It’s hard to believe that Buffalo has come so far in recent years, only to see projects like this stepping up to the plate. Yes, Canisius College has unbelievably come up with a plan to demolish a dated parking ramp (good idea), and replace it with a surface parking lot (bad idea).
In a press release, Canisius actually stated:
The well-lit and attractively landscaped surface lot will create approximately 420 spots. It will open up vistas across Jefferson Avenue into the historic Forest Lawn Cemetery, as well as provide opportunities for traffic calming and pedestrian-friendly design.
I’m not even sure where to start with this one. I never thought I would ever hear the words “surface lots” and “vistas” used in the same sentence.
For one second, think of all of the opportunities that are being lost. This locale is on Main Street. It’s along the Metro Rail spine and next to a station. It’s in close proximity to the Medical Campus. It’s bounded by a historic cemetery that has been making incredible advancements in restoring its ecological footprint. And this is a college campus, not a bus station or airport.
The “project” is being funded by the college’s recent sales of Griffin Hall and Main Humboldt apartment complexes to TDB Properties LLC. The funds will be used to raze the 60-year old parking ramp that was originally built to accommodate shoppers for a Sears Roebuck and Co. store. The ramp has 1,350 parking spots, but due to deteriorating conditions, Canisius was only able to utilize 550 of those spaces.
In turn, TDB Properties will redevelop the buildings into 43 market rate apartments, which is great news. At the same time, Canisius also detailed its plans to replace the nearly 60-year-old parking ramp with a surface lot. The multi-million dollar project was presented to the Buffalo Planning Board on July 26 and is pending final approval. The proceeds from the sale of the buildings will in part fund the demolition of the ramp and construction of the surface lot. The new “well-lit and attractively landscaped surface lot” will retain 420 parking spaces.
From the sound of it, the college plans to begin the project this fall and complete it by summer 2022, with LaBella Associates managing the ramp demolition and development of the new lot.
I’ve spoken to a number of people who are concerned about this surface lot for a number of reasons, including Green Code ramifications. But more than possible Green Code concerns, there are developers out there who are chomping at the bit to get their hands on these types of properties, for mixed-use development projects (including parking).
In the press release, John J. Hurley, president of Canisius College referred to this surface lot project as being an investment in the Hamlin Park community, “contributing to the stability and vitality of the neighborhood.”
Hurley also stated that the lot would “serve as a catalyst for other investments and renovations.”
Why the heck can’t this project serve as an investment, instead of being a catalyst for investments? Has the college talked to any potential developer partners? Has it considered the greatest value of this parcel of land? Or is this the quickest and cheapest means to raze a parking structure, retain some parking, and call it a day?
Canisius College is a beautiful campus, when viewed from the central green called “The Quad.” But outwardly, it could use some help. From the big blue wall barrier at Main and Delavan to the dated (never in style, actually) Churchill Academic Tower that obscures the beautiful Old Main building, there is a real opportunity to do something great in this instance, instead of going backwards in time (back to the days when asphalt lots were preferable to sensible and crucial infill). This is not how great cities are built – it’s how they are squandered.
Sinatra and Co. recently invested in Main Street, not far away, with its Mid-City building. Down the street, at Delavan and Delaware, Ellicott Development has got some great infill going with this project (in the works). Then there’s the potential for the Scajaquada Corridor, that will have an impact on this “mid-town” neighborhood. There’s a lot to look forward to, including this project by Severyn Development, not to mention architect Karl Frizlen and attorney Jason Yots’ recent investment into the neighborhood. And we can’t forget about the Record Theatre rehab, and the restoration of these two beauties. The momentum is building. Just think of what this could do for Jefferson Avenue as well.
This shortsighted plan of inaction is akin to the debacle of St. Mary’s on the Hill (on the West Side) that sacrificed prime infill along Niagara Street for a D’Youville College parking lot (we saw that one coming from a mile away).
Hopefully this surface lot proposal is a swing and a miss. Or a rainout, where the batter doesn’t even step up to the plate. Anything other than laying a giant surface parking lot (next to a transit station) that serves a very myopic purpose.