Strik­ing turn­around

Me­ta­mor­pho­sis of Ni­a­gara Street is cre­at­ing the next hot neigh­bor­hood

The Buffalo News - - OPINION -

If you haven’t been on Ni­a­gara Street lately, it is worth tak­ing a drive to wit­ness the amaz­ing trans­for­ma­tion un­der­way.

Once a for­lorn West Side thor­ough­fare, even the road it­self was bad – bumpy and un­pleas­ant. Now the ride is much smoother for the most part, and there are sur­pris­ing views out the car win­dow. Many of the old man­u­fac­tur­ing build­ings shut­tered long ago are re­open­ing af­ter ex­treme makeovers into eater­ies, shops and apart­ments, many of them quite ex­pen­sive.

This re­mark­able re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is tak­ing place along a 1.3 mile stretch of Ni­a­gara Street par­al­lel to the Ni­a­gara Thruway and the Black Rock Chan­nel.

News staff reporter Mark Som­mer de­scribed the work tak­ing place, and News pho­tog­ra­pher Derek Gee il­lus­trated the move­ment with strik­ing aerial and ground-level photos of those re­pur­posed in­dus­trial build­ings.

The sheer num­ber of new apart­ments com­ing on line is ev­i­dence that Ni­a­gara Street is the city’s next hot hous­ing mar­ket. And with those lofty spa­ces come lofty prices, with some rents ex­ceed­ing $2,000 a month.

Right now there is a healthy mix of in­comes, cul­tures and gen­er­a­tions on the street. That could change as the strip be­comes a des­ti­na­tion.

Mil­len­ni­als es­pe­cially are at­tracted to re­cently opened busi­nesses and hous­ing. That co­hort will see a jump in Au­gust with the open­ing of 1,000 stu­dent apart­ments at For­est and West streets, one block east of Ni­a­gara Street. These stu­dents will be joined by res­i­dents of the for­mer New York Cen­tral Freight House nearby on Ton­awanda Street, which de­vel­op­ers are con­vert­ing into 37 apart­ments and some re­tail space.

Head­ing south, the Crescendo, at 1502 Ni­a­gara St., of­fers strik­ing views of the river for res­i­dents of its 41 apart­ments. It was what won over An­gelo Natale, owner of Natale De­vel­op­ment, and Bobby Cor­rao, the com­pany’s pres­i­dent, five years ago when they scouted the place. As Som­mer wrote, “de­vel­op­ing the Crescendo helped jump start Ni­a­gara Street’s come­back.”

The two largest de­vel­op­ers on the street, Ciminelli Real Es­tate Corp. and El­li­cott De­vel­op­ment, have ex­pan­sive vi­sions for their prop­er­ties.

Ciminelli plans to de­velop 49 apart­ments in the Mentholatum Build­ing, 1360 Ni­a­gara St., with re­tail or a restau­rant on the ground floor (plus a new build­ing with apart­ments and re­tail on two re­cently pur­chased parcels next door).

El­li­cott De­vel­op­ment is work­ing on two of its six prop­er­ties on Ni­a­gara Street and one on Busti Av­enue. The com­pany has plans for the oth­ers.

Wil­liam Pal­adino, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of El­li­cott De­vel­op­ment, talked about Ni­a­gara as a de­sir­able spot on the river, which ex­plains why his com­pany pur­chased the prop­er­ties and held them for eight or nine years: “We were hope­ful.”

The re­birth of Ni­a­gara Street is fol­low­ing the model of Ohio Street, a once-des­o­late, di­lap­i­dated in­dus­trial road. Af­ter a makeover nar­rowed the road and added bike and walk­ing paths and new light­ing, de­vel­op­ers moved in to cre­ate hous­ing.

In­fra­struc­ture un­der­pins progress, and on Ni­a­gara, just the prom­ise of those im­prove­ments has spurred growth. By 2019 Ni­a­gara Street’s four lanes will drop to two, with a cen­ter turn lane, in an ef­fort to slow traf­fic. The city will sport its first two-lane “bike cy­cle” on the west side of the street. Add to that new light­ing, side­walk im­prove­ments, green me­di­ans, stormwa­ter re­ten­tion and curb ex­ten­sions.

As Som­mer wrote, plans by Buf­falo’s De­part­ment of Pub­lic Works and the Buf­falo Sewer Author­ity to make im­prove­ments along Ni­a­gara “con­vinced some de­vel­op­ers to in­vest.”

“I’m just as­ton­ished that things are mov­ing so quickly,” said Bar­bara Rowe. She is pres­i­dent and co-founder of Vi­sion Ni­a­gara, a non­profit that worked closely with city of­fi­cials, busi­nesses com­mu­nity groups, the Ni­a­gara Fron­tier Trans­porta­tion Author­ity and the Univer­sity at Buf­falo’s School of Ar­chi­tec­ture and Plan­ning to de­velop the mid­dle sec­tion of Ni­a­gara Street.

With that work bar­rel­ing along, city of­fi­cials should con­sider erect­ing a sign: Wel­come to the new Ni­a­gara Street.

Mark Mul­ville/Buf­falo News

The Mentholatum Build­ing at 1360 Ni­a­gara St., built in 1909, is be­ing ren­o­vated into 49 apart­ments.

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