The high profile project, located next to Bennett High School, could herald a paradigm shift in housing as residential developers look for more opportunities in North Buffalo.
"When we first looked at Bethune, we loved the building itself but the location really sold us," said Paul Ciminelli, President and CEO at Ciminelli. "The surrounding neighborhoods are vibrant, and it's a stone's throw from the Metro Rail system - something we refer to as transit-oriented development - both of which are critical to the tenants we are targeting."
The units have been designed to appeal primarily to graduate students and professionals headed to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus for classes or work. With real estate at a premium there, parking is limited. So locating housing along the NFTA Metro Rail and bus route makes a lot of sense.
Downtown employment is expected to grow with the more than 2 million square feet of projects planned or currently under construction along the medical corridor. In fact, Ciminelli is also building a 287,000 square foot building, Conventus, that will be linked to the future John R. Oishei Children's Hospital and UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and will also be the first private sector investment on the Campus. By some estimates, job openings could increase by 5,000 in the next five years. But parking will still be limited.
"There is tremendous growth occurring on and around the Campus, and there are predictions of substantial new job creation," said Ciminelli. "With many relocating here from out of town, there have to be affordable, accessible residential options between downtown and the UB South Campus. Bethune is perfectly positioned for that, as is that whole area of Main Street in North Buffalo."
Access to public transportation is one of several reasons that make North Buffalo an attractive location for residential development. A demographic snapshot also shows a relatively stable community in which to expand and renovate housing: According to the US Census, the median family income for residents of 14214 and 14216 west of Main Street is 42% higher than the overall median for the City of Buffalo. The median value of a home in this area is 30% higher than that of Buffalo as a whole.
In addition, business development has been brisk for several years. Large retailers like Kohl's and Target are thriving on Delaware Avenue. And smaller ventures, like Spot Coffee and Globe Market that already have established followings, have set up shop along Hertel Avenue.
Steve Carmina, whose firm Carmina Wood Morris, P.C. is the architect for the Bethune Lofts project, predicts that it will also act as a catalyst for improving housing stock in neighborhoods east of Main Street where absentee landlords now reign. He likens it to the old saying that a rising tide lifts all boats. "Main Street from Hertel to Sister's Hospital is ripe for development" which he believes will have a beneficial ripple effect on housing value and stabilization.
The Bethune Lofts units feature lots of windows and natural light which Carmina says are design qualities graduate students and young professionals favor. The kitchens have solid surface counters and each unit occupies close to the full width of the building. There are 37 one-bedroom units and 50 two-bedroom units. Eleven of the units are two-story, including one penthouse-style apartment. Summer occupancy is expected.
Bethune Lofts is a Historic Tax Credit project which allows Ciminelli to take advantage of federal tax credits offered for the substantial rehabilitation of historic properties. The building originally housed the Buffalo Meter Company, a multi-floor manufacturing operation. It later served as the University at Buffalo's School of Fine Arts at which time its name was changed to Bethune Hall as homage to Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first woman to become a member of the American Institute of Architects. The building was shuttered in 1997.
In addition to Ciminelli Real Estate, other major developers such as Rocco Termini are looking to invest in North Buffalo. Termini is currently converting a former machine shop in northwest Buffalo to lofts and he is eyeing the former Factory Warehouse Sales building on Elmwood Avenue for housing that will also appeal to young professionals.