Real estate investor and developer Tony Kissling is looking for a partner on his proposed $11 million transformation of the White Building in downtown Buffalo into a mixed-use complex, but he’s poised to start work regardless by the first week of October.
Kissling, whose Kissling Interests LLC has owned the building at 298 Main St. since buying it for $2.6 million in 2001, plans to convert the top five floors of the 11-story building into 24 upscale “live-work” loft apartments and two penthouse apartments, while leaving the rest of the building for office space.
He’s also planning to “completely redo” the white-and-black marble lobby and other parts of the building’s infrastructure and systems, and will “renovate the whole space.”
The goal is to reposition the building, which is 85 percent vacant, and fill up its empty space, particularly the upper floors that were emptied out by law firm DamonMorey LLP after it moved to Uniland Development Co.’s Avant Building in 2009.
Kissling said most of his preparations are already in place after two years of work, although he’s still trying to nail down the financing, perhaps with a new equal partner. He had planned earlier this year to partner with Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. on the project, but he “couldn’t make a deal” in the end. But “if everything goes right, I’m going to start work and do it myself,” he said.
“It’s going to be unbelievable,” he said. “Once this is done, this will be the standard for Buffalo. Everything is going to be absolutely triple-A.”
Built in 1917, the 98,948-square-foot White Building was one of the first examples of architecturally reinforced poured concrete construction in the country and is shaped like a boomerang, fronting on both Main Street and Cathedral Place. It was last renovated in the 1980s, although parts of it have been updated since Kissling bought it, such as new thermo-pane windows.
But it also has significant vacancies, particularly on the upper floors, where 60,000 square feet of space is available on floors six through 10. There are one or two tenants each on the second, third and fourth floors, but “all the rest is empty,” Kissling said. Besides the office space, the Globe Market restaurant also occupies part of the lobby.
Plans call for the first six floors to be updated Class A office space, while the next four will be 24 loft apartments, plus two penthouse units on the 11th floor. Kissling plans to put in new doors, redo all three elevators, upgrade the HVAC system and put in a front-desk concierge in the lobby 16 hours a day, all week. The basement will also require “lots of work.” And he also wants to add a juice bar along Main Street, give Globe Market 50 percent more space and redo the front of the building.
The White Building project is the latest renovation by Kissling, whose holdings include 20 apartment buildings in the Allentown, Elmwood Village, Delaware District and North Buffalo areas, plus the Remington Lofts in North Tonawanda, which used to be an industrial building. The investor from New York City has been working to redevelop his properties piece by piece in recent years, taking advantage of the general redevelopment going on in the city and newfound demand for urban living. The Remington Lofts project, for example, is now fully rented, with a waiting list.
Kissling is also planning to spend as much as $1.2 million on the three-story annex building at 401 Delaware Ave., which has nine apartments and two retail spaces for Chris’ Sandwich Shop and a hairstylist. The project includes redoing the storefronts and facade of the building, as well as renovating the apartments, kitchens and bathrooms, and even the walkway from the much-larger main building.
As part of the work, he also wants to put a new cornice on the top of the circa-1898 building, which is located across the street from the Buffalo Club. “We’re going to make it look like it originally looked,” he said. “It’s going to look nice.”
Not far away, he also plans to update the kitchen and bathrooms, and repair some of the exterior cement design, at the 17-unit mansion at 173 North St. next spring. The adjacent eight-story building at 175 North, with 116 units, was already redone over 18 months.
And contrary to rumors of late, he isn’t interested in selling his properties, even though he’s received calls from 10 brokers with potential buyers recently. Indeed, the 71-year-old is rather bullish on Buffalo these days.
“I love Buffalo. I think the whole place is coming up like crazy,” he said. “It’s amazing what’s going on. I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that things would happen the way they have the last three years. I think this is only the beginning. And I think it’s only going to go higher. I am committed to Buffalo and I have no intention of selling.”