Major developers will be vying for the right to knock down much of the Women & Children’s Hospital facility in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village, likely to make way for a shorter and less dense combination of housing, according to local real estate experts.
The fate of the Bryant Street hospital took on added interest after Monday’s unveiling of development plans for the vacant Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle. With that site’s reuse outlined, focus turns to the Women & Children’s property, which will be vacated with the opening of the $240 million John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, expected in 2016.
Kaleida Health, which owns both hospitals, expects to issue a request for proposals by March for the Women & Children’s site.
Kaleida followed a similar process with the Gates Circle property – twice – that culminated in the announcement that TM Montante Development, Frontier Industrial Corp. and Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates would use the 10-acre site for a mixture of senior citizen care, apartments, condominiums, townhomes and retail space. Now it’s turning its attention to Women & Children’s, where officials started the process a year ago and have held focus groups and meetings with block clubs, businesses and others in the community.
“There has been quite a bit of interest in the campus for the past couple of months, and the more progress that we make in moving the hospital to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the more interest we get from developers,” said Kaleida spokesman Michael P. Hughes. “So we’re pretty confident that we’ll have a good solution. The goal is to start the process sooner, so that we have an end much sooner than we would have before.”
Real estate observers say the most likely uses would be residential, possibly a combination of senior citizen, student or market-rate housing. Retail is also an likely option, given the proximity to Elmwood Avenue, and some portion of the facility could be dedicated to office space.
However, as with Gates, the sheer size, age and design of the facility are all intimidating. “I think there will be some interest. However, the current scope of the building certainly will be a detraction from the overall site’s potential,” said Steven J. Carmina, co-founder and partner at architectural and engineering firm Carmina Wood Morris PC. “I think some of it can be reused, but, look at the hassle it has been for Gates.”
Carmina and others called for the site to be restored to a “lower density” of use that would be more in keeping with the residential neighborhood around it, although single-family housing is unlikely.
“I think the highest and best use is residential condos,” said Howard T. Saperston Jr., chairman of Saperston Real Estate Corp., suggesting a maximum height of two or three stories, with garages and “possibly a gated community with a pool and fitness area for couples who want to downsize yet stay in the city.” He said the location offers more privacy and is less busy than Main Street or Delaware Avenue.
On the other hand, the addition of so many more residential units would come on top of the Gates Circle project and many other smaller-scale apartment conversions or renovations in the city in recent years, not to mention the specter of One Seneca Tower being at least partly converted for residential living. And that raises questions about how much is too much.
“With relatively little population growth, who’s going to take those units, and how does it affect other units and their properties?” asked Joseph S. Janowski Jr., a commercial real estate broker and president of Multifamily Advisory LLC. “That’s the million-dollar question. I don’t know if anybody is able to predict something like that.”
Until now, the Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates, which owns Canterbury Woods, had been one of the main contenders for the site, but it took itself out of the running Monday. Its portion of the redevelopment would have been comparable at either hospital site, even though Gates is much bigger overall.
However, CEO Rob Wallace said a mix of timing and market research prompted the organization to shift its attention, after studies and interviews with city residents found that the Gates site “actually tested better” than Women & Children’s for senior housing. Canterbury Woods tried to submit a proposal for the first go-round for redevelopment at Gates but wasn’t able to get a team assembled in time for the deadline. So it turned its attention to Women & Children’s, only to come back around after the first proposal for Gates fell through.
“Children’s is still a couple of years off, and the timing of this opportunity at Gates Circle, based on the location and historical significance, is something that was very appealing to us,” Wallace said. “Everything really came into alignment. We really feel that the Gates Circle site is perfect for Canterbury Woods to bring our services to the City of Buffalo.”
Canterbury Woods’ partner, TM Montante Development, would still consider a bid, depending on the timeline of the process, but “right now, we want to put all of our attention on Gates Circle,” said President J. Timothy Vaeth.
So who could do it? “It’s probably too big of a project for the littler guys,” Saperston said. “The key is how much it’ll cost to ‘shovel-ready’ the plot.”
Executives at Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. and Ellicott Development Co. say they’re interested. “Just because of its geographic location, I think any developer would be interested in it,” said Ciminelli Executive Vice President Dennis M. Penman. “We certainly are interested in taking a look at it at the time Kaleida decides they’ll go to the market with it.”
He said that the site “lends itself very well” to such purposes as affluent senior citizen housing, an extended-stay hotel and retail and that an investment of $30 million to $50 million would be involved.
“You have an aging population in the neighborhood who would find it appealing to live in a building that had hotel-type services for apartment living,” Penman said. “I think there’s a space for that, at least for part of the building. I think there’s definitely a place for some retail in the building, and maybe even some office use.
“You have to have a residential feeling to the whole thing at the end of the day, something that would fit into the character of the neighborhood.”