A medical complex currently under construction near Amherst’s Northtown Center is, depending on who you ask, either a boon or a waste for the town.
To critics of the $67 million project, it represents a subsidized giveaway of a valuable park that fails to help residents and unnecessarily displace young athletes from Amherst.
But when supporters look at the building, they see the new recreational and community spaces the city is adding, thanks to money generated from the development.
The medical building, linked to UBMD and Kaleida Health and set to open next year, is the first tangible sign of Amherst Central Park’s planned transformation from an area on and around the Northtown Center recreation venue, l City’s former Westwood Country Club and Audubon Golf Course.
Critics say city officials failed to look out for the best interests of neighbors and taxpayers in negotiations with the medical building’s developer, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., and Westwood site owners, Mensch Capital Partners.
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Additionally, they say, the sale of prime recreational land to Ciminelli has forced the city to spend millions of dollars to replace football, softball and baseball fields lost to medical development. And not all of the replacement fields are ready for use, with a wetter-than-normal spring delaying the completion of four new softball fields.
“In Amherst, the children and the taxpayers continue to lose while the developers reap the benefits,” said Mary Wood, who recently wrote about the UBMD deal in letters to The Buffalo News and Amherst Bee.
However, Amherst supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said the UBMD project is doing what city officials intended it to do: provide new revenue that the city can invest in improved sports venues and a community center in northwest Amherst.
And, he said, Amherst could reach a final agreement next month on a nearly $40 million plan, years in the making, that would see Mensch turn the former country club into a park before selling it. in the city.
“The reality of that scenario is … I think we’re building more ballparks and better ballparks than anyone in Western New York right now,” Kulpa said.
Amherst sold 15 acres of sports fields, off Maple Road, just east of the Northtown Center ice rink complex, for $3 million to a group of doctors and investors, Bones and Guts LLC.
As part of the $67.3 million project, Ciminelli is constructing a 163,000 square foot medical and surgical building, with more than 800 parking spaces, for a group of tenants including UBMD specialty practices and an ambulatory surgery center joint UBMD-Kaleida Health.
Ciminelli in December received tax relief worth up to $3.7 million from the Amherst Industrial Development Agency for the project, which is expected to open in June. Work began in December and the building’s core and shell are about 75% complete, Ciminelli spokesman Andy Schwartz said.
The land sold to the group of doctors included a number of fields used by youth sports teams, requiring the city to find new playing fields for them.
For Williamsville Jr. Football and Cheer, the city built two new football fields at nearby North Amherst Recreation Center and American Legion AJ Jurek Post #1672, both at Millersport Highway and New Road. The city has reached a deal to buy the property from the American Legion, Kulpa said, a move that helps the city and the cash-strapped Post Office.
Williamsville Jr. Football played last fall football and this spring flag football seasons at Williamsville South High School, league president Krystina Frangos said. The new football pitches opened at the end of July, in time for the current season, she said.
A new building housing concessions, change rooms and bathrooms remains under construction, Frangos said.
“They did a really good job. Obviously there are some finishing touches, like the concession stand. And then landscaping, things like that,” she said. “But the fields themselves are – they are beautiful.”
Amherst Girls Softball League had seven fields at Northtown Center but lost three to the UBMD construction project. The city has agreed to build four new fields on the former site of the Buffalo Shooting Club along Maple Road.
The city’s lease for the diamonds runs until 2026, with a five-year extension, and Kulpa said he’s not worried the site’s developer will ask for the land to be returned.
Work on the new fields has been delayed due to the wet spring, Kulpa said, but crews have made progress. Turf needs to settle, but fields should be ready for use by October, possibly during fall recreational league, he said.
For the spring softball season, including travel teams and a major tournament, the organization had to squeeze in games on the remaining four diamonds near the Northtown Center, said Julie Styn, a board member of the league, after initially being notified of the new pitches. would be ready in April.
Wet weather didn’t make planning any easier, Styn said.
“The board are frustrated. I mean, I’ll be honest with you – I’m one of them. They’ve already finished the football pitches. The football pitches are finished and beautiful,” he said. she said, laughing. “You know, I can only hope ours look as good.”
Additionally, teams are still upgrading a field at the Lou Gehrig Baseball Complex on Dann Road that the D’Youville University baseball team will use to replace land lost to the UBMD development.
The UBMD project, the developer’s tax breaks and the relocation of sports teams have all drawn opposition, particularly last year when Kulpa and two other City Council Democrats ran and won re-election.
Judy Ferraro, a fierce critic of development in this section of Amherst, said the town offered little opportunity for public participation before agreeing during the pandemic to sell the fields.
“A lot of people are devastated and still sleepwalking through this horrible time in our history,” Ferraro said, “and Kulpa is exploiting and exploiting it.”
She and other critics have said the medical complex does not deserve tax incentives. Medical projects are generally not eligible for tax breaks, but Ciminelli and partners at UBMD have successfully argued that the multi-tenant center will provide premium services “not currently available” in Amherst.
“None of this is in favor of a central park. The recreation grounds are decentralized and Westwood is still owned by Mensch. UBMD, Mensch and the gun club site owner are the winners. Residents and taxpayers are the losers.” Jennifer Snyder-Haas wrote in a lengthy review last year.
Kulpa pushed back, pointing out that the sale price money of nearly $3 million and the $700,000 in annual tax revenue will cover the approximately $6 million cost of the new updated sports fields and help to pay for a new community center being built in an office park in northwest Amherst, as well as improvements to the Northtown Center ice rink complex.
“The UBMD project has been nothing but a way to benefit sports for young people all over the city,” he said.
The UBMD is a component of the long-controversial and much-delayed Amherst Central Park project.
As The News reported late last year, the city and Mensch cut a convoluted land swap. Instead, Amherst would pay Mensch around $32 million to clean up toxins from the Westwood site, renovate the clubhouse and turn the 170-acre plot into a park.
An additional $8 million would go toward building a new theater for MusicalFare, which would re-rent the performing arts space.
The deal awaits final approval from parties and state environmental regulators, possibly by the end of next month. Part of the park could open as early as 2024, he said.
“Hopefully we can phase it in and use some of it,” Kulpa said.