Originally published by the Buffalo News on March 1, 2017
By: Jonathan D. Epstein
Gates Circle, meet Lancaster Square.
The developer that owns most of the former Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital land is proposing its first new construction project at the site — more than 38 months after taking ownership of the sprawling property.
TM Montante Development wants to construct a six-story mixed-use building on the northeast corner of Delaware and Lancaster avenues, with a blend of residential and retail space.
It’s the initial step in the creation of a larger neighborhood development that the firm is calling Lancaster Square, after the street that runs through it, said Christian Campos, Montante president.
The structure would include at least three first-floor retail spaces and about 60 market-rate apartments on the upper floors. Sizes and rents have not been set, but about 70 percent of the units would be one-bedroom apartments, while the rest would have two bedrooms, Campos said.
He said Montante is looking for a restaurant, cafe and other “neighborhood-scale” retail users for the first-floor space, but doesn’t have any leases firmed up.
“We’ve actually been talking to a number of retailers and restaurateurs,” Campos said. “There’s a ton of interest in the overall project, but specifically the building.”
The long-anticipated project would be Montante’s first in that area. It would mark the third overall on the site.
Canterbury Woods, the suburban senior community run by Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates, is constructing a new six-story urban facility at 3 Gates Circle, with 53 independent-living and five assisted-living units. The non-profit, which has a long waiting list for the apartments, already acquired its land from Montante.
Separately, People Inc. received approval late last year to build a 37-unit senior-housing complex on a 1.1-acre vacant former hospital parking lot at 637 Linwood Avenue. It has the land under contract to acquire from Montante, but has not yet closed on it.
That leaves 5.3 acres under Montante’s control at the main hospital site, plus a separate two-acre parking lot that stretches from Lafayette to West Delavan avenues.
“We are thrilled to announce our new building project at Lancaster Square,” Campos said, in a separate press release. “This new building project will allow us to further transform this historic site by bringing new residents and exciting retail offerings.”
Montante emerged almost four years ago as the winning bidder for the right to redevelop the Gates Circle hospital, which had already been closed and consolidated into the Gates Vascular Institute next to Buffalo General Medical Center.
The developer proposed to create what it calls “a vibrant, mixed-use urban place” on the site, with a combination of modern residential, neighborhood retail and commercial office space.
Plans called for up to 500 condominiums, market-rate apartments and townhomes, as well as a grocery store, fitness club and other ground-floor retail storefronts. The initial proposal also included the Canterbury Woods component.
Montante took down most of the old buildings mechanically after cleaning out asbestos and other hazardous materials, and then imploded the 10-story main hospital building in dramatic fashion. That was followed by a full-scale cleanup and clearing of the site, in preparation for the redevelopment.
“The site prep work that we needed to complete to get to this point was challenging, complex and costly,” Campos said. “However, in a short amount of time we’ve gotten it done; we completed environmental cleanup, successfully imploded the main hospital tower and installed new roads and infrastructure to open up the site and connect neighborhoods.”
The proposed building would be located on Lancaster Square, a new public space that Montante is creating at the heart of the 6.7-acre hospital site that it acquired from Kaleida Health in December 2013.
It’s also just north of the new Lancaster Avenue extension, a road built by Montante that stretches the existing street from Delaware to Linwood avenues. The new street isn’t yet open to the public. But, the first phase of the roadwork is complete.
Crews finished installing the subsurface utilities at the end of last year, along with the curbs and a binder layer of asphalt, Campos said. But workers still need to put down the top coat of blacktop, plus the sidewalks and landscaping, later this year, he added. An additional connector road will run from Lancaster to Lafayette Avenue.
The total cost of the 60,000-square-foot building has not been finalized, but Campos said it would likely be financed using standard bank construction and permanent loans. The redevelopment would also likely qualify for state brownfield tax credits.
The developer is now working over the next month to introduce the concept to the community and various neighborhood or block clubs. Officials met this week already with the Community Advisory Committee that has been guiding the redevelopment process for the past three years, and will start rolling it out to others in coming weeks.
Officials have not yet submitted formal plans to the city for review, but expect to seek site plan approval in the spring. No zoning variances are required. They hope to start construction at the beginning of summer, with about 12 months of work before completion.
The developer selected Philadelphia-based BLTa as the project architect. BLTa will also work with local firms, including C&S Engineers, M/E Engineering and Siracuse Engineers. Montante Construction will oversee the actual job.
“We’re thrilled to be bringing this project to the site now,” Campos said. “Obviously, in the last 38 months, we’ve worked through a lot of challenging situations. We’re thrilled to be at this point where we’re truly going to be transforming the hospital site.”