Prime waterfront land that sits east of Templeton Landing near the entrance of the Erie Basin Marina has been vacant for decades, while City Hall has entertained various proposals and conducted intense bidding wars for the chance to develop it.
Now, within a week of Mayor Byron W. Brown's announcement that Carl P. Paladino's development company has a plan to construct a 14-story building with a hotel, office space, apartments, restaurants and parking ramp on the land, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency has granted the company exclusive development rights.
Ellicott Development didn't win a bidding war for the parcel, and one of the developers who previously tried to put up a four-story hotel there says he hopes the new plan gets some further scrutiny.
“We saw the potential there, and obviously, that location is prime, it's a prime spot, and it deserves scrutiny,” said James W. Pitts, who was selected by the Urban Renewal Agency to be designated developer in 2008, beating out a proposal from Ciminelli Development.
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, who represents the area, is hoping for a rigorous examination of the project by city lawmakers.
“Every project should get scrutiny,” he said. “I'd like to see the whole plan submitted to us.”
Thursday's 6-0 vote by the agency is just the first step in a long process, the Brown administration said, noting that a formal land-sale agreement between the city and Ellicott Development must be negotiated and approved by the Urban Renewal Agency. In addition, a public hearing and vote must take place in the Common Council before the sale can be executed.
The project, though different in many ways, shouldn't be entirely new to the public, because many of its elements were proposed as part of Paladino's entry in a bidding contest for the Webster Block, north of First Niagara Center, the Brown administration said.
The Buffalo Sabres won that competition, and HarborCenter, a hockey-themed complex, is in development.
“All along, because the Ellicott Development proposal was so strong, we wanted to try to secure that development and that investment in the community as well,” Brown said.
So the city began showing the company other parcels that would work for the concept, and last week Paladino said the Waterfront Village land is more suitable for its plans than the Webster Block.
The city doesn't need to solicit bids to sell property it owns, said Brendan R. Mehaffy, the city's executive director of strategic planning, but does so, as it did for the Webster Block, when it wants to see serious proposals.
The agency's vote Thursday allows Ellicott Development to conduct environmental testing on the site and to meet with the neighbors about the project. Those meetings will take place in the next month, company officials said.
The one-year designated developer agreement begins today and requires the company to pay $1,000 monthly, which can be applied to the purchase price for the land.
The proposed 14-story complex, dubbed The Carlo, is estimated to cost $75 million and would be built on two acres of a surface parking lot at Erie Street and Wilkeson Way, with an estimated opening date of late 2015. A second phase consisting of small-scale, lower-density buildings is planned on greenspace and part of the parking lot that is north of where the complex will be. A timeline for the second phase has not been estimated, said William A. Paladino, CEO of Ellicott Development.
The 574,298-square-foot tower, named in honor of Carl P. Paladino's grandfather, would include 138 hotel rooms, 32 apartment units, 100,000 square feet of office space, a spa and fitness facility, a green roof on the sixth floor for banquets and outdoor parties, two restaurants, a 602-space parking ramp and a 40-space surface parking lot.
The parking will meet requirements for existing uses and those associated with The Carlo, company officials told the Urban Renewal Agency. The company is considering an extended-stay hotel, which would be unique to downtown.
North Council Member Joseph Golombek, who is an Urban Renewal Agency board member, questioned the need for more hotels downtown, but company officials said that they have studied the issue and have determined that the market is not saturated.
“With the investment being made in Canalside, in the [Seneca Buffalo Creek] Casino, the Sabres organization, Benderson's development downtown, we feel the momentum here is good, and we'd like to continue that momentum with our project,” said William A. Paladino.
In 2007, several developers bid to develop a parcel that would be the site for the second phase of Paladino's project, which calls for one- to three-story commercial and retail buildings that could include second-floor residential units.
Pitts' hotel plan won that competition, but opposition from residents and others derailed it, and his one-year designated developer agreement with the Urban Renewal Agency ran out.
“For whatever reason, the opposition was vigorous, but I moved on, and I'm happy to see that other things are happening in the area,” Pitts said.
Pitts hopes the new project brings people and services to the area and maintains public access to the waterfront, something Brown has said is a priority of his.
Ellicott Development is also the Urban Renewal Agency's designated developer for a parking lot at 50 Court St.
Company representatives said litigation has slowed development of that parcel, but they are working on securing a federal tenant.