New tenants could include a fast food restaurant, a bank and a drugstore
by Joshua Maloni
Members of the public have received their first look at the proposed Ellicott Development project eyed for Center Street. At Monday's Village of Lewiston Planning Board meeting, David M. Hall, planning and development coordinator for the Buffalo-based property management firm, informed attendees - including four members of the Village Board of Trustees - of his company's intention to build the village's first north-side plaza.
The development would begin on Center Street and lead down to Onondaga Street. Potential tenants include a fast food restaurant, a bank and a drugstore. Hall said Ellicott Development's planned plaza is "relatively similar" to the Colonial Valley (CVS) Plaza and the Rite Aid plaza.
"What we're proposing is a mix of uses, primarily retail," he said. "We're looking at approximately 25,000 square feet of retail, actually, with a number of different buildings - one of which will be right at the corner of North Eighth and Center Street, which we'd like to have as a two-story to accommodate the change in elevation."
As presented Monday, the project would feature a restaurant in its southwest corner (below a retaining wall leading to Center Street); a two-story building on the North Eighth Street corner utilizing a mix of retail uses (or a bank); and a six-unit residential site. The plaza is highlighted by a brand-new, stand-alone drugstore taking the place of woodlands on Onondaga Street (across from the new Fairchild condo complex). The plaza would include crosswalks, stairs and landscaped islands.
Hall said Ellicott Development has had talks with McDonald's about taking the restaurant unit, and with Rite Aid about the drugstore spot.
Both he and Ellicott Development CEO William Paladino stressed, however, that discussions are just discussions, and nothing is final.
"We have no agreements yet, and we won't until we obtain approval on a site plan that we can then market and guarantee any potential tenants (what) we can do, which is not typical and actually backward from our typical development formula, but this site is so difficult to work with, every tenant we have spoken with asked us to get (an) approved site plan first as they are all concerned with the high costs associated with the site and, in turn, their visibility and accessibility upon completion," Paladino said Wednesday.
Hall, Paladino and the Planning Board acknowledged the geographical challenges surrounding this project.
"I don't know if you've been out to the site, but it's a pretty steep slope heading from Center towards Onondaga," Hall said. He added, "Topography is really the main driver of our site planning on this, just given the tough slopes that are on site. We've been working with (architecture and engineering firm) Carmina Wood Morris on site and grade planning. This is really the most workable plan that allows us frontage on Center Street. It also accommodates pedestrian access, access on North Eighth, and access on Onondaga."
"What we have now is not ideal, but will work for the tenants we are talking to based on discussions we have had with them," Paladino said. "We have been through many different variations of our site plan and this, we feel, is the best plan our engineers have been able to come up with. We know we may need some variances, but we hope the village will work with us to bring this project to fruition."
The plaza would supplant The Country Doctor, Grandpaws Pet Emporium and Smith Bros. Pizza - but that doesn't mean those businesses won't return. Last winter, following the land purchase, Paladino said, "Any time that we buy property such as this, we always try to accommodate the existing tenancies."
As of now, the owners of the Lewiston businesses are waiting to learn more about the plaza before making a decision to claim a unit on site or find a new location.
Paladino said, "At this time, we have a few local tenant leads we are talking with, but, in order to proceed, we need one or more national or local tenancies to complete the necessary financing package to construct the project and absorb ... what will be very high building and site cost associated with this property because of the topography. As stated above, though, we first must come to (an) agreement on a site plan that works for these types of tenancies and also the village. I don't think we will have any problem constructing buildings that meet village approval as far as the aesthetics, but the site layout has proven problematic, and I believe the village does have concerns with the proposed layout, which we must find a way to overcome to the satisfaction of the village and our tenancies in order to have a aesthetically pleasing, visible, accessible and financially viable project."
Village Board members have some reservations about the plaza layout. Namely, trustees said they're worried about the Center Street entrance/exit and its effect on traffic. They're not in favor of passersby looking at a retaining wall or the top of a building (the restaurant unit). Furthermore, they question the practicality of a fast-food drive-thru that angles back up toward Center Street.
Still, the board is willing to work with Paladino.
"They're not (as) familiar with Lewiston as we are, what some of the potential problems could be down the road," Mayor Terry Collesano said Thursday. "Hopefully, when they look at everything, they'll come into agreement with what the Planning Board is looking at."
"Overall, I think my feeling - I can't speak for the rest of (the board) - but in just general conversations, I think everyone is in agreeance it would be a great development provided there's a few of the obstacles that can be overcome, which I'm sure they can," he added.
Going forward, Collesano would like "more detailed plans that address some of the problems - like the traffic problems, the loading problems with the trucks' entrance and exit off of Center Street," he said.
Planning Board Chairman Kenneth Slaugenhoupt told Hall his firm would have to present more information about the plaza before the village could accept an official first proposal. He offered to pen a letter to Paladino, who was unable to attend the meeting, specifically listing what the Planning Board needs to know before taking action.
Board member David Giusiana said the southwest corner doesn't meet the village's setback requirements and doesn't fit with the village's walkable nature.
"This is the first time we've seen this (as a board), so there's a lot to be considered," Slaugenhoupt said.
Hall said Ellicott Development's construction timetable is tenant-driven. All buildings could be built simultaneously, or the drugstore could be built first.
He was asked when the first shovel could hit the ground if all goes well with the Planning Board and Village Board in coming months. Hall said, "It depends on the timing, you know, as far as doing the site work. That's more difficult in the winter. So, if we get pushed back, we may get pushed back to a spring start."
No printable picture or blueprint of the plaza design was provided to the Sentinel.
DiMino seeks Colonial Valley Plaza expansion
Ellicott Development wasn't the only business with a plaza plan Monday night. Anthony DiMino, owner of DiMino Tops Lewiston, and Lou Terragnoli, senior director of corporate development for Tops Markets, expressed interest in expanding Center Street's Colonial Valley Plaza.
They spoke of adding more than 14,000 square feet to the west end of the 34,605-square-foot plaza (next to Nico - where the grassy knoll sits). Depending on interest, they could accommodate one tenant or a series of four or five tenants.
"We're here for a very preliminary, preliminary discussion with you," Terragnoli said. "Anthony has an idea how we would like to add a couple stores to his plaza."
The Planning Board took no action, but expressed interest in the idea.
"It fully develops the site without overdeveloping it," Giusiana said. He added, "I wouldn't do it any differently."
A first development plan is expected this fall. In a best-case scenario, DiMino said he would begin construction this year.