When Anthony Kissling took his first look at the former Remington Rand factory building along the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda, he didn’t see a dilapidated and decaying old abandoned warehouse.
The developer from New York City, whose Kissling Interests company was still a relative newcomer to Western New York, saw opportunity.
“The location was great. You’re on the water,” Kissling said Thursday. “The second I saw it, I knew I was going to buy it if I could get it.”
Ten years and $30 million later, the former manufacturing facility that once made wooden carousel horses, aircraft engines, typewriters and computers is now the Remington Lofts, a thriving work-live loft apartment complex with 81 luxury units, an upscale steak-and-seafood restaurant, a yoga studio and a hairstylist school.
One year after its reopening, the redeveloped, nearly 200,000-square-foot building at 184 Sweeney St. is almost completely occupied. And the project has won accolades not only from community leaders but from Preservation Buffalo Niagara, which recognized Kissling for the historic renovation work on the building. A sculpture of three giant typewriter keys stands in back, surrounded by benches and green space, as a reminder of its heritage.
“He saw something here where others didn’t,” said Mark Seaner, director of property management and development for Kissling. “He sees things where everyone else shies away.”
The project faced major hurdles and $9 million in cost-overruns because of environmental cleanup, unexpected structural repairs and other factors, and even now workers are repairing some damage in five units because of a recent water leak. Still, Kissling has no regrets.
“I would do it over again times 1,000,” he said. “It’s a great piece of property. The thing worked out very well, even though the costs were high.”
Much attention has been focused on historic renovation and “adaptive reuse” projects in downtown Buffalo, which have become all the rage in recent years with Rocco Termini’s Hotel @ The Lafayette, the AM&A Warehouse building and other loft apartment projects.
But Kissling’s effort with the Remington building, which benefited from $10 million in historic tax credits to offset some costs, is perhaps the largest and most prominent outside Buffalo’s urban core. And it has helped draw attention to North Tonawanda’s canal-front area and other potential historic “reuse” opportunities.
That wasn’t the case when Kissling first set eyes on the building in 2003. Kissling had invited several other New York City real estate investors, who were in Rochester for the PGA Tournament at Oak Hill Country Club, to come and look around Buffalo for opportunities. Walking around the inner harbor area downtown, they encountered former North Tonawanda Mayor David Burgio, who upon learning who they were promptly suggested they look at the Remington building.
Originally built in the 1890s, the four-story building was erected in stages over the past century, with four additions to the original structure, which still carries a stone marker from 1895 identifying it as the Power House for the Buffalo & Niagara Falls Electric Railway. It was also used to make wooden carousel horses, and was later home to Herschell Spillman Motor Cars, which made engines, and Remington Rand, which built one of the earliest computers, the Univac, in the 1950s.
Kissling loved what he saw: 13-foot ceilings, windows that stretched from the ceiling to just 1.5 feet from the floor to provide natural light, good space between support columns, and its central location within the broader community and fronting the Erie Canal.
“The light was incredible. They didn’t just have a bunch of small windows,” he said. “The layout was perfect. The location was good. You’re in the middle of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.”
Naysayers told him not to do it, questioning if anyone would pay $1,400 for a two-bedroom loft. But after negotiating on price with the owner, he signed a contract in 2005, and then closed by 2008 for $600,000.
“I had never been to North Tonawanda in my life. But when I got to the building and got on the roof, you could see the plume from Niagara Falls. You could see the Erie Canal, and all the people surrounding it,” he said. “I knew there would be problems. I didn’t know what they would be, but I knew in the end it would be great, and it’s better than I thought it would be.”
Over the next four years, Kissling renovated the structure, which was actually one building and four additions that had been put on over a century. The project included $300,000 for environmental remediation to remove dirt, so that pollutants from the building’s manufacturing legacy didn’t leach into the canal. Some of the floors had to be stabilized. During the excavation of the parking lot, workers found a cobblestone street, as well as evidence of sawdust and old saws.
Except for five one-bedroom apartments, the rest of the building consists of mostly two-bedroom, two-bathroom units, including one giant two-story apartment. One unit even has an outdoor balcony, which used to be part of an upper-level cargo “bridge” that once connected to the nearby railroad track. A large rooftop deck, with walkways, gardens and Adirondack chairs, is available for tenants.