Hunt’s concept of an upscale conversion is the kind of thinking One Seneca needs - The Buffalo News

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Hunt’s concept of an upscale conversion is the kind of thinking One Seneca needs

Downtown is shaping up in ways envisioned only in the wildest of dreams a few years ago. And then there is the mammoth One Seneca Tower, now 95 percent vacant and in foreclosure.

The prospect of a lifeless hulk of a building next to the renewed energy at the foot of Main Street and Canalside is unacceptable. Creative developers have to step up to reimagine what downtown’s tallest building could be.

Peter F. Hunt, CEO of Hunt Real Estate, has offered his thoughts on a high-end solution to the problem, even while realizing that it is a long way from “here to there.”

At 38 stories, size is both a problem and a selling point for One Seneca Tower, the former One HSBC Center. The building offers incredible views spanning Western New York and, on a clear day, as far as Toronto. Those vistas would surely mesmerize potential owners Hunt had in mind when suggesting high-end condominiums with large floor plates, something in short supply downtown.

The building’s 851,000 square feet of space could easily house Hunt’s mix of uses, which would include a full-service, five-star hotel – say, Ritz Carlton – top-quality office space and luxury retailers to occupy the Canadian shoppers who regularly come over the border to spend their money at the various outlets, Walden Galleria and Boulevard Mall. Perhaps they would like to browse a Tiffany’s or Saks Fifth Avenue right downtown.

Even more interesting is the concept of a convention center of more than 200,000 square feet with access to the hotel above. The current convention center has 110,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

One Seneca also has a full-service commercial kitchen, gallery space and a 350-seat stadium-style auditorium. But perhaps even more important, it has attached parking, with 1,200 spaces, and straddles the Metro Rail. Think of the conventions Buffalo would be able to attract.

None of this would be easy or inexpensive to carry out. The Urban Land Institute has already recommended a mixed-use development, and conversion costs have been estimated as high as $100 million. Indeed, a heavy lift. Right now, the structure is in a holding pattern, waiting for the foreclosure process to move through the court system. It will likely be months before the lender or a buyer can take possession of the building.

In the meantime, Hunt’s ideas are a starting point, a necessary step on the road to filling a huge downtown space. Developers should be encouraged to continue kicking their ideas around so that the tower can once again return to life.

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