Nonprofits benefit when companies move or rehab their offices - The Buffalo News
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Nonprofits benefit when companies move or rehab their offices

When companies close down an office, move to new digs or completely renovate an existing facility, they’ve usually got a lot of stuff they need to get rid of.

Leftover office supplies. Out-of-date electronics. Decades-old desks, chairs and lamps.

Then there are the exotic items. HSBC, which is moving out of its namesake downtown tower, had to find a home for 13 paintings of former chairmen of Marine Midland Bank.

And Rich Products Corp. had to figure out what to do with the World War I-era biplane that hung from the Rich Atrium ceiling. “We didn’t want it to go back to storage,” said Howard J. Rich, the company’s vice president of corporate relations.

Anyone who’s moved from one apartment, or one house, to another knows how tough it is to deal with all of the possessions you’ve acquired.

Now imagine you’re a bank, a hospital system or another large company, and you’ll see this takes the disposal process to an entirely different scale.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” said Robert Bragg, vice president of campus development for Kaleida Health, which in recent years has closed Millard Fillmore Gates Circle and the Deaconess Center nursing home.

Some companies auction off the old items to try to generate some return on their investment, or they give their employees a chance to buy some of the items at deep discounts.

Others donate the items, providing a tax deduction for the business while contributing to a good cause, and the not-for-profit recipients say they appreciate the companies’ largess.

“It was quite a wonderful commitment to the Botanical Gardens,” David J. Swarts, president and CEO of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, said of a Rich Products donation of plants and furnishings.

It’s impossible to determine the total value of the used items donated by area businesses to worthy institutions, though individual companies do track this information. For example, First Niagara Financial Group over the last 18 months has donated $18,870 worth of used electronics equipment, furniture and other items from its branches and offices to local organizations, the bank reported.

Auctions and trade-ins

Not all of these items are donated. For some companies that are moving, or closing, an auction makes the most sense.

Cash Realty & Auctions has auctioned off unwanted or unneeded items for hundreds of area institutions, including Seneca Niagara Gaming Corp., Delaware North Cos., and various schools, car dealers, dentists’ offices and restaurants.

Companies tend to decide what to do with their old stuff after having it appraised and calculating the likely sale price versus the value of the tax deduction, said auctioneer Cash Cunningham, who handles assignments big and small.

Earlier this month, his firm was in Niagara Falls, selling off everything left behind in the closing of Yvonne’s Bakery & Café, including an artificial fireplace, waffle makers and an espresso machine. Almost everything was to be sold to someone.

“You just have to find the market,” Cunningham said.

Cash Realty & Auctions handled the auctions for a number of health-care facilities, including Deaconess Center and Millard Fillmore Gates Circle, which closed as part of a consolidation of Kaleida’s operations.

Before handing over items to Cash for auction, Kaleida employees inventoried everything to see what could be reused elsewhere in the system, donated to the Kaleida or Women & Children’s Hospital foundations or traded in for newer equipment, said Kaleida’s Bragg.

And Kaleida has traded in older medical equipment to Siemens, Toshiba and other manufacturers for newer models to place in the new facilities. The process will seem familiar to car buyers who try to get a good price for their current rides.

“It gets down to the same type of negotiation,” Bragg said.

Finding families

Two major tenants of One HSBC Center are in the middle of planning their moves from the downtown tower to nearby office space, and both are seeking new homes for possessions they’ve acquired over the years.

HSBC has been in the tower since 1972 but is moving its workers to the HSBC Atrium and to leased space in Depew. The bank has found a variety of ways to dispose of whatever it’s not taking along.

For example, employees on every floor of the tower have set up a giant bin to collect office supplies for the The Teacher’s Desk, a not-for-profit store on Northampton Street that lets teachers shop for free school supplies for low-income students. The bank has sent over three truckloads of supplies so far, said Kathleen Rizzo Young, HSBC’s senior vice president of community development in Buffalo, who has overseen the donations of tower materials.

Some items date to the days of HSBC’s predecessor. “We had old Marine Midland Bank china,” Young said. “We had money counters, coin counters, which non-profits can always use.”

The bank is auctioning off, or donating to various not-for-profits, much of the “typical corporate art” the bank displayed in the tower, but Young worked diligently to find new homes for the paintings of 13 former Marine Midland chairmen.

She contacted descendents and survivors to find out what they wished to do with the portraits, which hung in the 24th floor foyer and landing.

For example, an oil on canvas portrait of Stephen Clement, who was chairman from 1895 to 1913, will be displayed in the American Red Cross Buffalo chapter headquarters, which occupies the Clement mansion.

“We think there’s a home for everything,” Young said.

The Phillips Lytle law firm has called the tower home for 40 years, said managing partner David J. McNamara. “Some of what we have are original purchases from back then,” he said. “It was contemporary at the time, and not so much now.”

Phillips Lytle is moving to One Canalside, the former Donovan State Office Building, and is disposing of much of its old office furniture. The firm had roughly 120 furnished attorneys’ offices, along with paralegal and secretarial work stations, and workers are taking an inventory of everything.

Starting this fall, employees will have the first crack at the furnishings, with the chance to buy and take home whatever they want. Next, representatives of charities will be invited in to take whatever they can use, and whatever’s left will be processed by a furniture liquidator.

Safe landing

Rich Products had a interesting disposal challenge on its hands with the atrium at its corporate headquarters, where the company is spending $18.5 million to expand and upgrade a customer innovation center.

The company is gutting, and completely renovating, the atrium space, which has long hosted corporate parties, wedding receptions and political rallies.

Officials spent years preparing for the work and figuring out what to do with all of the furnishings and botanical features in the atrium, while helping out as many institutions as possible. “We want to be a good neighbor,” Howard Rich said.

Rich Products in the spring donated furniture and materials from the atrium to the Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo, two city high schools and Buffalo ReUse. The Botanical Gardens received about $5,000 worth of tropical plants, a gazebo that stood in the atrium and several ornamental light posts and benches.

The plants were installed in the gardens’ palm dome, Swarts said. The gazebo, light posts and benches will be installed outside in the shrub garden in the spring to give people another option for outdoor weddings.

As for that plane, it was on loan from the Buffalo History Museum, which gave it to Rich Products because the museum didn’t have space to display the plane and because the Rich Products building once housed Curtiss Aeroplane Company.

It’s an original Standard J-1 trainer aircraft, one of about 1,600 built in New Jersey between 1916 and 1918, according to Walter Mayer, director of museum collections for the Buffalo History Museum.

Rich Products, with the approval of the history museum, decided to hand over the plane for display at the Niagara Aerospace Museum in Niagara Falls.

Last month, contractors, under the watchful eye of Mayer and representatives from the aerospace museum, carefully lowered the Standard J-1 to the atrium floor before putting it on a semi-truck.

Volunteers have taken apart the plane, which now sits in the aerospace museum’s storage facility in Wheatfield, and they are preparing a plan to refurbish the plane, replace any missing or non-original parts and raise the money needed for the project. “It’s a piece of history,” said Hugh Neeson, the museum’s development director.


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