Elmwood Village Hotel: Good Neighbor?
all the neighborhoods in Buffalo, the Elmwood/Forest area has
been a perennial favorite, featuring a mix of college kids,
urban professionals and subculture bohemians, as well as a commercial
mix of funky stores, upscale restaurants and watering holes.
It’s one of the only areas left in Buffalo where people
go just to watch other people. 500 feet from Buff State, it’s
also the main drag for dormers looking for something to do.
that may be about to change. If you just heard about the proposed
“Elmwood Village Hotel,” a 4-story, 72-room, to-the-sidewalk
behemoth to be built across four lots on Elmwood, which currently
house four local businesses, you’re not alone. Almost
no one knew about it until mid-February, but the proposal seems
already to be a done deal.
Hans Mobius is widely regarded in Buffalo to be a total dick,
and not just because he has the name of a comic book super-villain.
Mobius owns all of the properties to be leveled for the hotel,
and stands to make a bundle. For years, he has been letting
these buildings deteriorate in anticipation of just such an
event as this. It’s an old slumlord tactic—turn
your property into an eyesore, and eventually the city will
do whatever it takes to get rid of you, including obviating
zoning regulations so you can make a million dollars (in the
works is a plan to change the zoning of adjacent housing so
that the hotel can be built within inches of its neighbors).
In this instance Mobius’ diabolical plan has worked perfectly,
and he will profit richly from his strategic neglect. This sends
a clear and dangerous message to other property owners in Buffalo.
Mobius’ unjust reward isn’t the only queer aspect
to this deal. Forever Elmwood, the 10-year-old non-profit organization
dedicated to historic preservation of the area, staffed by business
owners and urban planning geeks, has been mainly a benevolent
force. But lately FE seems to have become a little too enchanted
with its growing power. While it would seem to directly contradict
their recent blockage of Pano’s restaurant’s expansion
on the same block, FE has thrown its full force behind the proposed
say the fact that attached architect Karl Frizlen is also a
Forever Elmwood member shows a conflict of interest. But what
bothers us more is that the project was presented to Forever
Elmwood a year or more ago, but the public heard of it only
shortly before the design was to come before the Planning Board,
and only then through the Buffalo News, despite the fact that
Artvoice publisher Jamie Moses is another Forever Elmwood member.
To their credit the developer, Savarino Construction, has redesigned
the hotel, knocking off a floor, and postponed meeting with
the Planning Board and Common Council due to public outcry.
can be no question that a big, boxy hotel is going to change
the character of the neighborhood. There will be no tattoo shops
or used clothing stores in this place; it’s going to be
more upscale stores for suburban visitors. There’s not
going to be a feeling of the commons anymore—soon enough,
security could be clearing off any kids who persist in hanging
around in front of the place. Where there was an open, green
area, there will be a boxed-in sensation and reduced visibility.
the more frightening prospect is the possible, very possible
in our minds, failure of the hotel. Buffalo’s hotels have
about a 50% vacancy rate. Elmwood & Forest seems like a
desirable location as opposed to the hotels downtown, depending
on a visitor’s reasons for traveling to Buffalo, but is
there enough demand to sustain this hotel for years to come?
We know it’s not cool anymore to suggest the possibility
that the future of Buffalo is anything but milk and honey, but
in reality, lots of businesses open and close in short order
around here. Jamie Moses and Forever Elmwood have often fought
against the erection of “single use” structures,
usually referring to stores like Rite Aid and Walgreen’s.
But what second use could be applied here? It would be stupid
not to plan for such a possibility.
crappy houses can be fixed up. If one business fails, another
can easily move in. A 72-room hotel has extremely limited reuse
capacities, the most obvious being public housing, which would
obviously damage the neighborhood.
in Moses’ own Artvoice feature advocating the hotel plan
(“Elmwood Village Hotel: Our Growing City,” March
2), he raises this issue but fails to address it. One of the
questions he poses on behalf of the project’s opponents
under the heading “Who is opposed and why?” goes
like this: “What if the hotel fails and we end up with
a big empty building or a city center for homeless people?”
he never gets around to answering that question. Maybe he just
couldn’t think of a good answer. We certainly can’t.