Elmwood-Forest Development Proceeds

BUFFALO – Nothing says Elmwood Village like a store filled with hula hoops.

At the corner of Elmwood and Forest avenues, Filigrees Gallery and Boutique welcomes live musicians and artists with large, colorful hula hoops on both the front stairwell and inside the store. Housed in an old, crumbling building across the street from a gas station and a block from Buffalo State College, Filigrees represents an informal dividing line of sorts. Melissa Campbell, the sole proprietor of Filigrees, refers to her location as the Gateway to Elmwood Village, since it marks the very beginning of a long line of famous shops and restaurants in this part of the city.

But when she moved her business here four years ago, she knew she might not be able to stay forever.

And this weekend, after years of rumors, Campbell learned the news that might force her to find a new location: Chason Affinity Companies, which owns her building and several others at this intersection, received approval from a judge for a $35 million hotel project. The hotel would also include residential units and retail shops, replacing those decrepit buildings like the one where Campbell works.

"If it's really fancy here," Campbell said, "I'm not sure hula hooping out front is going to be as ideal as it is right now."

Campbell said there's a chance she could remain a tenant in the new building, but she will likely look for other options in other neighborhoods. Chason Affinity Companies owns nine properties on Elmwood Avenue and two properties on Forest Avenue, which would all be torn down to create one new structure for 100 to 125 hotel rooms and other units.

Paul Mietlicki, who has rented an apartment for three years from one of the company's properties on Forest Avenue, said he's heard rumors swirling of a hotel for a long time.

"To throw a hotel on the corner where there's a lot of local business," Mietlicki said, "seems kind of knuckleheaded."

Personal feelings aside, though, the court decision means he may need to find a new place to rent an apartment.

"We'll find out," Mietlicki said. "Hopefully, they'll give us notice."

Interestingly enough, Chason Affinity Companies' legal battle had nothing to do with current tenants and everything to do with next-door neighbors. A few residents in that area did not sign off on the hotel deal, and through defense attorney Arthur Giacalone, they argued that deed covenants from 1892 prohibited this particular site from containing commercial property. However, in his ruling, Judge John Michalek claimed that this deed restriction no longer applies, since those properties have been used commercially for decades.

"Mixed use of the many properties has been in existence almost from the beginning," Michalek said in his ruling.

Giacalone said he plans to appeal. He would need to file an appeal within 30 days, with 60 additional days to then submit all the paperwork.

"They're going to go from having a two-family house next to them, to having the entrance way to a six-story -- entrance and exit -- to a six-story commercial building next to them," Giacalone said. "My clients are defendants forced to spend time, money, and a huge amount of emotional involvement in this lawsuit for two and a half years to try to protect their neighborhood."

Mark Chason, the president of Chason Affinity Companies, said he feels confident the appeal will fall short. He also said his new structure, located near the street and shaped as a "wedding cake" by hanging back in the upper stories, would "fit" the Elmwood Village neighborhood.

"This is a chance to really revitalize that area, set the tone," Chason said. "It's really the gateway to Elmwood Village, which is such a great area."

Chason said his company would probably need another year of work before it would be able to break ground. At that point, construction would take 15 to 18 months.

Barring a successful appeal, it appears the "Gateway to Elmwood Village" could be in store for a major overhaul. But even Campbell, who'd need to consider new arrangements, isn't so sure change is a bad thing in this case.

"If Buffalo is in a revival, then I think this is great," Campbell said. "As long as it doesn't become a corporate, draining pit where the money's just going to leave the area."

Campbell said she may consider moving to North Buffalo, or perhaps even starting a mobile unit to sell art and music on the street.

And as for Mietlicki, that renter on Forest Avenue? He's just going to keep paying his rent until further notice.

"I'll figure something out," he said.


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