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Development Recap: 2020 Edition

For a COVID-impacted year, downtown development showed little sign of slowing down. One developer who is speeding up is Douglas Jemal. Jemal was busy last year signing leases for office space and apartments in Seneca One, preparing plans for conversion of the former police headquarters to residences, purchasing the Statler and starting façade work on the property, unveiling plans for a new residential building next to the tower, and finalizing the purchase of the shuttered Hyatt hotel.

2020 was another good year for downtown development. Fifteen projects were completed, fifteen are currently under construction, and nineteen were announced. That compares well with 2019 when nine projects were completed, twenty-two were under construction at the end of the year, and seventeen were announced. Below is a recap of the development activity that occurred in the downtown area in 2020.PDF Version here

Residential development continues to grab the headlines downtown. Nine residential projects were completed with a whopping 669 units, all apartments. The largest was The Grid on the northern edge of the Medical Campus with 215 units. The five-story building located at 1159 Main Street was developed by Cedarland Development and D&S Capital Real Estate.

On the near east side, Stuart Alexander and Associates, SCG Development and Dr. Rhonda Ricks completed The Forge on Broadway. The complex has 159 units with eighty-five percent of them restricted as affordable. Future plans include for-sale townhouses and additional residential and possibly commercial development.

Ellicott Development completed its $30 million Symphony Circle Active Living project on North Street. The 119-unit senior living facility was constructed on the site of the former Nazareth Nursing Home. Ellicott also completed 13 apartments in its mixed-use Cooperage project on Chicago Street. On Main Street, tenants began moving into 104 apartments within the lower floors of the Seneca One complex. Douglas Development is making good progress in its efforts to breathe new life into the property.

With COVID crippling the travel and tourism markets, two downtown Buffalo boutique hotels have gone residential. The 32-unit Webb Lofts on Pearl Street, originally a residential project that was converted to a boutique hotel, is now renting its units. At The Lafayette, Rocco Termini converted its 23 hotel rooms to apartments.

In the Theater District, Benchmark Development added two apartments to the Market Arcade cinema complex along Washington Street. One block away, Uniland Development completed two apartments in its project at 505 Ellicott Street that is anchored by co-working space HANSA.

Under Construction. There are as many residential units under construction as were completed last year. Eleven projects containing 672 units are currently underway. The largest is Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation’s 201 units at 201 Ellicott Street. That affordable housing complex will also include a Braymiller’s Market.

Generation Development Group has broken ground on the first phase of its Silo City project. The $65 million restoration and adaptive re-use of the circa-1906 American Mill & Warehouse building will include 168 residential units and commercial space. Along Niagara Street, Norstar Development USA is adding 166 units in eight buildings to its Niagara Square Apartment development being built on the site of demolished Shoreline Apartments.

Two years after the Erie County Department of Social Services decided to shift 400 workers from 478 Main Street to Cheektowaga, Ellicott Development has started renovating the building for both commercial and residential use. Twenty-eight apartments are being added to the building’s upper floors along with significant façade work at the street level.

On the West Side, a four-story apartment building is nearing completion at the southeast corner of Maryland and West Street. Anthony LoRusso is developing the building that will include 48 units. In the heart of the Theater District, Legacy Development is adding 21 apartments in the upper floors of the ornate Theater Place complex.

A group of investors, led by architect Steven J. Carmina and developer Roger Trettel, are converting four historic buildings at the southeast corner of Broadway and Michigan into Nash Lofts to include 18 new apartments, office space, indoor parking and a restaurant.

Ten units are being built a block away from the Medical School. Huamei Wang is developing a building at 15 Allen Street that will feature a reconstructed façade under the watchful eye of architect Adam Sokol of ASAP.

Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation is finishing up eight units at The West End in Waterfront Village. Prices start at $899,000 and plans call for three additional buildings on the site housing four townhouses each. A second for-sale project, the addition of six units on the second floor of Warehouse Lofts, is under construction by Schneider Development.

Ellicott Development has two smaller projects underway with residential units: three units in a new two-story building at 474 Michigan Avenue that will be anchored by a Tim Hortons and six units at 270 Michigan Avenue, a six-story portion of the former Buffalo Envelope Plant.

Proposed. Of the 19 projects proposed last year, 15 were residential developments or had a residential component. In all, 852 units were proposed last year, four of the projects involve new construction and three projects contain 200 or more units. The largest is a two-building project featuring 230 affordable family and senior apartments on the Pilgrim Village site north of the Medical Campus. SAA|EVI is the $50 million project’s developer.

In September, Doug Jemal unveiled plans for 200 apartments at 61 Terrace, west of the Seneca One complex. The new building would include five levels of parking for 500 cars topped by four levels of apartments.

COVID and market-forces convinced developer Harry Stinson to revise his plans for the Buffalo Grand hotel. Two hundred of the hotels rooms will be converted to apartments leaving the hotel with 286 rooms. The apartments will be located on the Buffalo Grand’s upper floors while the hotel rooms will be centered on the lower floors.

Attorney Peter M. Kooshoian proposed a nine-story mixed-use building for 80 West Huron. It would include retail space, 56 affordable apartments, one level of underground parking, a ninth floor penthouse/amenity area, and one floor of office space.

Owner 377 Main Street LLC, working with Savarino Cos., unveiled revised plans for the former AM&A’s building. Plans for the J.N.Adam Building call for basement and ground floor parking, commercial and amenity space on the first floor, 128,000 sq.ft. of office space on floors two through five, and 33 apartments on the sixth through tenth floors. If demand for office space is weaker than anticipated, the fifth floor could be renovated to include 11 additional apartments.

Ellicott Development unveiled plans and started work to renovate the former Hens & Kelly Department Store at 478 Main Street. The first floor will include retail space, offices will be located on the second through fourth floors, and the top floors are being converted to 28 apartments. Significant façade changes including bringing windows back to the first two floors of the building are also underway. Ellicott Development is partnering with Avalon Development on the renovation of 138 Allen Street in Allentown. Early plans call for 20 to 25 apartments and commercial space.

North of the Medical Campus, Cedarland Development is planning Campus Place, a three-story, 27-unit apartment building at the northeast corner at Michigan Avenue and Best Street. At 910 Main Street, Greenleaf Properties is bringing 19 new apartments to the former Hyatt’s Art store. The project is adjacent to Greenleaf’s Bosche Lofts at 916-918 Main Street.

Trautman Associates unveiled plans to restore the three-story building at 130 Pearl Street. Upper floors would include 14 apartments with ground floor retail or office space.

Stephen Development is planning to convert a two-story building at 151 Eagle into two-story residences. The 151 Lofts project would include seven two-bedroom and one one-bedroom unit plus dedicated parking. The developer is also working with Bart Adams on redevelopment plans for 181 Elm Street. That building is next to 173 Elm that Ellicott Development proposes to convert to commercial space plus nine apartments.

Preservation Buffalo Niagara unveiled plans to restore and expand 72 Sycamore Street to provide six units of affordable housing, office space for Heart of the City Neighborhoods, and a Preservation Resource Center that would host workshops.

The Tent City Building at 674 Main Street has a residential future. Drew Blum is proposing four large apartments for the Theater District building’s upper floors and ground floor retail space. In Allentown, developer and chiropractor Scott Croce is renovating 2 Virginia Place. The vacant two-story building will be converted into three apartments.

The long-term impact of COVID on downtown office space is a giant question mark. Many downtown offices have emptied and the pandemic has accelerated the trend for home working. Companies are now aware that they could make do with less office space. The pandemic has also revealed the limitations of home working- there is a big benefit of face-to-face interactions and collaboration, key catalysts for innovation and problem solving and the development of an organization’s culture.

The biggest news on the office front is at Seneca One where M&T Bank has begun occupying its 330,000 sq.ft. Tech Hub. Due to the pandemic, the bank has limited the number of employees in its space but plans call for 1,000 employees in the short-term and up to 1,500 within a few years.

Seneca One owner Douglas Jemal signed a lease with business software firm Odoo for one floor in the tower. The office will serve as an East Coast headquarters for the company which envisions employing 300 employees locally and growing into two additional floors over time. Shared workspace provider Serendipity Labs signed a lease for the 30th floor of the tower. The 19,000 sq.ft. location is expected to open early this year. The companies join 42North and SMP Corp. as announced office tenants in the complex.

Two additional shared workspaces opened last year. Uniland Development opened its HANSA business center in 32,000 sq.ft. of space at 505 Ellicott Street, a two-story former warehouse that it renovated. At 808 Main Street, co-working space K-Haus is occupying a portion of the building renovated by David Kimelberg. The remainder of the building contains a gallery space and Kimelberg’s law office.

Two rehab projects have office space components. Ellicott Development’s renovation of the Hens & Kelly building will include three floors of office space along with retail space and apartments. The U.S. Social Security Administration has leased 15,000 sq.ft. of space on the second floor of the building.

Plans for the J.N.Adam Building call for 128,000 sq.ft. of office space on floors two through five of the former department store. Across the street, Main Place Liberty Group unveiled promising plans to convert the Main Place Mall into office space. The redevelopment effort carries a $10 million+ price tag and includes a substantial interior and exterior makeover.

One project with a significant office component has stalled after gutting and demolition work was completed. Due to the uncertain future demand for hotel rooms, the Krog Corp. suspended work on redevelopment of the Trico complex. The $87 million project was expected to bring 130 loft apartments, a 105-room extended-stay hotel to be operated by Hart Hotels, 123,000 sq.ft. of office space, 12,000 sq.ft. of retail space, and indoor parking for 230 cars.

Leasing.  There were no blockbuster leases signed last year. Besides the Odoo and Serendipity Labs leases at Seneca One and tShe ocial Security Administration at 478 Main, Bryant & Stratton shifted its downtown campus from Main Street to 23,000 sq.ft. of space at 110 Broadway. Spectrum Cable took 18,000 sq.ft. at Compass East and The Barnes Firm leased 16,000 sq.ft. at 500 Pearl.

The COVID pandemic continues to shake the restaurant, leisure, retail and travel industries. It hit the lodging industry particularly hard, with hotels shutting down in March, turning many hotel businesses upside down. Snyder Corp. defaulted on its Hyatt mortgage after the hotel was shuttered on April 1. Douglas Jemal purchased the foreclosed mortgage loan in late December. He expects to revamp and reopen the hotel when the travel business improves.

With the hotel industry expected to remain challenged well into this year, a few hotel owners and developers shifted gears. Earl Ketry and Rocco Termini converted hotel rooms into apartments at Webb Lofts and The Lafayette respectively. Harry Stinson is shrinking the Buffalo Grand hotel by 200 rooms and the uncertain travel market was a factor in Krog Corp. suspending work on the Trico complex. Plans for a 340-room Wyndham Hotel in the AM&A’s building were dropped in favor of a more realistic mix of uses for the 287,000 sq.ft. building.

There was one new hotel announced last year. In February, Ellicott Development announced plans for a 103-room Element hotel on a vacant site at the corner of St. Paul and Ellicott streets on the Medical Campus. Plans for that hotel and also an expected Benderson Development hotel at Main and Scott streets are now uncertain.

In September, Hostel Buffalo-Niagara was named designated developer of 664 Washington Street by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency. The three-story building behind the Main Street hostel would include ground floor commercial space and approximately ten private extended-stay rooms.

Other Projects
Work on the Buffalo City Mission’s new $15 million Community Center at 100 E. Tupper Street was finished last year and its old building along E. Tupper Street was demolished. Nearby on Washington Street, Uniland Development completed the replacement Ellicott Post Office. Uniland purchased the post office’s previous location south of the new building but has not announced development plans for the property.

After a series of delays, Hofbräuhaus Buffalo finally opened in early October. The German-style beer hall is located at 190 Scott Street. To the north, the Exchange Street Station welcomed its first train passengers in November. The Longshed building at Canalside was completed last year. The 4,000 square foot structure will house the construction of a replica of Governor DeWitt Clinton’s 73′ packet boat.

In the African American Heritage Corridor, a vacant, City-owned building at 509 Michigan Avenue, south of the historic Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, is in line for a restoration and expansion. Plans call for first floor retail such as a small café and/or visitor’s center and public meeting and exhibition space.

Ellicott Development is restoring a building at the southwest corner of South Park Avenue and Chicago Street. The first floor will be occupied by a dog day care. The Seneca Nation broke ground on a Seneca One Stop gas station and convenience store north of the casino.

Big Deals
There were a number of big sales in 2020. Gold Wynn added a downtown office building to its portfolio in January. The company purchased the former City Court Building at 42 Delaware Avenue from ABP Properties LLC for $2.9 million. Also in January, Ellicott Development purchased the building housing Union Pub at 38 Swan Street for $470,000. The property is situated across the street from Coca-Cola Field and is adjacent to other Ellicott Development properties creating a possible development site.

In May, Legacy Development and Canadian based investment company Withrow South Capital Corp., took title to six properties owned by Bruce Adler. The properties located between Ellicott and Oak Streets, north of Genesee Street, have sat idle for many years. Drew Blum purchased the ornate Tent City Building at 674 Main Street in July where he is planning a residential conversion project. Trautman Associated purchased 130 Pearl Street for $660,000 in August. Trautman plans to restore the three-story building with residential and commercial uses.

Douglas Jemal was involved with two big deals last year, both involving hotels. Jemal purchased the mortgage for the shuttered Hyatt in December. In May, he purchased the Statler from the estate of Mark Croce. Jemals Statler LLC paid $7.75 million for the Niagara Square landmark. Jemal and Croce became friends soon after Jemal entered the Buffalo development scene, frequently dining at Croce’s Chop House restaurant. Lower floor façade work on the building has already begun.

Looking Ahead
Developers should be busy this year, particularly with residential projects. Sinata & Company anticipates a start to its Heritage Point project at Canalside by spring. ECHDC expects to seek a developer for the Aud Block parcels. Eyes will be on Seneca One to see what retailers or restaurants take space in the complex. With Jemal purchasing the Hyatt, we should find out if reuse plans for the Statler, which was supposed to have a heavy hotel component, change.

Development proposals for the 1.1-acre Mohawk Ramp site are due April 30 and at least two downtown developers are working on submittals according to insiders. We will also be watching to see if Krog restarts work on the Trico complex, if work progresses on the AM&As complex, and whether Main Liberty Group secures an anchor tenant and starts work on revamping the Main Place Mall.

Although a study commissioned by Erie County recommended a new convention center be located along Delaware Avenue, don’t expect that project to progress this year. COVID’s impact on the convention business and the State budget has likely put plans for a new convention center on hold for a long time. Talk of a downtown stadium has gone quiet as well.

Small businesses, restaurants and bars have been hit hard by COVID restrictions. The long-term impact on these businesses remains to be seen, but the short-term impact on their bottom lines and the livelihoods of their employees has been devastating.

A Big Loss in 2020
No recap of last year would be complete without mentioning the passing of Mark Croce. Croce and Michael Capriotto perished in a January helicopter crash. Croce was a Chippewa Street pioneer, a downtown and city booster, and saved the Statler from an uncertain future. His long-time goal of converting 204 Franklin Street into a hotel was realized with the 2017 opening of The Curtiss. Next door, he partnered with McGuire Development on the conversion of the C.W. Miller Livery Stable as a second Emerson School of Hospitality.

Croce was key to bringing Dinosaur Bar-B-Que to Franklin Street where he owned several buildings and parking lots. He advocated for expanding the convention center in place with a connection to the Statler. He left us far too soon. One can only imagine what he would have dreamt up and completed in another 20, 30, or more years. His passion for Buffalo will be missed.

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Written by WCPerspective


Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

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