For more than 140 years, 27 acres east of Main Street has been devoid of homes.
First, it was a rock quarry, as the Buffalo Cement Co. dug up raw materials from 1877 to 1948.
Then the area in the Fillmore-Leroy neighborhood was filled in with clay, sand, gravel, bricks, fractured limestone, slag and industrial fill.
And in 1958, it became Central Park Plaza, hosting stores, as well as auto repair, photo processing and dry cleaning businesses.
But by 2012, with its retail days long gone and after years of neglect, the plaza was demolished. Now, that pavement-filled history is coming to an end with a major neighborhood transformation.
“It is very important,” said Daria Pratcher, board chairman of Fillmore-Leroy Area Residents Inc. “It represented a big hole in the community in the condition that it was. It was a very big blight on the community.”
The site’s new owners started construction in October on a plan to build as many as 663 new apartments, townhouses and homes, as well as playgrounds and parkland, over the next five to seven years. It also will include about 10,000 square feet for neighborhood retail services, such as a grocery store, restaurant, drugstore and coffee shop that are currently designated for a parcel on Chalmers that the developers are seeking to buy from the city.
The goal of the $90 million project is to re-create a vibrant mixed-income community named Highland Park that would include 80 percent market-rate housing, with the rest as affordable or subsidized units.
“It is a catalyst in changing what will come into the neighborhood,” Pratcher said. “We were losing houses to demolition. This is putting houses back and enticing retailers to come in.”
It’s also one of the largest residential projects underway in the city, aimed at providing “workforce housing” in an area that has seen houses torn down.
“There is nothing like that scope anywhere in the city,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. “It’s also a huge project occurring on the East Side of Buffalo, and it will have a transformative impact on the immediate neighborhood and beyond.”
It’s already taken several years just to get to this point. In 2012, Louis P. Ciminelli, owner of construction contractor LPCiminelli, teamed with other partners to buy the property for $800,000. The team demolished the plaza, cleaned up contaminated soil and built new streets.
Ciminelli has since stepped down from a leadership role in LPCiminelli after facing federal corruption charges connected to the state’s Buffalo Billion economic development program. He has denied wrongdoing and remains an owner of both his company and the Highland Park project.
Earlier this year, the project moved into the next stage, with the announcement, approval and ground-breaking on the project’s $24 million first phase.
The company is working with Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., HHL Architects, Wendel Companies, and Boston-based planning firm Goody Clancy.
“Everything is still on track,” Brown said. “Our Strategic Planning Office is checking in on that project on a weekly basis, so we are staying in constant touch and communication.”
Here’s a look at the plans by a team led by LPCiminelli.
The developers envision eventually building as many as 663 units of mostly market-rate housing – including apartments, townhouses and possibly single-family homes – located in about 40 buildings or clusters spread over the 27-acre site
2. Phase One
Construction started in October on the first phase, a $24 million project on 3.91 acres that will include four three-story buildings with 52 apartments, plus 32 townhouses available for sale. Preleasing will start in spring 2018, with the first units occupied during the summer. The developers have previously said they plan to rent the apartments for $900 to $1,500 a month. Townhouses will be marketed for sale at prices between $200,000 and $230,000.
3. Future phases
The entire project will be developed in phases over five to seven years, with specific details still subject to change. The developers have said about 10,000 square feet of first-floor space would be reserved for neighborhood businesses such as a restaurant, coffee shop, drugstore or grocery.
4. Affordable housing
Elim Christian Fellowship Church is also building 30 townhouses on 2.19 acres, with five two-story buildings containing six townhouses in each. A one-story community center will be attached to one of the buildings.
5. New streets
LPCiminelli cleared and cleaned the site under state supervision. It has also extended Chalmers Avenue and Hill Street into the site to form a traffic circle and is adding infrastructure such as power, water and sewer lines.
6. Green space
The project calls for several hundred new trees, landscaping, paths and lawns, as well as a gateway park at the intersection of Chalmers Avenue and Holden Street, and a couple of playgrounds and bike racks.