Seeking to advance the development already underway along Main Street in Buffalo, city officials are hoping to turn the LaSalle Metro Rail station and seven acres of surrounding land into a mix of housing and first-floor retail, with an attractive streetscape and public area.
Following up on statements made in Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown’s State of the City address, the city on Friday issued a “request for qualifications,” seeking developers who are interested in such a project and who possess the expertise, financial capacity and background to take it on.
The city and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority are not specifying any requirements for the exact nature of the project – or even the type or number of housing units that must be created. Instead, the request spells out their vision for “an equitable transit-oriented development” that would include “affordable and/or mixed-income housing units” and “an activated first floor.”
“We wanted to find out who may be interested and qualified to complete a complex project like this on a combined site of seven acres,” said Buffalo Director of Development Lisa Hicks. “We’re partnering with NFTA because some of the parcels are owned by NFTA, as well as station itself. It’s a very challenging and complicated site, based on its past use.”
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The Metro Rail station would remain and would be integrated into the development, much as the Allen Street station was incorporated within the University at Buffalo’s new medical school.
Mayor Byron Brown’s $568 million spending plan for 2022-23 recommends increasing residential property taxes by 5% and commercial property taxes by 6.6%.
The effort to revitalize the drab beige cement station and the land around it represents the latest attempt to encourage denser residential development around public transit infrastructure. The idea is to provide more housing and retail options for city residents without spurring a need for more cars and more pollution.
That’s been happening in recent years along the Main Street spine, not only in downtown Buffalo, but also with projects such as Cedarland Development’s The Grid, Sinatra & Co. Real Estate’s Fenton Apartments, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.’s Bethune Lofts and several other completed and ongoing ventures. That’s all part of more than $8 billion in development investment in the city since 2012.
The city wants to encourage more, especially as the NFTA explores a Metro Rail extension to the North Campus in Amherst. At the same time, Brown has cited a goal of ensuring that 40% of the housing in Buffalo is considered “affordable,” so that city residents aren’t left behind by the growth.
“This is a perfect opportunity to be able to do that,” Hicks said.
LaSalle is one of six Metro station areas that were selected for broader planning. Officials are targeting six parcels on Main and Beard Avenue – three owned by the city and three by NFTA – that make up the broader LaSalle Station property, including the station itself and the adjacent Park-and-Ride lot.
The parcels are located at 3000, 3010, 3018, 3030 and 3036 Main, along with 447 Beard.
The request notes that the site is near Shoshone and McCarthy parks, a Rails-to-Trails path running from North Buffalo to the City of Tonawanda and University at Buffalo’s South Campus, as well as a host of restaurants, retail stores and a grocery.
“The site has the potential to significantly enhance the attractiveness and accessibility of the University Heights neighborhood,” the city wrote in the request.
Hicks said the city and NFTA – together with Local Initiatives Support Corp. and GoBikeBuffalo – would work with potential developers to engage the community and “determine the highest and best use for development.” While city officials would like to see mixed-income housing, the outcome will be shaped by community feedback and need, she said.
“We wanted to allow some flexibility because we’re not having any kind of expectation of the plan being submitted,” she said.