City Mission could relocate with right offer

June 3, 2013 Updated Jun 3, 2013 at 8:00 AM EDT

By Tracey Drury, Buffalo Business First

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City Mission could relocate with right offer

June 3, 2013 Updated Jun 3, 2013 at 8:00 AM EDT

The Buffalo City Mission's days on the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus might be numbered - if the right offer comes along.

CEO Stuart Harper confirmed Friday the Mission is open to discussing the possibility of selling its men's shelter facility at E. Tupper and Ellicott streets and moving to another site outside the footprint of the medical campus.

"We know that day is coming," he said. "We make less and less sense to this particular area."

Harper's comments came days after a confirmation that Uniland Development Co. will develop a medical office building next door to the Mission's facility on three parcels, including the Frey the Wheelman warehouse at 505 Ellicott St., an adjoining surface parking lot and Frey the Wheelman's main Ellicott Street property.

The area right around the Mission has been a hotbed for development of late, including construction on the University at Buffalo's new Educational Opportunity Center across the street. That's in addition to all the hospital projects taking place a stone's throw from the facility on the 120-acre medical campus.

Two sources in the development community said there's increasing pressure on the City Mission to move, but Harper said he's yet to be approached and hasn't felt any pressure. But he does see the wisdom in the idea.

"We've always been under the expectation that at some point someone's going to come to our door and make us an offer we can't refuse, but that hasn't happened," he said.

The City Mission built the shelter at the site in 1984 on a parcel deeded by the City of Buffalo. The $7 million project replaced a facility on Broadway just outside the city core that was being rehabbed for other projects. With few men's shelters on which to model the site, Harper says the shelter was designed much like a prison, with a large, open space filled with bunkbeds for emergency shelter and transitional housing.

The ideal situation would mirror what happened with Cornerstone Manor, its women's shelter, which was moved off campus in 2006. The $10 million, 60,000-square-foot facility on Michigan and North streets opened in 2006, serving up to 122 women and children. In that case, Roswell Park Cancer Institute worked with the Mission, bought the former building on Carlton, and helped negotiate with then-Mayor Anthony Masiello to build the new site on a city-owned parcel.

The agency has been talking about expanding or renovating the men's shelter since at least 2006, the year before Harper joined the agency.

"We always felt that if we were the motivating factor to move, it would probably be worth less versus if someone came to our door, their willingness to pay more would be higher," Harper said. "We've been waiting for that knock on the door."

A new building, or a site that could be rehabbed, would need to be within relative walking distance from the bus station and within the city, Harper said. It would need to have at least the capacity of the current facility, which houses about 280 men nightly, plus another 100 on cots on cold winter nights, a 32,000-square-foot facility. And ideally, he'd like it to have public meeting and event space to provide outreach to the community.

The ability to move to a new site comes down to money, Harper said. Founded in 1917, the agency operates on an annual budget of about $6.5 million, relying almost entirely on public support: Less than 1 percent of revenues come from public sources. The Cornerstone project was funded with tax credits and assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But construction costs have only gone up since then.

"The driving factor would really be someone coming to our door and really wanting to help us in making that move - and with the political structure in the city to make that move happen," he said.