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Uniland Development Co. tried to focus attention Thursday evening on the hotel, retail and commercial highlights of its proposed new $80 million mixed-use project on Delaware Avenue, but it was the attached five-level parking ramp that took center stage among neighbors at a community meeting.

In comments following Uniland’s presentation, community members overwhelmingly cited safety concerns about the 520-space parking garage, which would occupy the rear half of the Delaware Court property on Elmwood Avenue and Chippewa Street.

Residents of nearby buildings and the neighborhood warned of the potential for crime and vagrancy around the garage, citing its openness and the lack of any business activity that would draw people. They suggested taking steps to make the parking facility more attractive, safer and pedestrian-friendly, including by pulling the edge of the garage back and extending retail space in front of it on Chippewa.

Some also criticized what they said would be a likely diminishment of the quality of life stemming from heavier car and truck traffic on Chippewa Street and Elmwood Avenue, which also could put pedestrians and bicyclists at risk. And they cited significantly more noise and congestion from the massive building’s new loading dock on Chippewa.

Instead, they suggested alternatives such as putting several parking levels underground or seeking to reduce the scope of the garage by encouraging more use of public transit.

“I don’t see how you’ll get a parking ramp to be more attractive,” said Giles Kavanagh, who owns several properties in the area. “You have a chance here to set a real precedent.”

By contrast, most of the rest of the 12-story project received hardly any focus from the crowd of more than 70 people in a second-floor meeting room at Uniland’s Avant Building, just down the street from the development site at 250 Delaware.

Michael Montante, the Uniland vice president who led the 90-minute meeting, responded that the company would try to listen to all of the concerns and see if it could incorporate those suggestions into its plans for the parking ramp, which are not yet complete. “We want to take your concerns into consideration,” he said. “We will do a good job.”

He noted that there will be on-site security monitoring the ramp, but Uniland also can look at lighting. “Your concern is our concern,” he told one woman.

But the concept of putting more parking underground – there will already be one level of underground parking – would likely prove far more costly, Montante said. It’s also difficult to go too far underground because of the water table, he added, noting that the Avant has a 12-inch basement floor just to keep the water at bay.

Uniland is proposing a 515,000-square-foot, glass-curtain development to replace the two-story Delaware Court Building at the corner of Delaware and Chippewa.

Plans call for a 120-room branded hotel on the second through fifth floors, office space on the sixth through 12th floors, and a mixture of retailers, office and hotel lobbies, and an open garden area on the first floor.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com