After years of vacancy and neglect, life is returning to the Tishman Building in downtown Buffalo, as its new owner, the Hamister Group, took occupancy of the top three floors last month and apartment residents move in during the next several days.
The tall, dark metal-and-glass edifice at Lafayette Square and Main Street has undergone months of overhaul and renovation by the Hamister Group hospitality firm, with most of the building’s 20 floors gutted and rebuilt from the inside. The longtime office building looks the same on the exterior, where historic preservation requirements prevented any substantive changes to the facade, but its interior purpose is now radically different. Its 18th, 19th and 20th floors now house the headquarters for President and CEO Mark E. Hamister’s corporation, with a reception area on the 19th floor. The company has 40 employees there.
The next three floors down contain 18 high-end luxury apartments, with a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units in six different configurations because of the layout of the building. Already, 10 of the 18 are rented, with another rental expected by week’s end, and the first tenant moved in July 31, with the rest expected to take their places by next Friday, said Hamister spokeswoman Andrea M. Czopp.
The bulk of the 140,000- square-foot building will be a new Hilton Garden Inn, with 124 rooms on floors 4 through 14, plus the lobby, restaurant, meeting rooms and a pool on the remaining levels. Work by contractor R&P Oak Hill is continuing on that portion of the project, with the hotel scheduled to open by Oct. 10.
“We began this process four years ago before many of the cranes that we now see in downtown existed. We are pleased to be part of the momentum that is transformational to Buffalo,” Mark Hamister said. “This is an example of adaptive reuse that the city and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership have been promoting for the past several years for the city.”
With the conversion and reopening of Rocco R. Termini’s Hotel @ The Lafayette just down the street and Benderson Development Co.’s Courtyard by Marriott at One Canalside, plus the pending completion by next spring of the Marriott Buffalo HarborCenter by the Buffalo Sabres, downtown Buffalo will have gained several hundred new hotel rooms in a short time.
The new hotel’s sales staff has been working with local businesses for several months to reserve rooms, so the hotel already is “doing well with bookings,” Czopp said. “Interest is definitely growing.”
The $42 million redevelopment of the Tishman Building – almost hidden from view because the bulk of the work was inside – represents the latest example of the real estate revival hitting downtown Buffalo from the waterfront to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and even beyond.
In the last few years, several billion dollars of public and private investment has been poured into the city for new construction, historic renovation and adaptive reuse projects that are taking derelict urban properties and putting them back to active duty. At the same time, the availability of new loft and luxury apartments, redesigned office space, hotel rooms and entertainment are drawing people back into the city and spurring new excitement and confidence among residents and workers.
“The momentum in downtown is continuing to build upon itself, and we are seeing wave upon wave of new projects in various stages of development,” said Christian Campos, chief financial officer of TM Montante Development. “All of that activity is giving downtown Buffalo an entirely new identity, which is attracting people’s interests.”
In fact, a few blocks from Tishman, TM Montante is spending $8.1 million to redevelop the E.M. Hager & Sons Planing Mill building at 141 Elm St. – at one time the home of Spaghetti Warehouse – into a mixed-use facility with 10,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space and 22 apartments ranging in size from 900 to 1,800 square feet.
So far, 30 percent of the apartments have been leased, with the first tenants moving in Sept. 1. Engineering firm C&S Cos. is occupying 6,500 square feet of the office space, while officials are talking to several potential tenants about the rest.
“The transformation of downtown is being fueled by projects like this, which embrace the culture and historic character of Buffalo’s building infrastructure and re-imagine it in a contemporary way to produce new opportunities to live, work and enjoy the heart of the city,” Campos said. “The Planing Mill project can be a cornerstone in that movement.”
But the Tishman is one of the most significant projects because of its central downtown location at 10 Lafayette Square, right next to the Rand Building. Designed by Emery Roth & Sons of New York City and built in 1959 in what is known as the “International Style,” the 263-foot-high building is the 13th-tallest structure in the city. It was home to National Fuel Gas Co. until 2003, when the publicly traded energy and utility company moved its headquarters to Main Street in Amherst. The site had also previously housed the six-story, cast-iron Buffalo German Insurance Co. building from 1876 to 1957.
The building had been vacant for eight years when Hamister bought it in May 2011 and later announced plans for the mixed-use redevelopment. However, the Tishman Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, which meant that Hamister could not add balconies or anything to the apartments or hotel rooms, or change the look of the outside, for at least five years. It also couldn’t change the windows, some of which have mesh on them and are welded shut. But officials do plan to maintain an outdoor patio on Main Street during the summer.
Inside, plans for the first floor – currently a beehive of activity with pieces of construction equipment and workers milling about – include the main lobby, the hotel front desk and a bar. An “open concept” staircase and exposed atrium lead to the second and third floors, which are also public areas. Some original floor or wall tile remains.
The second floor will house the full-service hotel restaurant – the Hilton-branded Great American Grill – with a corner bar area and a “conservatory” space with soft seating. The third floor will contain meeting rooms and a “prefunction” gathering area for serving food, which the restaurant will provide. A pool and fitness facility, accessible to both hotel guests and apartment tenants, will be in the basement. Four elevators service the building.
Unlike a typical hotel, the rooms are laid out around an open lobby and lounge area on each floor, because of the building design. Most are standard hotel rooms, although Czopp said that there are some suites.
The apartments range in size from 680 square feet for the smallest one-bedroom unit to 1,810 square feet for the biggest two-bedroom apartment. Rents vary from $1,200 a month to $2,850 a month. Parking at the Adams Ramp, with 24-hour valet service through the hotel, is included in the rent, Czopp said.