Originally Published in Buffalo Rising
January 13. 2020
The downtown area made great strides last decade where development and redevelopment work stretched from the Buffalo River corridor to the northern reaches of the Medical Campus. Public sector investment and developers both large and small have helped change the face of downtown. Below are ten projects that have had a big impact on the direction of downtown, not necessarily the largest or most expensive.
Genesee Gateway (2011)
If there was a posterchild for neglected properties, it was the Genesee Block at the corner of Oak and Genesee streets, one of the first sights travelers see entering downtown from the Kensington Expressway. The buildings were billboard-scared and windowless for over two decades before being purchased by Doug Swift.
Swift partnered with the Wendt Foundation to rehab the block, piecing together five century-old buildings into a viable commercial project encompassing 60,400 square feet of office space, retail space and three apartments. The block’s structures were built in the 1870s and 1880s, and much of the design of the renovation was inspired by the original and historical character of these timeless buildings. The City provided a further boost by completing a streetscape project along Genesee Street.
Robert H. Jackson Federal Courthouse (2011)
While the backside of the new $137 million federal courthouse is disappointing, there’s little doubt the building is stunning facing Niagara Square. The ten-story, 261,000 square foot building’s curved glass façade is bookended by two landmarks: Statler City and City Hall. The courthouse occupies a full block and is home to the U.S. District Court, Court of Appeals, U.S. Probation, U.S. Marshals, U.S. Attorney, and General Services Administration.
The Lafayette (2012)
One project that symbolizes downtown’s rebirth is the restoration of the Lafayette Hotel. The landmark hotel opened in 1902, had fallen on hard times, and its owners did not seem capable or interested in maintaining the property. That changed when Rocco Termini bought it and undertook a $35 million project to restore the 400-room, Louise Bethune-designed hotel. The building now contains 92 one and two bedroom apartments, 57 hotel rooms, Public Espresso + Coffee, Lafayette Brewing Company and Pan American Dining Room, and 13,500 sq.ft. of banquet and event space.
While there was a ‘Canalside’ prior to 2014, the Canalside as we know it today launched in 2014 with the completion of the $23 million project that built 37,000 square feet of replica canals and the installation of three bridges across them. Canalside is year-round attraction that hosts nearly 1.5 million visitors annually including events, concerts, festivals, family activities, attractions, historical and cultural programming, art, food, and tours.
Explore & More: The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum opened last year. The 43,000 sq.ft. building houses seven educational play zones, making Explore & More a waterfront destination for families. The museum includes a café overlooking the canal towpath, gift shop, private party rooms, and a rooftop terrace. It is expected that the attraction will bring 250,000 visitors to the waterfront annually.
More is coming. Work is underway on the Buffalo Heritage Carousel and the Longshed building projects. Private-sector development has been slow but Sinatra & Company Real Estate’s Heritage Point project is scheduled to start soon and an RFP will be released this year for development on the North Aud Block sites.
HarborCenter features a Marriott Hotel, two full-size NHL ice rinks, a Tim Hortons, (716) Food and Sport, Healthy Scratch, and a five-level, 750-space parking structure. The $172 million project was constructed by Pegula Sports & Entertainment. After a signing a multi-year naming rights partnership with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, the facility is now named LECOM Harborcenter.
The 750,000 sq.ft. complex across from Canalside filled a 1.7 acre surface parking lot known as the Webster Block. The Marriott opened in 2015 and includes 194 rooms, 11 suites, and five meeting rooms with nearly 6,000 sq.ft. of space. LECOM Harborcenter is the official practice facility of the Buffalo Sabres; and home to the NHL Scouting Combine, Academy of Hockey, Buffalo Jr. Sabres youth hockey organization, Canisius College men’s hockey, and numerous tournaments at all levels that attract teams from across North America throughout the year. Each year since 2014, LECOM Harborcenter has attracted approximately 500,000 visitors to downtown.
Medical Campus Blooms: Gates Vascular (2011) / Conventus (2015) / Clinical Research Center (2016) / Children’s Hospital (2017)
It was a decade of growth at the Medical Campus. Besides the Medical School, four substantial additions opened on the Medical Campus, helping to transform Buffalo into a world-class health care destination while expanding the University at Buffalo’s footprint in downtown.
The Gates Vascular Institute opened in 2011. The $291 million, 10-story facility is located north of the Buffalo General Medical Center. It features four floors that are dedicated to the surgical and interventional management of cardiac, vascular and neurological conditions, as well as a 16-bed highly specialized intensive care unit, and a 62-bed short-stay suite. The combined buildings of the Gates Vascular Institute and Buffalo General house an emergency department, a helipad, 610 beds, and 28 operating rooms. The building also houses the University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Translational Research Center and the Jacobs Institute.
With 350,000 sq.ft. of clinical, educational and research space and 50,000 sq.ft. floor plates, Conventus is one of the largest buildings constructed in the city in recent years. It was developed by Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation and opened in 2015. Kaleida Health occupies floors two and three of Conventus and the “front door” for Children’s Hospital’s ambulatory surgery center is located there. A two-level, 318 space parking ramp is located underneath the building. Positioned as the northern gateway to the Medical Campus, the building is connected via an enclosed walkway to the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and in the future, the Medical School to the south.
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center completed a significant addition in 2016 with the opening of the Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center. The 11-story, 142,000-square-foot facility along Michigan Avenue is adjacent to, and accessible from, the Roswell Park main hospital. It is dedicated to targeted clinical programs and support services. The attractive terra cotta-clad, $50.5 million building is the first clinical expansion on the Roswell Park campus in nearly two decades.
Kaleida Health’s John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital opened in November 2017. The $270 million, 400,000 sq.ft. hospital has right-sized and consolidated services in a 12-floor, 185-bed, modern facility. It is the only free-standing children’s hospital in New York State, and just one of 43 in the country. The hospital is an integral part of the Medical Campus, linking with Buffalo General, the Gates Vascular Institute, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and the University at Buffalo Medical School.
One other significant project was completed on the Medical Campus last decade. The Ellicott-Goodrich parking ramp was constructed north of John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital at a cost of $45 million. The facility includes 1,814 spaces spread across eight levels and a skybridge connects the fourth level of the ramp to the second floor of Children’s Hospital.
The RiverWorks complex brought new life to a sleepy stretch of the Buffalo River and creatively answered the question of what to do with former grain elevators. RiverWorks combines food and recreation to create a year-round destination that has changed the direction of development along the river.
The complex includes decks and a boardwalk along the river, a brewery, restaurant, four bars, beer garden, zip line, an indoor art, entertainment and concert venue, and two outdoor ice rinks covered by a metal pavilion. These ice rinks play host for hockey leagues and events, curling, figure skating, and other events in the winter. In the summer, the concrete slabs of the rinks are used for a variety of sporting and events including: roller hockey, roller derby, tennis, volleyball, as well as concerts and festivals. RiverWorks’ signature element is the Labatts six-pack that wraps around the GLF elevators.
The Delaware North Building (2015)
Uniland Development Company opened the 12-story Delaware North Building in 2015. The $117 million, 353,296-square-foot mixed-use building at Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street is anchored by Delaware North Companies and a Westin Hotel.
Delaware North occupies 110,000 square feet of space on the top four-and-a-half floors housing approximately 500 employees. The company operates the 119-room Westin Buffalo and Delaware North’s Patina Restaurant Group operates both Patina 250 – the building’s full-service restaurant – and Jake’s Café, which is open for breakfast and lunch. The complex also includes additional office space, retail space, and 593 parking spaces. The façade of the Delaware Court building that stood on the eastern edge of the two-acre site was reconstructed as part of the new building.
Medical School (2017)
The $375 million Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences opened in late-2017 and hosted its first classes in January 2018. The eight floor, 628,000 sq.ft. facility was the largest construction project in UB’s history. The new building allows the Jacobs School to expand its class size by 25 percent, from 144 to 180 students. By 2021, the school’s enrollment will reach 720 students.
The structure is at the terminus of Allen Street and incorporates the light rail station. The interior contains a seven-story atrium naturally illuminated by skylights and two glass walls, one along Washington Street and one at Allen Street. The stunning exterior is primarily terra cotta paneling.
“Terra cotta was selected for a variety of reasons,” said David Schwartz, principal and senior project manager at HOK, the firm that designed the medical school. “It reflects and acknowledges the history of Buffalo’s architecture with colors emulating those on the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House.”
500 Block of Main Street (2010-2019)
The east side of Main Street’s 500 block exemplifies how far downtown has come in ten years. The block had been an embarrassment of emptiness since the mid-1980’s when downtown retail evaporated and the restaurants that filled much of the block followed. Don Warfe kicked-off the redevelopment of the block after buying 501 Main Street and renovating it for retail space and two residential units in 2010.
Shortly thereafter, Paul and Sandra Wilkins purchased the former Arby’s/Grever Florist building at 537 Main Street. The couple renovated the ground floor for restaurant Raclettes and their personal residence on the two upper floors.
Kevin Helfer and Paul Lamparelli redeveloped 535 Main Street with D’Avolio’s Kitchen on the first floor and three upper floor apartments. At 9 Genesee Street, architect Steve Carmina and his wife Brenda purchased a 4,000 sq.ft., circa-1884 commercial building in 2013 and moved into its upper floors a year later. Overwinter Coffee occupies the first floor. Carmina worked with developer Roger Trettel and accountant Steven A. Carmina to renovate 5-7 Genesee Street. The two buildings were connected internally and now house three apartments and Fattey Beer Company.
Roger Trettel also purchased and renovated three Main Street properties at 515 to 523 Main Street along with a building behind them at 500 Washington Street. The buildings include office space, retail, gallery, office and live/work spaces, including Misuta Chow’s at 521 Main Street. Trettel is selling the properties that total over 30,000 sq.ft. in order to focus on new projects downtown.
Adding to the new look of the block was streetscape work undertaken as part of the Cars Sharing Main Street project. There are a few holes left to fill including the former Century Theater parcels, the former Burger King, and a four-story building owned by James Sandoro, but the block, like downtown, has come a long way.