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A South End eyesore that once birthed generations of Falls kids may soon experience a rebirth of its own.
Members of the city’s Planning Board have given unanimous approval to a site plan, submitted by a Miami-based developer, that calls for renovating the former St. Mary’s Hospital on Sixth Street into a mixed-income housing development. The plan carries a $40 million development cost and could spur a projected $40 million in collateral investment in the city’s South End.
The project is being spearheaded by Generation Development Group LLC, whose principal partner is Marvin Wilmoth. He’s also the vice mayor and Harbor Island commissioner at North Bay Village in Miami.
Generation Development is not a new player in Western New York. The company was a partner in the AP Lofts project in Buffalo’s historic Larknville neighborhood and is the principal developer for Buffalo’s Silo City project, a $65 million conversion of an historic warehouse and milling facility complex into an apartment, office, wellness and artistic destination.
“We have a soft spot in our hearts for beautiful community assets that just need some capital,” Wilmoth said. “The historic adaptation and re-use of St. Mary’s Hospital will provide 90 apartment homes for service professionals.”
Wilmoth said consultations with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center President and CEO Joseph Ruffolo and Falls Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie identified “a dire need for workforce housing.” So the St. Mary’s project will target teachers and health care providers as potential occupants.
The property is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, the federal government’s list of “districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance.” That means that a wide variety of targeted grants and tax credits will be available to fund the project.
Wilmoth said the former hospital’s historic features will figure prominently in its renovation. He said the project architects are “the gold standard for preservation deals.”
Plans currently call for the developer to submit further planning and zoning applications by this summer. Wilmoth said he hopes to have “hammers swinging” inside the old hospital by the last quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2023.
The developer says he understands the skepticism of some in the Falls residents, who’ve seen grand proposals for the former hospital go nowhere. But he said he was enticed by the approach of Mayor Robert Restaino and his staff on spurring South End development.
“We were attracted by some of the efforts already underway,” Wilmoth said.
And he was struck by the community’s connection to the former hospital.
“Everyone we speak with has a different story of they’re connected to the hospital,” Wilmoth said. “It’s one of the most exciting things about preserving historical assets. Everyone has an emotional connection to the project.”
Restaino said he has met with the developers and come away impressed with their track record.
“Generation is doing projects in Buffalo and they’ve had progress there,” the mayor said, “They recognize the structural needs (of the property). They have a serious intent and a clear vision and they believe they can accomplish the plan they propose.”
And mindful of the past development failures that have haunted St. Mary’s, the mayor said he’s optimistic this project can succeed,
“What this group brings is a vision and history of delivering,” Restaino said. “They’re not afraid to think of innovative ways to tackle problems.”
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