Developers eye apartments in Whitehaven-East River neighborhood
√ Group hopeful for quick town action on plan
By Terry Duffy
Once again, there appears to be interest in development on the southeast shore of Grand Island.
Following an earlier proposal to build apartment housing in the Whitehaven-East River neighborhood – one that was rejected due to heated opposition over mixed-use development – there’s a new plan before the town to develop the Radisson Hotel into apartments.
According to a July 11 proposal to the Grand Island Planning Board, and news reports, interests from Orchard Park and Utah submitted documents that seek to change the current complex into 135 market rate apartments.
Parties listed as JB Earl and Co. of Springville (Utah) and Elev8 Architecture PLLC (Orchard Park), both represented by Elev8 architect Mike Conroe, submitted paperwork for a planned development to convert the 49-year-old six-story hotel into a combination of one- and two-bedroom apartments.
“The development team is proposing to convert the existing hotel to a residential development with supporting commercial and retail uses,” wrote Marc A. Romanowski, business contact for the Rupp Basse Pfalzgraf Cunningham LLC law firm representing the development interests.
According to the proposal, approval is sought on zoning provisions covering mixed-use development in the Grand Island Planned Development District. Namely, the applicants seek to convert the hotel’s 263 rooms into an apartment complex involving a combination of one- and two-bedroom units, with monthly rents, said to be market rate, starting at $1,500 per month.
As noted, a similar proposal known earlier as LightHouse Point, which also called for apartment-style housing, was rejected due to opposition back in 2015 over mixed-use development in the neighborhood.
Conroe said, “We reached a sales agreement with the current owner of the Radisson Hotel. Our interest is to purchase the hotel and to convert it to multifamily apartments. … Our plan is to take the current 263 hotel rooms that are there and convert that to approximately 135 apartments. Basically, we are going to take two hotel rooms and make a one-bedroom apartment out of it, and a handful of studios and a handful of two bedrooms.”
He told town Planning Board members the developers are currently doing a market study of the hotel to determine how many studios and two-bedroom units would be planned. Typically, this involves between 65 to 70 one-bedroom units, Conroe noted.
“We like the way the building is currently laid out for its use as an apartment building,” he said.
The group also has plans to retain the restaurant on the hotel’s second floor, as well as the fitness center, which currently has 700 members.
“We want to actually offer that experience,” Conroe said. “What we were thinking is we want to take the current convention space and turn that into a fitness center … have a real, true fitness center, and allow those members to have access to the indoor and outdoor pools.”
Conroe said plans are still up in the air for the other smaller meeting spaces in the hotel. He said the developers are exploring the possibility of retail, but nothing is certain as of yet: “We want to get feedback from the community to see what the right fit is in there.”
He told Planning Board members the developers would seek to retain both the outdoor and indoor pools, but want to redo the hotel’s lobby and smaller meeting spaces into storage and “work experience” spaces for residents.
“We have found, in a lot of apartment buildings, there is a high need for basically co-work areas inside apartment complexes. This is set up perfectly for us,” Conroe said.
Of the building’s exterior, he said, “We’re not here to ask for any additions to this building; it works perfectly for our performa. That’s all we need now.”
Conroe did reveal the developers have plans to transition some of the parcel’s existing properties to other nearby owners. He mentioned a triangle-sized portion at a nearby corner would be deeded to the property owner across the street. There are plans to transfer an area formerly known as a ferry boat landing to the town for public access.
“We met with the Town Board individually; they expressed interest in having that parcel given over the town for public access,” Conroe said. “So, we’re setting aside a portion of that property … on the other side of River Road (East River) near the residences and giving that to the town and having that be a public access park.”
Conroe said the developers would seek to divest other portions of their property to neighboring property owners for future uses. He said the remaining aggregate of their lands proposed for development would be approximately 10 acres, with the remaining parcels of 1.4 acres (the Hatch area) to be assigned for the town transfer and to the neighboring property owners for future plans.
Conroe said the developers also plan to reduce the parking lots on the property.
“We don’t need them,” he said. “We’ve done a traffic study; it found that the traffic is going to be significantly reduced, because we are getting rid of the convention center and that space. So, we are going significantly reduce that; we think that this is excessive.”
The Radisson Hotel, at 100 Whitehaven Road.
Still more plans call for landscaping improvements on the property, plus the addition of trees on the East River Road side and in the current circle entrance for aesthetics.
“The bulk of our renovations will be done inside the building,” Conroe said.
He mentioned plans for modifying the inside areas (the bar/restaurant and fitness pool areas) as well as creating a private space for residents.
No plans were announced for the outside dock area beside the river.
Conroe said his group has 120 contract days (as of July 11) with the current owner to “seal the deal” with the town. He forecasted a potential time frame of two years to complete the renovations, and did not provide an overall cost figure for the project.
“The owner is in ‘tax distress’ and needs to have the property sold,” Conroe said of the current interests, listed as McSam Hotel Group of Great Neck, New York. McSam acquired the hotel in 2015 and brought it under the existing Radisson brand. Conroe did not provide any additional details on McSam’s status.
He advised Planning Board members that, as part of his presentation to the Island community on the property’s future, he would seek to hold public meetings at the hotel to further discuss the plan. However, no actual date was announced.
Meanwhile, Planning Board members expressed positive reactions to the Conroe/JB Earl and Co.’s plans for the apartment conversion proposal, but expressed reservations to his discussions on the bar/restaurant. They closed their discussions with a 5-2 vote on a resolution in favor to the overall idea.
“Conceptually, what you’re trying to accomplish over a period of time, whether it’s two years or longer, is a terrific idea. I just get back to the ‘use thing.’ What hit the fan in 2015 … still festers in a lot of people,” said Planning Chair Dave Bruno, recalling the earlier proposal.
Supervisor John Whitney earlier spoke in favor of the apartment plan. He expressed hopes the town would approve the rezoning issue later this year.
“This is a critical piece of property in our town,” he said.
“I like the concept, (but) there’s much up in the air,” Bruno said. “I do like the board going on record as in favor of this idea.”
He added, “I think you saw some favorable interest here on the board, but we’d like to see a little bit more. My concern is what’s across the street.”
The Planning Board is expected to revisit the issue at its August meeting.