Those booms you heard on Wednesday were two home runs hit in the City of Buffalo. With the city's selection of the Buffalo Sabres' plan for the Webster Block and Kaleida Health's selection of the plan for a veterinary school to fill the vacant space at Gates Circle, Buffalo took two more big steps in remaking its economy.
Especially intriguing was Kaleida's selection of the veterinary school plan presented by Chason Affinity to reuse the former Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital. Not only does the plan put a massive building in a critical location to creative reuse, but it functions as a template for other such projects, including the eventual need to repurpose the Women and Children's Hospital campus when the hospital migrates to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
The Gates Circle proposal didn't simply appear out of the ether. It came to be because of the community-spirited approach that Kaleida took after it decided to close the hospital at Gates Circle.
The corporation contacted developers before closing the hospital, but failed to attract proposals to reuse the building. It then, creatively and generously, sweetened the pot, offering a $1 million prize to the winning submission.
Thirteen firms registered as potential competitors, and four submitted proposals by the deadline. That was winnowed to two: a mixed-use proposal by Uniland Development Co., one of the largest commercial real estate developers in the region, and the veterinary school proposal by Chason Affinity, a local real estate management and development company.
Either project could have been a good fit for the city and the neighborhood, but a veterinary school will be unique to this region and is a gift that will keep on giving. As Kaleida President and CEO James R. Kaskie put it, "Chason Affinity's proposal is visionary, is a good reuse of the hospital and can bring tremendous economic impact to our community."
Yes. Boom. Out of the park.
The country has only 28 veterinary schools, and just one has been built in the last quarter-century, according to Mark Cushing, a national consultant in animal health and veterinary education. He is advising Chason Affinity.
What is more, only three veterinary schools serve nine northeast states, with a population of 53 million. Nationwide, there are openings for just one out of nine veterinary school applicants. If this project is done right, there will be a line of candidates wanting to come to Buffalo every September.
Meanwhile, downtown, city officials announced that it had chosen the Buffalo Sabres' proposal for developing the Webster Block over one presented by developer Carl Paladino. As with the competing proposals for Gates Circle, either of the plans presented for the block just north of First Niagara Center, home of the Sabres, would have counted as a net addition to downtown's development. But the Sabres plan shone brighter.
As with Paladino's less-costly proposal, the Sabres plan will feature a hotel, restaurant and parking space. But while Paladino's plan would offer high-end apartments and office space, the Sabres' plan features two ice skating rinks that will be open to the public. The plan creates a year-round destination hardly a slap shot away from the city's developing waterfront.
If Buffalo is to change its economic direction, an attractive and desirable waterfront district has to play a significant role. It can't do that with routine developments.
While the Paladino proposal would have been acceptable - its apartments would have put more residents near the waterfront - in the end, it was routine. It did too little to bolster the waterfront as a destination for people who might not otherwise come. Besides, who can resist the thought that visitors could enjoy the summer weather on the waterfront before heading off for a skate? It's a captivating idea and, all in all, the kind of project that can attract other development.
Boom. Out of the park. Or the arena.
Questions remain about critical issues such as funding, site preparation and, not insignificantly, identifying a veterinary school to move into the former hospital.
But Kaleida and the city made excellent choices that stand to make Buffalo an even better place than its residents already know it to be. Who knows? Maybe the secret is about to get out.