Douglas Jemal is again revising his reuse plan for the plaza level of One Seneca Tower, this time by removing proposed retail kiosks, expanding a new single-story structure on the east side of the tower, and replacing 33 apartments in an annex building with a food court and kitchen.
The revision by Jemal’s Douglas Development Corp. marks the second change in eight months to the second phase of the enormous $120 million project. He previously revised his plan last September, after winning the initial city approval for the second phase in July 2017.
This time, he’s again scaling back the residential portion – now reduced to 104 units from 137 before – while providing more food and retail space for patrons. And he’s reflecting a few necessary changes that were identified later as he and his architectural team continued to fine-tune their concept.
The newest changes “reflect the ongoing evolution of the developer’s plan for the site,” said Adam S. Walters, a Phillips Lytle LLP attorney representing Jemal, in a letter to the Buffalo Planning Board.
The revision also comes as the construction season has finally begun in Buffalo following an unusually long winter, with cold temperatures and windy, snowy conditions. That means the work at the site, which has been suspended for a few months after two new structures were tentatively framed with steel, is now poised to resume. So Jemal needs approval for any changes he plans so workers can get underway.
The changes will be reviewed by the Buffalo Planning Board on Monday. Walters stressed that the changes are not significant enough to warrant an entirely new review, and argued that they still fit within the Green Code rules and the look of downtown Buffalo.
“The Amended Plans are illustrative of the extensive lengths to which the developer has gone to ensure that the Seneca One Redevelopment Project is consistent with both the Comprehensive Plan and with the character of the neighborhood and surrounding area,” Walters wrote in the letter, which is part of the application Jemal submitted to the city.
The Washington, D.C., developer, who brings a deep track record of projects under his belt, is in the early stages of his ambitious redevelopment of the 38-story tower complex, Buffalo’s tallest and most visible structure. Jemal bought the building out of foreclosure in September 2016, paying $12.6 million for the 1.2-million-square-foot complex and the accompanying five-story parking ramp across Washington Street, with 847 spaces.
The multiyear project is designed to restore activity and occupancy to the prominent downtown commercial office building, which has been completely vacant for over two years since it fell into foreclosure following the departure of its two largest tenants. Besides the tower, there are two five-story annex buildings to the south and west, plus the plaza.
A rendering of some of the proposed changes by Douglas Jemal to his One Seneca Tower project.
Jemal wants to renovate the entire complex into a mixed-use facility, with some combination of apartments or condominiums, retail shops and restaurants, office space and possibly a hotel. He’s leaving most of the tower itself for later, with his future plans evolving based on demand over time.
But he’s trying to “activate” the plaza level first, by creating a blend of uses that will draw new residents, shoppers, diners and other patrons to the expansive concourse.
Under the first phase, which the city Planning Board approved in February 2017, Jemal planned to convert the two five-story annex buildings into a combination of 183 market-rate apartments, plus 43,000 square feet of retail space at the plaza level. The 150,000 square feet of residential space would include a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.
He also planned to dramatically reshape the 3.5-acre concrete plaza area, turning it into a multilevel retail mall, with apartments and storefronts in two new buildings. The company intended to construct new brick-and-concrete storefronts that would jut out from the concrete edifice, hosting some combination of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, a market, a fitness center, clothing stores and other establishments.
The project also included new landscaping, benches, street lighting, patios and canopies to encourage pedestrian traffic and create meeting areas, as well as a pedestrian bridge crossing Main Street next to the tower’s north face. And Douglas will put in a new curved driveway at the north end – off Seneca Street and connecting to Main – to provide easier access to the front of the complex, including for pickup and drop-off.
He modified those plans last summer in his “Phase 2,” changing up the size and design of the extra buildings, adding seven retail kiosks on one side, eliminating the bridge, changing the landscaping and facade design, reducing the height of a wind wall, introducing a wind canopy and cutting back the number of apartments to 137.
Now he’s making some additional tweaks. In a new application to the Buffalo Planning Board, Jemal said he wants to:
- Expand the footprint of the one-story retail building just east of the tower so that it directly touches the taller building instead of leaving a 15-foot gap in between. The goal is to provide tenants with more space for merchandise or services.
- Create a new entrance on the north side of the West Annex Building, to be used exclusively by residential tenants of the building. The existing entrance on the east side will be reserved for patrons of the retail area of the building.
- Alter the materials and design for the outside of the two one-story retail buildings so they include “high quality, thin brick and metal channels” that will complement the existing art sculptures onsite.
- Replace the apartments on the third and fourth floors of the South Annex Building with a food court and kitchen to serve both residents and visitors. That will “fill a much-needed niche for nearby office workers looking for a quick, high-quality meal.”
- Add low walls to the perimeter of the access roads for pedestrian safety.
- Remove the seven retail kiosks on the east side of the plaza.
- Take out the planned additional elevator to the underground parking ramp because it’s unnecessary.
- Drop the proposed wind wall and canopy between the West Annex and the tower, allowing more natural light into the area to “enhance visitors’ experience during times of fair weather.” The other wind canopy will remain, between the new retail building and the South Annex.
“The Site’s retail and residential mix, in concert with the dense, mixed-use community in which it will be located, will bring new commerce, residents and visitors to the area in a way that encourages a socially active and public lifestyle, including an emphasis on walkability and alternative modes of transportation,” Walters wrote. “The Amended Plans will bring additional retail and foot traffic to the area, bringing new life and vibrancy to the expansive Plaza.”
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