Savarino Companies

BURA Supports Pitts For City Hotel

Business First

12/4/2008

Nearly one year after Buffalo first asked for development proposals for the last available, commercial parcel in Waterfront Village, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency has selected its preferred project for the land.

Following a nearly one-hour long discussion, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency opted to name the tandem led by former Common Council President James Pitts and Speciality Restaurants, owners of Shanghai Red's restaurant as designated developers. The 1.4-acre parcel neighbors Shanghai Red's and overlooks Erie Basin Marina. Pitts and Speciality Restaurants are proposing to build a four-story, 100-room Wingate Inn hotel on the site. The hotel will be Wingate's first in Erie County. Wingate is part of the Wyndham hotel chains.

Pitts and Speciality Restaurants were selected over a competing proposal from Ciminelli Development Co., which planned a 10-story, mixed-use building, anchored by a Hilton Garden hotel and 80-square-feet of Class A office space.

The Pitts/Speciality Restaurants proposal was approved by a 5-3 vote from the BURA directors with Councilmen David Franczyk, Michael Kearns and Michael Locurto voting against it - all citing lack of time to review the two projects. Kearns had sought to table the designated developer vote until both bids could be further reviewed. That request was also denied by a 5-3 vote.

"This parcel is very important to the city," Kearns said. "I don't want doable there. I want excellence."

Pitts said once the hotel is approved by the Buffalo Planning Board and Buffalo Common Council, he hopes to start construction on the $10 million project next year and have it ready to open by 2010.  Savarino Construction has been retained as the project's general contractor.

The agency issued a development RFP last winter and, initially, three bids were submitted, although one from a Florida-based development group was later withdrawn.

The Ciminelli proposal, which carries a $37 million price tag, brought in a mix of hotel space, offices, some retail and indoor parking. The project had been supported by many of the homeowner's groups in Waterfront Village - many of whom were represented during BURA's meeting Thursday morning.

"Aesthetically, we thought the Ciminelli project was nicer," said George Haar, a Gull Landing resident. "If we can have a 15-story residential tower behind us, we can have a 10-story building next to us."

The problem, according to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, is that height restrictions for parcel limit any development to a maximum of four stories. Brown said both development teams were aware of the restriction, although Ciminelli had hoped for a variance.

Amending the height restrictions would have taken another year of public hearings and reviews, added Brian Reilly, Buffalo's development chief.

However, Gail Edwards, Ciminelli chief administrative officer, said her company was never informed that the restrictions would be a deal breaker.

Edwards said Ciminelli will abide by BURA's decision.

"We're very disappointed. The residents were obviously in favor of our proposal," Edwards said. "We're not going to challenge it. The city made its decision."

Brown said his development staff spent a lot of time reviewing both proposals. He felt the Pitts/Specialty Restaurants not only met the site development restrictions but would augment Shanghai Red's while filling the need for more downtown hotel rooms.

The Wingate Inn would be directly connected to Shanghai Red's, Pitts said.

"Wyndham Hotels have wanted to enter the Buffalo market for a very long time," Pitts said. "This is the perfect scenario for them."

Wyndham had been considered taking over eight floors of the Statler Towers as part of developer Bashar Issa's plan to redevelop the downtown Buffalo landmark. Issa has scraped those plans and the future of the Statler remains in doubt.

Pitts said he is confident he can work with both the Common Council and the Buffalo Planning Board to resolve any questions concerning the project.

"The problem is we have two good proposals, sort of like having to chose between the (New York) Yankees and the (Boston) Red Sox," Kearns said. "That's why we needed more time."

by James Fink





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