Northern Growth Continues to Gain Ground

James Fink

It wasn’t all that long ago that construction cranes were popping up in northern Erie County suburban towns.

High-profile projects included Geico’s┬áNortheast Operations Center and major new buildings on the campuses of Daemen College and the University at Buffalo.

The northern suburbs, which include Amherst, Clarence and Tonawanda, remain high on developer lists, to be sure, but the focus has changed.

“Realistically, there is not a lot or the same appetite for major office parks and shopping centers like there once was,” said┬áJames Allen, Amherst Industrial Development Agency executive director.

But that’s not a bad thing, he said. In actuality, it is more evolutionary.

The development roots of the northern suburbs date back 15 years when planners such as Allen began thinking about today.

Their conclusion: With an almost “green” approach, leaders decided to focus on what had already been built or was in the pipeline rather than developing raw land.

“We made a conscious effort to infill,” Allen said.

That’s why long-developed areas such as the Harlem/Kensington Avenue area or the Main Street/Eggert Road neighborhood were given new streetscapes and buildings were renovated. A current example is Ellicott Development Co.’s redevelopment plan for the former Cantalician Center building on Eggert Road, acquired this summer.

The infill mindset is the development backdrop for Main Street in the Village of Williamsville, where planners want it to look more like Elmwood Avenue and less like a busy suburban street.

“To a large extent, the future for our town and other suburban towns is to repurpose existing buildings,” Allen said.

Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. hopes to bring the first phase of the long awaited Muir Woods development online early in 2014. Muir Woods is designed as a mixed-use community with residential and commercial office components side by side and lots of green space.

“It is designed to be a very walkable community,” said Paul Ciminelli, Ciminelli president and CEO.

Other major projects in Amherst’s pipeline are the new PHH Mortgage Corp. back office operations center near Erie Community College on Youngs Road. That, along with a student housing project that will serve ECC, is being developed by Zaepfel Development Co.

The two-year college is planning a $30 million sciences and technology building for the Amherst campus.

Besides the Cantalician Center project, Ellicott Development and Bevilacqua Development Co. are jointly building a mixed-use residential and hotel complex on Sweet Home Road.

On the retail side, Benderson Development, this fall, will bring the first Trader Joe’s store to Niagara Falls Boulevard.

“Across the board, there are a lot of new examples of development going on, but there’s also a fair amount of redevelopment going on, too,” Allen said. “It is a very healthy mix.”

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