Elmwood Village: A sustainable streetscape
Restore the core. That’s the mantra of architect Karl Frizlen, whose myriad development projects marry green construction with quality-of-life considerations. The German-born Frizlen, who’s long made his home in the Elmwood Village, sees the salvation of cities in the restoration of vibrant, vital downtown cores. His conversion of the former Annunciation School on Buffalo’s West Side into twenty loft-style apartments, along with incubator office suites and a day care center, as well as innovative green design features like a solar electric system, earned he and a partner, contractor Paul Johnson, a 2010 New York State Historic Preservation Award.
Lately two new projects of the Frizlen Group have sprung up in the Elmwood Village, signs of life in what were noticeably moribund spaces.
What’s happening at 305 Utica Apartments?
This is a redesign of a project started more than four years ago, when we [attorney Michael Ferdman is a partner] bought three properties on West Utica near Elmwood. One was a rooming house, the other a single, and the third piece a vacant lot. We deconstructed the rooming house with the help of Buffalo ReUse. We planned to build condos, but switched to apartments following the economic downturn in 2008. The new design features sixteen luxurious apartments [two bedrooms, two baths] and two small studios in two buildings, with underground parking. Here there is more demand now for apartments, and it is easier to finance. With eighteen new living units, our intent was to increase the density, to support the nearby commercial and retail strip. We are completing construction now and expect to be leasing in May.
You have also just wrapped up another project down the street, at Bryant and Elmwood.
448 Elmwood is a mixed-use building on the site of a KFC restaurant that had been closed for a couple of years. It was really a drain on the neighborhood, and needed replacing with a larger building. We now have a Canadian franchise, Coffee Culture, occupying forty percent of the ground floor, with two smaller retail establishments in the rest of the space. Above are two floors of living space: twelve two-bedroom, two-bath apartments, featuring back terraces and balconies. There is an elevator, and enclosed parking entered on the Bryant Street side—no more big open parking space where people can hang out, often with questionable intent. Neighbors have responded very favorably to the new building. Twelve families and three businesses are better for the neighborhood than one franchise. Now there is 24/7 activity, and a lot more eyes on the street.
Do you have a building design philosophy?
A building should not be a drain, but rather an asset to a neighborhood. It should be financially sustainable, and it should be environmentally sustainable.
It’s still a tough economy. Are you optimistic about the future of urban environments?
Cities like Buffalo have suffered greatly. From the mid-twentieth century on, most U.S. cities have sprawled and abandoned their cores. There is a small resurgence now—but it is a resurgence. I see people coming back into the city from the suburbs, or moving into downtown Buffalo from out of town. And younger people, in their twenties and thirties, do cherish cities. This is where I am pinning my hopes for Buffalo. Creating an urban vitality of mixed-use buildings and ethnic diversity will bring cities back to what they were … The economy has its ups and downs, no doubt about it. And it is more complex and risky to take on a multiuse project as opposed to a single-story single-use building. But as more of us understand urban architecture and the importance of it, more developers will see that this can be financially rewarding and they shouldn’t shy away from such projects.