Two old ladies were the headliners for downtown development last year. Mark Croce’s purchase and investment in the Statler and Rocco Termini’s ongoing work at the Hotel Lafayette are significant in themselves. To have both properties rescued from an uncertain future, at the same time, is great news for the city.
Croce purchased the Statler in March. The Niagara Square landmark was tied up in bankruptcy court and would have been mothballed or even demolished if a buyer was not found. Croce’s vision for the property ia to reopen the building’s lower floors for retail, restaurant and banquet use and put residential, hotel and office space into the building’s upper floors as the market allows.
Renovation work started quickly and many of the building’s signature public spaces were open in time for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s national conference in October. Since then, Croce has completed additional restoration projects on the first three floors, opened the Rendezvous club in the lower level and two weeks ago opened the new lobby bar near the Delaware Avenue entrance. This year, Croce expects to bring additional tenants to the property and has said that a bakery, sports museum, bank, health club and others are interested in space in the building.
The work underway in the Lafayette Hotel is even more impressive. Rocco Termini purchased the Louise Blanchard Bethune-designed building from out-of-town owners last May. Structurally, the building was in good shape. Water damage over the years left many areas of the building unusable however. With the help of architectural firm Carmina Wood Morris, Termini is putting retail, restaurant and banquet uses back into the first floor, creating a 34-room boutique hotel on the second floor, and converting the upper floors into 115 apartments. Work is expected to be done by May.
For two years, downtown officials wrung their hands over HSBC bank’s lease for office space at One HSBC Center than ends in 2013. The bank was considering renewing its lease in the tower or relocating its workers to new space either in the suburbs, outside of the region or a new building downtown. Rumors were rampant. HSBC appeared to be torn between staying in the tower or occupying a new building that would have been constructed on the Webster Block at the foot of Main Street.
Global financial troubles changed the bank’s plans as HSBC announced that it was reducing its credit card and consumer banking operations in the United States and the relocation effort was put on hold. First Niagara purchased 195 of HSBC’s branches, mostly in upstate New York.
The bank is renovating its Atrium property on Washington Street to accommodate 2,000 employees, up from 1,200 currently working there. The bank announced its intention to honor its lease for over 600,000 sq.ft. of space in the tower, but that lease expires in late-2013 and any vacated space will have a substantial impact on the downtown office market.
Three developments with a combined 40 residential units were completed last year. Chris Jacobs finished renovations to678 Main Street. The terra cotta building in the Theater District contains commercial space along Main Street with loft-like finishes and two residential units in the rear along Pearl Street.
A four-story building nestled between City Hall and the new Federal Courthouse was renovated into a mix of office space and 26, one and two-level loft apartments. The circa-1916 Robertson Cataract Building (later known as the Corn Exchange) was renovated by Anthony Baynes and Kent Frey and rechristened “100 South.”
Ellicott Development and McGuire Development finished the residential portion of the Baker Shoe complex renovation at 456 Main Street. “The Antonio” has twelve loft apartments. Half were leased prior to opening.
Ellicott Development is bullish on the downtown area rental market and has two residential projects underway in Allentown. The Bellasara at Delaware and Allen is being expanded by ten units. Nearby on North Street, the firm isputting 13 apartments into the former New Life Assembly of God Church at N. Pearl and North streets. Residential space is also planned for the former Grace Manor Nursing Home on Symphony Circle and the Graystone on Johnson Park.
A handful of new downtown residential projects were announced this past year. Sienna Realty is planning 21 apartments for the Turner Bros. Building at 297-301 Niagara Street. St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral is shifting its offices to Main Street and freeing up its Parish House at 128 Pearl Street for conversion to 11 affordable apartments.
On Lafayette Square, Hamister Group is said to be finalizing plans to convert the 20-story Tishman Building into hotel, residential and office space. Work is expected to begin this year.
At the end of 2011, two downtown properties were purchased with the buyers planning a residential element in their reuse plans. Amita Jackie is planning an unknown number of apartments at 472 Main Street. At the former Grever’s Florist location at 537 Main, the new owners are planning to open a restaurant on the ground floor and put residential space on the upper floors.
The demand for downtown living appears to be steady. Several successful developers are actively looking for additional properties suitable for residential conversion.
For years, the Genesee Block at the foot of the Kensington Expressway ramps into downtown stood as a sad, hollowed-out shell. That all changed last year as officials officially opened the the Genesee Gateway complex.
Delaware Avenue saw two office building projects. 334 Delaware Avenue, a non-descript, two-story office building near Tupper Street, is getting a new façade and a new third level by owner Jeffrey Davis.
Further north on Delaware, Alliance Advisory Group purchased and renovated 600 Delaware for its new offices. The financial services firm relocated downtown from Amherst.
Four redevelopment projects are bringing office space to market but each had a tenant or owner-occupant lined up to anchor the building.
Law firm Ricotta and Visco purchased 496 Main Street and is converting the four-story, 11,440 sq.ft. building for its new office. It is one of several projects happening on the 500 block of Main Street.
On Chippewa Street, work started to convert the upper floors of the Calumet Building into the offices of law firm Kenney, Shelton, Liptak, & Nowak. Frank Parisi and Angelo Natale are leading the project.
Renovation plans for 477 Main Street were revived by the Martin Group. Work is underway at the former Wendy’s restaurant which will see a 1,500 sq.ft second floor addition, a new façade and a balcony overlooking Main Street. The full-service marketing communications firm is moving from the New Era building on Delaware Avenue.
In December, the largest office project of the year started when Benderson Development began redeveloping the Donovan Building. Law firm Phillips Lytle has signed on to take the building’s top four floors. It marks the first significant private-sector development in the Canalside footprint.
There are plans for new lodging facilities throughout downtown but only two were started or completed last year.
In May, Uniland Development opened an additional floor of hotel rooms at the Embassy Suites. The success of the hotel prompted the 29-room expansion onto the 8th floor of the Avant that had been marketed for offices.
Rocco Termini is putting a 34-room boutique hotel on the second floor of the Lafayette Hotel.
Five or more other projects are planned with hotel rooms. Rocco Termini is planning a 35-room hotel in his proposed AM&A’s Department Store reuse project. Mark Croce is focused on restoration of the Statler which is expected to have a hotel component in the future. Croce’s boutique hotel in the Curtiss Building is still in the planning stages.
Hamister Group’s plans for the Tishman Building call for a 130-room Hilton Garden Inn to anchor the mixed-use project. Ellicott Development is considering a hotel for its planned project at nearby 50 Court Street. A hotel has also been proposed for the Aud site at Canalside.
The first new construction on Niagara Square in decades officially opened in the fall. At a cost of over $100 million, the Federal Courthouse is also one of the most expensive projects ever completed downtown.
Roger Trettel completed three projects last year. 523 Main Street houses Main Washington Exchange. The complex consists of two linked buildings that connect Main and Washington streets. Two doors away, renovated 515 Main Street is the home of Main Street Studios. Both projects are bringing creative types and new life to a critical downtown block. At 290 Ellicott, Trettel opened Storage Central, a self-storage facility located in the former Hengerer’s Department Store warehouse.
Elsewhere on Ellicott, Rocco Termini is rehabbing two buildings for restaurant use. Work is underway to convert the former Horton Coffee Co. building, at 338 Ellicott Street into a family-style restaurant. Plans for 437 Ellicott Street call for an Italian restaurant and renovated upper floors.
Three cultural sites are expanding.
The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site on Delaware Avenue is expanding its campus footprint by demolishing an adjacent office building that was donated by Bank of America. Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum is nearly doubling the size of its complex at Seneca and Michigan. A filling station based upon a design by Frank Lloyd Wright will occupy a portion of the new museum space.
The Langston Hughes Institute is rehabbing a half-block of buildings at the corner of Michigan and Broadway as its new offices. The non-profit organization previously occupied space at 25 High Street before selling the property to the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus. The buildings will not only be the new home for the Institute, but also a mix of commercial, residential, and other arts and cultural institutions.
New development wasn’t concentrated downtown. The Larkin District continued its rebirth with new developers investing in the neighborhood and the Buffalo Medical Campus’ amazing run of new construction is only beginning.
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