ganson Street south of RiverWorks.
Harry Stinson is making incremental improvements to the former Adam’s Mark hotel and the on-again, off-again construction on the Wyndham Hotel in the former AM&A’s Department Store may be getting back on track with the hiring of Savarino Cos. to oversee the work.
The downtown area has seen a number of hotels built in recent years and the demand appears to be holding. Sources say a local developer is working on plans for another hotel near the Theater District and Benderson Development may be putting a 90 to 100 room Homewood Suites into a building it plans to construct at Main and Scott streets.
Development is finally happening at Canalside. The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum opened in 2019 and Sinatra and Company purchased the sites needed for its two-building Heritage Point project. Work is also underway on the Long Shed building and a structure to house the heritage carousel. A design team is working on potential layouts for new development on the former site of the Aud. Nearby, Savarino Cos. was selected to come up with plans for the long-vacant second floor of the DL&W Terminal.
Ideas were floated last year on how to replace and repurpose the Skyway. More immediate, work is underway on a replacement train station on Exchange Street and work is progressing on the Cars Sharing Main Street project on the southern end of Main.
Uniland Development is finishing work on a new post office on Washington Street while formulating plans to develop the current post office site. Mark Croce and Maguire Group are wrapping up work on a second Emerson School in the C.W. Miller Livery Stable at 73 W. Huron Street. In the Medical Campus, Roswell Park is planning a seven-story, 590 space parking ramp at Carlton and Ellicott streets. Plans are also solidifying for two downtown area parks: the revamp of LaSalle Park and plans for a linear park along the DL&W corridor. The Ellicott Street streetscape may be upgraded to better connect downtown to the Medical Campus.
Shea’s unveiled plans to construct an elevator tower south of the theater along Pearl Street. Mark Croce started restoration work on the bottom floors of Statler City’s exterior. The Hispanic Heritage Council unveiled plans for a Cultural Center at Niagara and Hudson streets. Work is continuing on the City Missions new facility on Oak Street. Hofbrauhaus along Scott Street may finally open this year.
A number of prominent downtown area sites changed hands last year. The year started off with a blockbuster with Gold Wynn Residential buying Kissling Interests’ 18 building commercial and residential portfolio. Uniland Development purchased 899 Main Street from Excellus Health Plan Inc. for $4.335 million in March. Douglas Jemal purchased the former Buffalo Police HQ on Franklin Street for $3.05 million in June with plans to convert it to residential.
In August, a partnership including Doug Swift purchased property along Ganson Street for $3.5 million. The OnCore Golf complex is planned for the site. Ellicott Development paid $3 million for Upstate New York Transplant Services’ building at 110 Broadway in the Elm-Oak Corridor. Also in August, Iskalo Development paid $1.71 million for the Old Editions Book Shop properties along E. Huron Street. And lastly, McGuire Development gained control of the Pilgrim Village site on the northern edge of the Medical Campus in November.
THE YEAR AHEAD
The outlook for the year ahead is encouraging. The national and local economies are steady, for now. Developers will be carefully watching the absorption rate for the record number of new residential units coming online. We will get a test of the depth of the luxury townhouse market when closing begin at the West End project. There should be news on who will buy the Simon Electric properties along Ellicott Street. Close by, Legacy Development is planning to buy eight parcels and buildings along Ellicott and Oak streets with plans for reuse and infill development. Everyone is watching the Seneca One complex for news on additional office tenants joining M&T Bank and what retailers and restaurants decide to locate there to serve them.
Work is expected to begin on the OnCore golf complex on Ganson Street, furthering the redevelopment of the Buffalo River corridor in the Old First Ward. 2020 could also be the year we know whether a new or expanded convention center is in the works and possibly news on whether a new football stadium is planned for the downtown area.