Proposed student housing to revitalize Grant Street

Pat Koster, News Editor

SUNY Buffalo State students may have the opportunity to live in brand new apartments as early as September 2016.

The set of apartments, which would house 750 people when finished, would be part of a privately funded project from Greenleaf Development of Buffalo. At completion, the proposed project is estimated to cost between $75 million and $90 million. Plans include tearing down older buildings and replacing them with apartments on the block that is surrounded by Rockwell Rd. and Grant, Bradley, and Rees streets.

The first phase of the project would include 75 apartments for 300 people, consisting mostly of three- and four-bedroom apartments, with retail stores on the first floor. Upon completion, the project would create a total of 200 apartments in five buildings over the course of five years.

Michael LeVine, vice president of finance and management at Buffalo State, said that he heard the apartments would include washer and dryer hookups, granite countertops, and be priced around $750-$800 per month on a 12-month lease.

Although the apartments will be available to anyone, LeVine said that Buffalo State is continuing to support the project and would be willing to help market it in the future. He said the apartments would be geared toward upperclassmen, which would help alleviate some of the housing issues at Buffalo State.

Last fall, Buffalo State welcomed about 2,000 freshmen to campus, nearly 400 more students than the previous year. The result?

Overcrowded housing that crammed three students into most dorm rooms.

Freshmen weren’t the only ones feeling the brunt of the housing problems. Nearly 200 transfer students were forced to stay in spare dorms at Canisius.

It’s unclear how many freshmen and transfer students will be enrolling in the fall.

LeVine also said the current developmental project shows buildings on Rees and Grant Streets with parking in the middle. He said UPD would be able to patrol the area, but city police would have jurisdiction over the apartment buildings. Financial aid would also be available to students for this type of off-campus housing.

“We are very positive about the plan and support it very strongly,” Mayor Byron W. Brown told The Buffalo News, which reported the proposed project in June. “We would very much like to see this project go forward. It shows that the development interest we’re seeing and development itself is extending to all areas of the city.”

“This is going to be a transformational project that will clearly benefit the college, but at the same time benefit the community,” James Swiezy, president of Greenleaf Development of Buffalo told The News.

While there is support coming from various groups, there is still some skepticism over the project’s potential success.

“A project that meets Buff State’s growing need for student housing could be a benefit to the West Side, but the devil is in the details, and the developer will need to build strong relations with community stakeholders to ensure its success,” Aaron Bartley, director of People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo told The News.

“The original intention was fall of ‘16,” LeVine said. “That is really questionable at this point, whether he’d [Swiezy] be able to do that because of all the steps it takes to get the approvals and to make sure the community is behind it and all those kind of things.”

LeVine said that Buffalo State would really like to see the first phase of the project completed in fall 2016. If fall 2016 is no longer possible, Buffalo State would like to see the project brought on in fall 2017 or earlier on in the spring semester.

He said a preservation board meeting was held in mid-July, as well as an open community forum on Rees St. A zoning meeting was scheduled for July 29, and meetings with the city planning board and common council committee were held July 21. The next step, LeVine said, is to bring the proposal back to the planning board.

“We had the open forum, and there’s some people that live right across the street that are a little concerned about it,” LeVine said.

Some concerns from community members include increases in traffic because of the proposed retail stores and possible parking issues.

However, LeVine, like many others, is remaining optimistic about the project.

“We’ve talked with the Grant-Amherst Business Association, and they seem very supportive because of revitalization of that Grant St. side of the campus,” LeVine said. “One of the reasons we’re interested in supporting this project is we’re looking to be a part of that revitalization.”

He said that Buffalo State is looking to build a new Alumni House and Visitor Center on the corner of the block. It would give Buffalo State the ability to run community events and meetings there, as well as provide more parking for visitors. LeVine said they are planning to start student tours at the new Visitor Center.

“But it’s all a part of us looking at, ‘How do we make the Grant Street entrance to the campus as vibrant as the Elmwood Avenue side of the campus?’ And we want to be a part of the revitalization of that side, he said. “And so, you bring in some retail, you know, it’s going to spur more retail, it’s going to spur higher property values and rebuilding within that whole area. We see it as kind of a first step to helping to rebuild that part of the community.

“People are going to see us more active with the community than they ever have before. So we see it as positive, our new president really wants to be a part of the community, really wants to be a part of that revitalization. And so, the partnership with this developer, it kind of helps us move that along.”

In addition to the proposed project, LeVine said there are still talks of leasing housing space from Canisius College this fall. Buffalo State is also in the process of renovating and putting back online two previous dorm buildings – Bishop Hall and South Wing – for first year students.

Steve Shaffer, Buffalo State design and construction manager, could not be reached for comment.

Greenleaf asked permission from the city’s Preservation Board on July 23 to demolish 17 two-story, two-family homes, where the project is planned for. But board members wanted to visit the site first before making a decision, board’s minutes said.

The News reported that requests from the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board were also tabled, pending traffic and environmental reviews.

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