Via The Buffalo News
By Mark Sommer
Ohio Street, once pitted and cracked, now has fresh asphalt – along with a bike trail and new streetlights being hooked up – after an $11 million project to turn it into an Outer Harbor gateway.
Now attention turns to transforming the blighted area surrounding the old industrial street into a vibrant neighborhood.
That is what a couple of established developers look to do, with projects to build luxury apartments, an office building and boat docks along the Buffalo River.
For years, dump trucks, cement mixers and tractor-trailers made up most of the traffic passing through the once-industrial area, so it could be tough to ride a bicycle on the road. But the planned rowing club, park and housing developments figure to draw more people. And a 12-foot-wide bike trail along the road will be attractive to cyclists.
The idea, of course, is that the improvements will resuscitate the area.
Carl Paladino said he expects to begin building three or four apartment buildings, each three or four stories high, next year.
The developer said boat docks and window views would make his apartments, on six acres of land, something special.
“We want to get the buildings in the air as much as possible to gain the nice visuals down there, and we are creating boat docks for tenants who want to have their boats parked outside their apartments,” Paladino said. “This will be a significant improvement for the river and the neighborhood.”
Paladino also plans a two- or three-story office building on five acres of land across the street, with construction beginning when he finds a tenant.
Sam Savarino plans 78 luxury apartments in a five-story building at Ohio and South streets, also with boat docks.
Next month he intends to tear down the former Erie Freight House, near the Ohio Street Bridge, ahead of the spring groundbreaking, with the project’s completion targeted for spring 2016.
“It’s exciting to be down there. All the other developments will only make it better on Ohio Street,” Savarino said.
A link between harbors
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Tom Dee, president of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., cite Ohio Street’s improvement as an example of how investment in infrastructure can lead to further waterfront development.
The Ohio Street project is intended to create an attractive link between the Inner and Outer Harbors.
The project, which is due to be completed by June 2015, is transforming the 1.4-mile road between Michigan Avenue and Fuhrmann Boulevard into a two-lane parkway with bike and pedestrian paths, along with attractive landscaping and decorative lighting and signage.
Federal funds are paying for 80 percent of the $11 million gateway project, with the City of Buffalo and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. also contributing.
Infrastructure improvements from Michigan Avenue to Canalside are also planned.
The street’s first sign of revival came in 2011, with the opening of Buffalo RiverFest Park.
Since then, a cluster of grain elevators known as Silo City on Childs Street, off Ohio, has become an arts destination.
In addition, Buffalo RiverWorks can be found on the other side of the river, where hockey and curling on two rinks began taking place last week. The 6,000-capacity entertainment and events center, which also will include roller derby, will be formally unveiled in February, followed by the opening of a brewery and malting facility later in the year on the Ganson Street site.
The attraction of city living
Paladino held onto the land on which he is now planning to build housing for three decades.
Why develop the land now?
Paladino said the return of young people and empty-nesters to cities like Buffalo triggered the planned development.
“The market has improved for residential development. It’s fairly good right now for apartments,” Paladino said. “Young people – and it’s just a trend thing – they’ve had it with … mowing lawns and all that. They want the urban life they see on TV, and to live approximate to things.”
Paladino said he hopes the mostly vacant Commodore Perry housing complex nearby will eventually be torn down.
“We’re just praying that they don’t rehab those apartments and put people back in them. Hopefully, they will get rid of the whole thing and tear it down. That Perry Street has caused a lack of interest in any development there.”
Paladino’s plan to erect an office building follows this year’s $1 million remediation of the contaminated land where a gas station stood.
“We’re planning a nice two- or three-story building – how big depends on the tenants. We first have to solidify the tenancy, and then it’s likely we’ll start as soon as possible,” Paladino said.
The Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association’s new Patrick Paladino Memorial Boathouse – named for Carl Paladino’s late son – is being built on land the developer leases to the group. The boathouse property is just south of Paladino’s planned residential development, across from Father Conway Park.
Criticism for the bike lane
While pleased that improvements were made to Ohio Street, Paladino criticized the decision to make it two lanes.
“They made a big mistake by making it into a two-way highway when it should have been a four-lane. It’s a terrible mistake. You can’t park a car. And if you’re on it and stuck in traffic, you can’t even turn around. And they’re talking about it being one of the feeders to the Outer Harbor,” Paladino said.
But he reserved most of his ire for the bicycle lane.
“How many people are riding bikes in this community? For four or five months a year you can’t ride a bike in the snow. If you want to ride a bike, do it on the sidewalk. That’s why they have sidewalks,” he said.
Savarino’s project, named Buffalo River Landing, calls for covered parking on the property’s ground level, with housing units on the next four levels, including two office spaces on the second floor.
Salvaging pieces of past
Savarino plans to salvage timber from the Erie Freight House, if possible, to be used for decorative purposes, with iron beams refastened as exterior benches. Corten steel would be used with masonry and translucent panels for the stairways to mimic some of the industrial architecture around the river’s edge, he said. The original foundation would be kept as a promenade.
A patio and green space are planned between the building and the water.
Savarino said units would cost up to $2,700 a month for a large two-bedroom corner unit with a rooftop porch, with the lowest-priced apartments renting for around $800. He remains open to allowing the units to become condominiums in the future. The leases would give tenants the option of keeping the unit should that happen.
He said he’s anxious to get started.
“People say to us that it’s exciting that there are developments in Buffalo that are taking advantage of our location by the water,” Savarino said. “You don’t see enough of that.”