In downtown Buffalo, a surface parking lot gives way to affordable housing and mobility hub

Hungry for Something New

In downtown Buffalo, a surface parking lot gives way to affordable housing and mobility hub

Located on the eastern edge of downtown Buffalo, the CannonDesign-designed 201 Ellicott development features 201 units of affordable housing, a mobility hub, and a large market specializing in fresh, locally sourced food. (Laura Peters/CannonDesign)

In downtown Buffalo, a place where parking spots can be found in great abundance but fresh food is woefully scarce, hometown architecture and engineering firm CannonDesign and developer Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. have served up a $76 million mixed-use development that helps to end the area’s reputation as a food desert, with a side of affordable housing and alternative transit options.

Anchored by a new, second location of venerable Hamburg, New York-based Braymiller Market (less a conventional supermarket and more an authentic market with a focus on fresh produce and other local fare), the newly completed 201 Ellicott transcends typical mixed-use developments in its unique tripartite approach to addressing the needs of Buffalo’s central business district.

the side of a residential building with a large colorful mural
Golden Hour, a mural by artist Josef Kristofoletti commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Public Art Initiative. (Laura Peters/CannonDesign)

In addition to the 220,0000-square-foot outpost of Braymiller Market to cater to both retail and wholesale customers, the development features a mixed-income affordable apartment complex operated by Belmont Housing Resources with 131 one-bedroom units and 70 two-bedrooms units. A majority of the units are available to households earning at or below 70 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), while 44 percent are available to households earning up to 80 percent of the AMI. The building also features a community room with a kitchenette, fitness space, communal laundry facilities, outdoor recreational space, and a bicycle storage and repair area.

Like other recent CannonDesign-led projects in Buffalo, the building conspicuously includes a public art component realized in collaboration with Aaron Ott, curator of Public Art at Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery. At 201 Ellicott, the Texas-based Josef Kristofoletti was commissioned to create a large-scale, two-wall kaleidoscopic mural that brings a hard-to-miss blast of color to a former brownfield site that, until somewhat recently, was a vacant city-owned surface parking lot with 380 total spots—one of “the many, many surface parking lots” stretching across a swath of downtown Buffalo’s eastern edge as Michael Tunkey, principal at CannonDesign, described it. As Tunkey noted to AN, this sea of parking lots was once home to a “continuous kind of four-story brick fabric extending all the way out from the city to the east side.” In the 1960s and 70s, these buildings were leveled as part of Buffalo’s neighborhood-severing urban renewal efforts.

 man walks past an entrance to a market
Entrance to Braymiller Market at 201 Ellicott in downtown Buffalo. (Laura Peters/CannonDesign)

In addition to Kristofoletti’s mural, Tunkey, who also sits on the public art committee at Albright-Knox, told AN that there are plans for smaller, community-based public art projects at 201 Ellicott as well.

Joining the standalone market and affordable housing complex at 201 Ellicott, which is situated opposite the modernist Buffalo & Erie County Public Library that bridges over Ellicott Street, is the development’s third signature element: Buffalo’s inaugural mobility hub.

A project of GO Buffalo Niagara, the prominently located hub is meant to discourage solo car trips by offering Buffalo residents a range of multi-modal resources including an integrated bus stop with a covered waiting area and a Reddy Bikeshare kiosk. Described by Tunkey as the “perfect transit-oriented development site,” 201 Ellicott also enjoys close proximity to a subway station. “The mobility hub is both a physical place and it’s a set of programs,” Tunkey elaborated, noting the grant-funded educational element complementing the actual built mobility hub. “It’s really meant primarily for the residents of the housing but it’s also a community component,” he added.

street view of a market and colorful residential building
201 Ellicott as seen from (beneath) the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. (Laura Peters/CannonDesign)

As for the new downtown Buffalo location of Braymiller Market, which created quite the buzz when it opened this fall, Tunkey noted owner Stuart Green’s commitment to hiring from within the community for the second location. (The flagship in Hamburg is roughly 30 minutes south of downtown Buffalo.) “If you go in there [the downtown location], the employees look like that community, because they are from that community—it’s not just the shoppers.” Tunkey also emphasized that the offerings at Braymiller Market wildly differ from that of a typical chain supermarket. “It’s just so much fresh food—so local, so seasonal, so good. It’s just qualitatively different, and you feel like you’re at a farm stand, really.” (In true Western New York style, Braymiller’s, which indeed has its roots as a farm stand, has a wildly devoted fanbase.)

Tunkey added with while the market, like the adjacent apartment building, was designed by CannonDesign, Green acted as a creative partner in the project and oversaw much of the interior design himself.

Years in the making, 201 Ellicott is the second iteration of planned development (a previous version also featured housing although not of the affordable variety) at the site and was crafted through what Tunkey referred to as “probably the most detailed community engagement plan I’ve ever been involved with.”

people shop for produce inside a market
Braymiller Market proprietor Stuart Green helped oversee the downtown location’s interior design. (Laura Peters/CannonDesign)
overhead view of shoppers inside a busy market
Both a wholesale and retail operation, Braymiller Market offers local produce, prepared foods, standard groceries, and more. (Laura Peters/CannonDesign)

The state, which helped to finance both the residential and commercial aspects of the development through a variety of means including $10.5 million in permanent tax-exempt bonds, has also touted the unique trifecta of components present at 201 Ellicott, particularly the affordable housing element.

“Creating and securing affordable housing is a cornerstone of building thriving communities and my administration is committed to making the investments necessary to make those efforts a reality,” said New York Governor Kathy Hochul in a statement. “This project, which will create hundreds of affordable units in the heart of Buffalo’s central business district, is the latest example of this work and represents a major step forward in achieving a flourishing Buffalo.”

“I don’t think Albany is familiar with any developments that have recently hit all of these elements in a single project,” added Tunkey. “Transit-oriented, mixed-use, mobility, fresh food […] it’s a lot to be proud of, for sure.”