Thursday, April 14, 2016

Niagara St. projects bring life back to old buildings

By Maris Lambie
Bengal News West Reporter
            For decades the gritty, urban environment of Niagara Street  has been the home of multiple old, run down, abandoned buildings with little to look at. The small businesses that are there are spread out, and the busy traffic makes pedestrian travel a bit difficult. 
            However things in the area are beginning to change as the revitalization of the street continues.
            Along with reconstruction of the street, investors hope to revitalize the area by renovating abandoned buildings into mixed-use projects featuring commercial space and high-end apartments.
            There are several buildings being renovated as mix use projects in the neighborhood including 1469 Niagara St., 1502 Niagara St and 960 Busti Ave. These three buildings are all slated for completion this year.
Construction worker Dennis McCarthy at 960 Busti Ave.

            Niagara Street has been considered a gateway to the Buffalo area for quite some time, connecting traffic coming from the Interstate 90 to downtown and acting as a gateway between the U.S. and Canadian borders.
             Major efforts to renovate the area began in 2014 when the $16.3 million Niagara Street Gateway Construction Project first began with the help of local government, the NFTA, neighborhood groups and local businesses and residents.
            “The city is embarking on a whole new reconstruction of Niagara Street. We’re going to see traffic-calming, it’s going to be more pedestrian friendly. There’s going to be green infrastructure as part of the design to help control run offs so that waste water doesn’t end up in the river,” Barbara Rowe, president of Vision Niagara said.

            Vision Niagara is an organization of stakeholders, consisting of Niagara Street residents, businesses, investors and organizations working to improve the quality of the area by creating a mixed use environment.
             “People are looking for opportunity,” said Ellicott Development CEO Bill Paladino.  There were plenty of opportunities here with the old buildings, and these opportunities are scarce in the city.”
            Paladino said historic tax credits can be a driving force toward renovating the city’s old buildings.
             The building at 960 Busti Ave. had been vacant for nearly 20 years until Ellicott Development purchased the building in 2008. Construction on the building had begun in fall 2015 and is slated for completion in June 2016. Preleasing for the apartments has started.
            While one of the original ideas considered was to renovate the building into just apartments, adding commercial space made the cost of the project a bit cheaper.
            “Mixed-use projects were a better alternative,” Paladino said.
            The first two floors of the renovated building will feature commercial space while the other floors will consist of 18 higher end apartments, priced higher than the typical market rate due to the apartment’s high quality features. Ellicott Development is hoping to fill the commercial space with restaurants.
            “These apartments are being completed at a high level of quality,” Tom Fox, development director of Ellicott Development said.”These apartments have imported quartz tile counter tops, designer plumbing fixtures, spacious storage areas, basement parking, and 24-hour security surveillance. It’s a very unique space.”
            The finished apartments will also have views of the Peace Bridge, the Niagara River and Canada, as well as a patio rooftop.
            “It’s comparable to what is being done in other areas, although our prices are a little lower than some of them,” Paladino said. “It can be affordable and we hope that entices people to come.”
            Those investing in apartments and other renovations on Niagara Street believe that the new mix use spaces will bring a positive change to the neighborhood by encouraging more businesses to open up.
            “It will definitely help drive more services.  When people live here they will be looking for places to get a bite to eat, to pick up a cup of coffee, to buy groceries. We’ll see more of that in the area. It will make it a more fun and attractive place to live,” Rowe said, “I don’t know if it will ever be like the Elmwood village, which is kind of cute, this will always be urban, but I think we’ll see a lot more foot traffic out here and less of the speedway that we have now.”