The regional push toward “green” technology and adaptive re-use of older buildings is driving the newest downtown redevelopment project, as Roger Trettel wants to convert a historic building at Elm and South Division streets into a business incubator focused on environmental technology and energy.
Trettel, owner of Revival Development Co., plans to renovate the 105-year-old Gutman Building at 133 S. Division St. into the Buffalo Green Technology Center. The five-story building is partly occupied but long underused, and Trettel had acquired it two years ago to turn it into mostly residential space.
Instead, the $3.8 million conversion would create a mixed-use project designed to create business and job opportunities in green technology and energy. In particular, the facility will provide “loft-like” office, training and lab space to encourage the growth of small startup and woman- or minority-owned businesses engaged in the environmental services, energy efficiency and clean-energy fields.
Trettel said he hopes to capitalize on the convenience and potential for collaboration from the project’s location on the edge of Erie Community College’s City Campus in downtown Buffalo, where it lies along the Oak/Elm arterial between the Kensington Expressway and the Niagara Thruway.
The developer has started some discussions with the college about partnerships with eventual tenants in the building, which could benefit ECC students and would fit into the school’s more career-focused curriculum, according to a press release announcing the project. Among possible tenants he is talking with are ONYX Global Group, a woman- and minority-owned environmental and energy project management firm, and Buffalo New Energy, a supplier and installer of solar and wind energy equipment. He would not identify several others that he is speaking to.
“This kind of private investment is welcome and thankfully becoming the norm in Western New York,” ECC President Jack Quinn said in Trettel’s release.
The new facility will have shared reception and in-house administrative support, marketing and IT services, as well as a cafe and other amenities.
The building itself will be energy efficient, maximizing the use of “green-design” features that include high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and lighting. A rooftop solar-panel system is also being studied to power the building. Trettel said the building is eligible for historic tax credits and potentially other energy-related “incentives” from National Grid USA, National Fuel Gas Co. or the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency.
Initially, the work will focus on the windows, building systems and infrastructure, with the inside space built out later to meet individual tenant needs. The project is still in the planning stages, and must go before the City Planning Board before it can proceed. In the meantime, Trettel is “fixing windows and just sprucing it up.”
Built in 1909 by Nathan Gutman and William Sperling to make men’s and boy’s trousers, the 22,000-square-foot building quickly evolved to new uses after the builders’ business ended in 1919. Bates Jackson Printers and Engravers occupied a portion of the space in 1910, and remains in the facility today, while the other main tenant currently – Gallagher Elevator – moved into the ground floor in the 1940s. An artisan jewelry collaborative also called the building home at one point. Trettel bought it for $375,000 in September 2012, with plans for 12 to 16 apartments, loft office space and the renovation of a two-story rear carriage house.
That would have been an easy sell for his lenders, but “that just didn’t excite me too much,” he said. “I’d rather do something that’s going to help stimulate the economy and create jobs.”
Now, he’s taking aim at the momentum created from such state-funded initiatives as the clean-energy hub at RiverBend Technology Park, which will bring hundreds of solar technology jobs to South Buffalo, and the research and development centers downtown and at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which are designed to lure more high-tech, advanced manufacturing and medical research jobs to the city.
“It’s ideally for new startups or existing companies that are expanding, but it’s not going to be exclusive,” he said. Gallagher and Bates Jackson will stay “for the time being.”
Trettel, a vice president and operations manager for the environmental and engineering consulting firm TetraTech, noted the challenge that firms have in finding and contracting with qualified small businesses, particularly those owned by women or minorities, for services that will meet subcontracting goals.
“There’s a real need for it. I’ve been seeing it for years,” he said. “It’s something we don’t have and the time is right.”
Trettel has been buying and redeveloping downtown buildings for several years, with adaptive-reuse renovations of several structures in the Broadway and Ellicott Street area, the 500 block of Main Street and in the Cobblestone District near the First Niagara Center. In particular, he previously created a retail and technology incubator facility when he combined and renovated 523 Main St. and 500 Washington St. into the new Main-Washington Exchange.
He also converted the Buehl Block at Ellicott and Broadway into retail space and upscale lofts, renovated 285 Ellicott into TetraTech’s new offices and is now working on mixed-use projects at 5-7 Genesee St. and at 301 Ellicott, formerly the Emulso Products building. He was among the first to tackle the long-neglected 500 block of Main Street, renovating a three-story building at 515 Main into the new home of Main Street Studios and Queen City Media. And he is a partner in Buffalo Iron Works at 49 Illinois St.