And now we wait…

Back in August I wrote about the possibility that the empty St. Margaret’s school building could be sold and turned into a high end residential development. If you haven’t had a chance to read through the details, please click here.

This morning, I spoke with Fr. Joe Wolf from St. Margaret’s and asked for a quick update. He was happy to oblige and his response was just what I wanted to hear. Both parties (presumably St. Margaret’s Church or the Diocese of Buffalo along with Iskalo Development Corp.) have signed the contract for the sale.

We – and I say “we” purposefully as this transaction is for the entire community, not just those involved directly – are now in the midst of the 60 day inspection period. That means Iskalo is able to fully inspect the property to identify any problems or concerns that could void the deal. They have the opportunity to back out if something detrimental arises as part of that inspection. Fr. Joe went on to say however, that the inspection process is going well so far.

Fingers crossed. Stay tuned.

Oh, and Go Bills!

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The Times are a Changin’ on Hertel Ave.

We heard a rumor around the time we were waiting to close on our house in early 2011 that the former Accessories on the Avenue shop was going to become a Spot Coffee. It was a grueling summer watching and waiting, but it happened as promised and I’m now regularly wired with caffeine and happily contributing to the Spot Coffee share price.

spot hertelBut putting aside my selfish desire for a coffee fix, the opening of Spot Coffee started a bit of a movement on Hertel Ave. Coffee shops attract people, and people are what other businesses need to succeed. Since that time we’ve enjoyed quite the boom in my opinion.

Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of new or expanded places that have popped up in the past few years:

    • Blue Hill Kitchen & Home
    • Blue Collar Men’s ShopMes Que
    • Chic and Sweet
    • Canvas@1206
    • CRAVing
    • Village Beer Merchant
    • Globe Market
    • Mes Que
    • Caramici’s Bistro & Bakery
    • House of Olives
    • La Tavola
    • Encompass Coffee
    • Vasilis Express

And on the docket for later this year, Belsito.

Colvin EstatesWhile I stuck to strictly Hertel Ave. locations in the above list, I think it’s noteworthy to also mention the new Colvin Estates housing development (Rachel Vincent Way) that’s nearing the completion of phase one, as well as the partial demolition and residential plans of the former Korean Methodist Church (Colvin & Tacoma).

There’s also hope and secret plans in the works for the two schools that closed down. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some other places or newsworthy plans, but I suppose having too many things to list is a great problem.

All in all, it’s been an incredible 2+ years for Hertel Ave. It’s an exciting time to live and play in North Buffalo and I just wanted to post this to say how awesome that it is.

let the good times roll

A school door closes, an apartment door opens?

I walked past the corner of Saranac & Hertel yesterday evening. Lloyds Taco Truck was serving a healthy line of people and there were a few small groups gathered on the St. Margaret’s School grounds eating, picnic style.

It was nice to see some activity in the shadow of a huge, empty building. Sadly, the purpose for my walk wasn’t for Tricked-Out Nachos, but to attend a town hall meeting held for parishioners of St. Margaret’s Church to discuss the future of a piece of their property they are struggling to keep viable. If you weren’t aware, the catholic elementary school that sits in the heart of the burgeoning Hertel Avenue district closed in 2012 and the building now joins the neighboring convent in dormancy.

st margarets schoolLarge, empty structures are surely not uncommon in Buffalo, but now more than ever we’re seeing thoughtful renovation and reuse in the city. Not surprisingly, a similar opportunity lies in waiting here. Iskalo Development Corp., a proven developer that focuses on redevelopment and revitalization of established neighborhoods, has made an offer to buy the property, keep the buildings standing, and convert them into 30 high-end apartments, along with adding 42 parking spaces for the tenants. 

The parish council shared full details of the proposal, included the financial considerations of the church, and offered a number of very personal and sentimental opinions – all in full support. It was clear that this situation was not taken lightly. It was also clear that they realized this opportunity could be a Godsend (pun intended).

However, despite being presented what I saw as a no-brainer, there was a wary, almost reluctant sentiment displayed by the 60+ people in attendance. A barrage of questions (and gripes) followed the presentation. Understandably, people that attended the school and have come to know it only as a school over the past half century didn’t want to just say goodbye without a bit of a debate. But I think deep down everyone knew it was the right thing to do.

Here are the pros of the proposal:

  • Proceeds will enable St. Margaret’s Church to satisfy some significant upcoming financial obligations owed to the diocese, afford them the opportunity to make some repairs and cosmetic improvements to the property, and have a long sought after emergency fund.
  • Ongoing maintenance and utility bills of the two buildings will no longer be a liability to the church.
  • The general appearance of the structures remain, and the existing church parking lots would be unaffected.
  • Empty buildings become active again, and the property that was designed like a small campus can return to its previous vibrancy.
  • Inventory of residential units in high demand in North Buffalo will be added, bringing even more life (and likely, youth) to a neighborhood on the rise.
  • True economic impact. These buildings will go back on the city tax roll. And more residential means more foot traffic on the streets, more shopping in the stores, more tables filled at the restaurants.
  • And maybe, just maybe, a few of the new apartment residents become parishioners of St. Margaret’s.

The cons:

  • The parish will need to find new space to hold meetings and gatherings (the reply of the council offered the rectory space as well as the available halls at Holy Spirit).
  • Any consideration of reopening or reusing the school permanently goes away (noting, commercial reuse isn’t really an option as the parish would lose their tax exempt status if they were to charge for activities unrelated to their religious mission).
  • A handful of residents (about seven houses) on the small Saranac South block would see increased car traffic.
  • A sentimental landmark to many will forever be changed.

In my opinion, not much in the way of cons.

For those that know me, they know that often I can’t withhold comment. So I spoke up once everyone said what they had to say. I am 100% in favor of the sale and proposed plans and I applaud the parish council for their extensive due diligence and for giving residents a voice in the discussion. I am also thrilled with the plans and extremely fair offer from Iskalo. 

In this case, it’s more than just rehabbing a few empty buildings. It’s about restoring the vitality of a church community. A huge blessing could be bestowed upon us…that is, if we don’t get in the way.