Alternative to controversial hotel proposed to Buffalo, N.Y. business owners and residents

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Buffalo, New York

Artist's impression of Rocco Termini's new development proposal.
Image: Newell.

Residents and business owners in the Elmwood Avenue neighborhood and surrounding area in Buffalo heard a competing proposal for development in their neighborhood at the February 22 meeting held at the Burchfield-Penney Art Gallery, at Buffalo State College. The meeting, attended by at least 140, was originally to consider the Elmwood Village Hotel but also included a new revitalization proposal from Rocco Termini which would increase retail space, but involves less demolition and no hotel.

Rocco Termini, a Buffalo, New York developer wants to develop the corner of Elmwood and Forest, the same spot where Savarino Construction Services Corporation want to build the Elmwood Village Hotel.

Termini proposed that a similar revitalization take place on the intersection like one that incorporated 3 buildings on Aurburn and Elmwood just last year. Termini's proposal will add more retail space than Savarino's proposal with the possibility of including up to seven retail outlets.

"I just think it's necessary to preserve the streetscape that we have. That's the whole point of living and shopping on Elmwood," said Termini. "You should be able to go into little shops, that have unique items, and that bring people to Elmwood. When you bring a big box on Elmwood Avenue, it takes something away from the urban-streetscape, just as suburban areas do not want a big box Wal-Mart. We don't want a big box on Elmwood avenue and I think that's just what this (the hotel) does, brings a big box to Elmwood," said Termini.

When asked if there were any development companies currently interested in his proposal Termini said, "I will be willing to take a look at this myself," said Termini. "Or I would be more than happy to be partners with Sam, Sam Savarino," who is President and Chief Executive Officer of Savarino Construction Services Corp.

An unnamed source close to the project stated, "Rocco has serious concerns that the Mobius's asking price could make his project infeasible."

Artist's impression of the current proposal, the Elmwood Village Hotel.
Image: The Frizlen Group.

It is unknown if Savarino Construction or the city of Buffalo will consider Termini's proposal.

Termini purchased and developed several buildings and areas including the Ellicott Lofts on Ellicott Street in Buffalo, which opened in 2003, The Oak School Lofts which used to be a Buffalo Alternative School, and ‘IS’ Lofts on Oak Street in Buffalo.

Eva Hassett, Vice President of Savarino Construction, and Karl Frizlen an architect from The Frizlen Group and designer of the hotel commented on the development proposal. Hassett said, "We've been thinking about it and trying to put it together for the last few months, and it was made public a couple of weeks ago."

"There are lots of different areas you can look at. This is an Elmwood Avenue hotel. Putting it somewhere else makes a completely different kind of hotel. We wanted a hotel that people could walk to from the business on Elmwood. We wanted a hotel that people could walk to from the Albright Knox Art Gallery. This is really a location for this kind of hotel. Other locations end up being for other kinds of hotels," said Hassett

"We are excited about the concept of a boutique hotel at this corner. We think it makes sense to the various businesses in the area or the galleries just down the street. We also believe that this is a way for the visitors of Buffalo to experience what the best of what Buffalo has to offer. We think it will be a great way for people from out of town, to get to know what we know about the city," said Hassett.

Although Hassett had said that the proposal has only been around "for a few months", Karl Frizlen said that he came up with the idea "three years ago when Hans Mobius," former owner of the properties at risk, "came to me and asked what we could do with these properties." Frizlen also said that he introduced Mobius to "four different developers, who after seeing the properties, did not want to tackle them, saying that they felt like it was too much for them to take on."

Hans Mobius did not attend last nights meeting.

Frizlen is also designing the former telephone company building at 504 Elmwood which would be a "mixed use building with retail on the lowest level and lofts on the other two floors."

Residents and business owners voice concerns

After speeches from developers, residents and business owners were invited to present questions and comments.

Mark Freelend, a Buffalo resident, and local artist, said "I'm looking at my house in the picture, and I'm picturing all the houses on Granger street behind me, and I'm realizing that, if this is implemented (the hotel), we will get zero sunlight. The Sun is supposed to be free, for everyone. The people on Granger are going to have eighty windows looking at them and their children being raised, and playing in the backyard, guests looking in the windows of their houses twenty-four hours a day. A million people starring into their houses. No sunlight, and they are on permanent reality TV. Put a price on that!"

"I think this hotel is totally out of scale to the area and it does not conform to the style (of Elmwood) at all. It will totally obscure the gateway of Elmwood. The gateway now has open arms that allow for passage and view into the commercial corridor. This hotel stands as a brick wall as far as I can tell," said Nancy Pollina one of the owners of Don Apparel at 1119 Elmwood. Pollina referenced to the recent 'revitalization' project on Auburn and Elmwood saying, "That building was boarded up for years, and that was beautiful a renovation. That building was not in any less need of repair than Hans Mobius's properties."

Development company may be 'moving too fast'

Both residents and business owners in the area are concerned that the proposal is moving too quickly and said that the developers should wait before having any city meetings and wait for a consensus from the community on the hotel.

Mrs. Pollina said, "I think people feel passionate about their neighborhood, and this is their neighborhood. I feel that what was most shocking is that the city's planning board meeting and Common Council meeting, which are they need to push this through, is next week without almost no notice. This (the proposal) is being rushed.

However; Sam Savarino did say that "some people have gotten emotional about this project. And I want to let the community know that we will listen to what you have to say. We're not forcing this down anybody's throat. If this is not something this community wants, we do not want to have it here."

The city's Planning Board is expected to meet on February 28, 2006 at 8:00am in room 901 on the 9th floor of City Hall. The city's Legislative Committee meeting of Common Council is expected to take place on the same day at 2:00pm in Council Chambers on the 13th floor of City Hall.

'Significant changes' to be made to hotel design

It has just been confirmed from an unnamed source close to the project that "significant changes" will be made to the design of the Elmwood Village Hotel. "Its not being cancelled, just redesigned," he said. The changes are not yet known, but they are could be released "tomorrow. He (Savarino) doesn't want it released until he touches base with a few people today."

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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.