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Sinatra & Company named to complete South Aud Block development

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation's board of directors voted Monday to select Sinatra and Company Real Estate as the developers who will build on two remaining vacant parcels on the South Aud Block at Buffalo's Canalside.

The parcels sit just adjacent to the future Explore and More Children's Museum, which is schedule for completion and opening in early 2019. The Sinatra construction, an estimated $21 million investment, is expected to be completed by May 2020.

"It's an aggressive timeline but we think that it's achievable," said Amy Nagy, director of development for Sinatra and Company. "Now that the word is out, we can start working with various vendors and contractors and get the process rolling along." 

The buildings will be mixed-use, with offices, ground-level retail space and apartments. The latter will include "affordable" rates, a condition both Nagy and state officials confirmed was a required part of the bidding process.

Steven Ranalli, vice president of development for Empire State Development's Western Region, said the "high road" policy of including affordable housing is the "right thing to do."

"It's the start of a neighborhood. That's the most important piece," he said. "It's a mixed-use development, of course, but we want to build a neighborhood at Canalside, a waterfront neighborhood."

Nagy added that the requests for proposals also included an emphasis on local business. Without identifying interested candidates, she said there are already potential tenants eager to move in.

"We were excited because we were able to deliver this response with three letters of interest, letters of intent," she said. "We know there's some strong interest. Obviously we've had to be quiet about it while we went through the full due diligence process with the RFP but we know there's interest there."

Credit Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation
A rendering prepared by Sinatra and Company Real Estate of redevelopment in the South Aud Block at Buffalo's Canalside. Sinatra, which was named developers of two parcels, plan to complete and open two mixed-use buildings by May 2020.

Ranalli was asked whether there were any concerns about the retail elements, considering three businesses struggled and later moved out of the ground level at nearby HarborCenter. 

One thing that worked against HarborCenter and those departed businesses, Ranalli suggested, was the lack of critical mass that developers hope to achieve with forthcoming additions to the neighborhood.

"They were early investors, obviously, in Canalside and brought that retail component with it. I think we're all learning how that's going to operate," he said. "The retail landscape, in and of itself, has been changing a lot over the past few years, not just at Canalside but throughout the country. I think as we bring critical mass with this next development, and even an active first floor at the (Explore and More) museum, we're going to start to see that really take off in the coming years."

Nearby, work in the North Aud Block to restore the original street structure is expected to begin next year. Last week, the Cuomo Administration announced $10 million in funding for that project.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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