Uniland Development Co. has acquired a prominent and sprawling downtown Buffalo property, with a retail and office building, parking ramp and gas station, in its second big bet on the Delaware Avenue corridor.
The Amherst-based real estate developer paid $3 million to buy the Delaware Court building at 250 Delaware Ave. from the Denz family, through Delaware Court GP. Located at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street, near Hutchinson-Central Technical High School and the Hampton Inn, the two-acre parcel is one of the biggest single sites in that prime area of downtown.
"It's a good-sized site," said Uniland Vice President Michael J. Montante. "I can't think of another two-acre site in this prime location that's one ownership. So it's a pretty special piece of property and that's what really piqued our interest."
The original Delaware Court was built in 1917 on what was once part of a 30-acre country estate for Buffalo's first mayor, Dr. Ebenezer Johnson, who built his home on what had then been rural property on the outskirts of Buffalo in 1834. It included an artificial lake, a deer park and an orchard. After two successive owners, it was later acquired by the Buffalo Club as that establishment's second location from 1870 until 1887, when it was purchased by Francis Root Keating. It became a rooming house in the early 20th century before it was demolished in 1917.
Today, the property includes a long and squat two-story building, with 45,000 square feet plus a basement, that primarily faces Delaware and Chippewa, plus a parking ramp in the rear for at least 80 cars and an attached Valero gas station that fronts on South Elmwood Avenue.
There are about 30 tenants in the main building, including Bada Bing Bar & Grill, Purple Monkey, Big Bad Wolf, Papillon Salon and Soul Tattoo.
"It's a great location," Montante said. "It's a prime spot to be if you're a restaurant or nightclub."
Uniland's purchase is designed to capitalize on the firm's success with the Avant Building just down the street at 200 Delaware. That project involved converting the former Dulski Federal Office Building into a modern mixed-use project combining condominiums, office space to accommodate two law firms, and an Embassy Suites hotel and restaurant. And it's already booming, allowing the firm to turn its attention to its next challenge.
That area of downtown is also benefiting from significant investments, both private and public sector, to enhance its appeal and potential. So Uniland started looking for "another site to possibly develop or to add on to," Montante said. And while officials were scouting out several possible sites, "this one was at the top and certainly the largest that we found," he added, noting that only the Hampton Inn separates the Avant from Delaware Court.
"With our success at Avant, we feel that this Delaware Avenue district is a very desirable area, especially for office [space]," he said. "We could not have asked for a better location than Delaware and Chippewa."
For now, he said Uniland's plans call for the property to remain a mixed-use investment, with retail and restaurant space on the first floor and office space on the second. The building is not completely occupied, so the developer will market the rest of the vacant space to fill it up, and will then "put together a team to explore the different alternatives to redevelop the building and the site."
"The building is an operating asset. It's generating good revenues, and right now it's business as usual for all the tenants in there," Montante said. "It's an investment, but we'll begin marketing the existing space, we'll begin marketing the site and, depending on what comes of that marketing, we'll determine what our plans are and go from there."
The developer does plan to refurbish the Classical-style, flat-roofed building and restore the range of architectural features and moldings built into the facade.
"I think the exterior of the building, although it needs some refurbishment, is a beautiful building," Montante said. "You can see the detail that is in the building. Our plan is to restore that."
That facade would also be maintained and incorporated into any future development on the site, "whether it is keeping the existing building or building a new building," he added.
Montante said officials plan to take their time to "develop ideas and mold them into something feasible for the neighborhood," but because it's such a large property, "that gives you an idea of the flexibility we have for development on the site."
"We like the visibility. The accessibility is great as well," he said. "Restoring that existing fašade is something we look forward to do. What we want to do there is something that is recognizable, something that would make a statement."