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'COOL SPACE FOR COOL PEOPLE'
DEVELOPER CREATES NEW OFFICE SPACE DOWNTOWN

Sliding frosted-glass office doors from Germany, exposed brick walls, wood rafters , gleaming hardwood floors and splashes of bright yellow, red and blue paint -- these are key elements of downtown Buffalo's newest office space.

"I see it as cool space, for cool people, doing cool things," said developer Rocco Termini, of Burke Bros. Construction, who has created two floors of the decidedly-urban work space at 461 Ellicott St., above the recently-opened Washington Market.

"This is the kind of space you find in Manhattan, Toronto and other large metropolitan areas, but until now we didn't have it in Buffalo," Termini added.

Located on the second and third floors of the former Wehle Electric building, the converted offices total less than 5,000 square feet. But the developer said the small scale is essential to the project's success.

"This is space for young entrepreneurs with big ideas who are looking for an exciting, but affordable, place to grow their businesses," Termini said.

Vaspian, a fledgling voice and data firm that moved into the building's second floor this week, defines the developer's tenant profile. Brian Hurley, Vaspian's president and chief executive, called the space a "perfect fit."

"We're an aggressive 'dot com done right' company and everything about this space matches our aggressive, creative image. The space is fantastic and the downtown location is ideal," Hurley said.

Vaspian -- whose eclectic client list includes the Buffalo Catholic Diocese, the Buffalo Niagara Association of Relators, law firms and a collection agency -- currently employs five staffers. Hurley expects that number to double in the next few months, with expectations of growing to 100 within three years.

The young company's business plan was actually hatched on the kitchen table of Greg Schreiber, Vaspian's vice president of product development, who lives next door in Termini's Ellicott Lofts. The firm had been operating out of two 10-by-12-foot offices in Ellicott Lofts, at 489 Ellicott St., before relocating this week.

"Not only are we getting great space in the heart of downtown, we're also getting Empire Zone tax credits, which are a big help," Hurley said.

Termini said while economic development efforts tend to focus on attracting large companies with hundreds of workers to Buffalo, he sees luring small and emerging companies as an equally important way to rebuild the city's business base.

"You don't have to hit home runs to be successful. It's also good to hit a lot of singles," the developer said.

Vaspian's enthusiasm about the loft-style office space has proven infectious, resulting in one if its clients -- Phillips & Burns, a Cheektowaga-base collections agency -- signing a lease for the building's third floor. It will move its 15-person crew downtown in early April.

Termini, who is redeveloping the former Buffalo Alternative High School into a mixed use residential/office complex, plans to carve out at least 8,000 square feet of space for similar incubator businesses. The Oak School project, at 280 Oak St., will include 29 apartments, with office space created from the school's swimming pool, gymnasium and auditorium.

"We're looking to do some really cool things in the space where the school's swimming pool is located. We're thinking about a very dramatic black and white theme using the existing white tiled walls. Again, it will be one-of-a-kind space geared to young, creative businesses," he said.

The Oak Street project is expected to debut in 2006. Burke Bros. and Termini are in the midst of constructing Ellicott Commons, a 58-apartment complex located next door to its successful 38-unit Ellicott Lofts project.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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