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IBM is ideal for plan to rescue tower

I hope Andrew Cuomo is as hyped about a marriage of opportunity as he is about same-sex weddings. I think we have partners here who are made for each other.

The governor announced last week that IBM is bringing 500 jobs to a new computer tech information center somewhere in downtown Buffalo. The state will drop $55 million to retrofit and stock a building. Outside of my downtown office window looms 38 nearly empty floors of the former One HSBC Center. The building is filled with fiber-optic cable and wired for computer technology. It has open floor plates and 1,200 connected parking spots, to accommodate a commuter army. After it goes through foreclosure, it will be auctioned off at a post-Christmas sale price.

Which is why, to my mind – and to better development minds than mine – the building potentially makes sense as a new home for IBM.

Realtor Peter Hunt and developer Paul Ciminelli think IBM fits as a piece of a convention center/hotel/condo/retail idea that Hunt floated this week. Developer Rocco Termini sees IBM as anchoring a research-and-development incubator for the entire building, now known as One Seneca Tower.

It’s nice to see some of Buffalo’s finest development minds straining their creative muscles on this. The city’s tallest building going empty, despite other signs of revival, is a huge embarrassment and a civic challenge. The nearly vacant landmark looms over Erie Canal Harbor, a relentless reminder that prosperity around here is a relative term.

“Set it up as a no-tax zone, to attract startups, and do the whole building as an R&D center,” said Termini, whose signature project is the Hotel @ The Lafayette. “The building’s wired for computer technology, it connects by train to the Medical Campus. … You’re not going to get high-end hotel or retail coming to Buffalo. The state should put its money into R&D.”

IBM is seen as a lead horse that will lure other tech companies. Even if those companies need space equal to IBM’s 100,000 square feet, it would fill just 10 floors of the 38-story tower.

“That’s why I think you’ve got to start with the convention center/hotel, then build from there,” said Ciminelli, who specializes in commercial real estate. “Then you can eat the rest of the 800-pound elephant with a couple of different big bites, and maybe IBM is part of that.”

Hunt agreed. “IBM would fill five floors,” he said, “and fit perfectly with the rest of the concept.”

A convention center at One Seneca Tower would, like in other cities, sit on the edge of downtown, surrounded by other big parcels – the baseball stadium, arena and Canalside’s office buildings. Metro Rail connects it to downtown’s bars and restaurants.

I know there are a handful of potential sites for IBM, notably the rescued Trico complex. I don’t have any particular stake in where it goes, and no place is perfect. One Seneca Tower is a lot more building than IBM can fill. Which is why the convention center/hotel piece makes sense as a combined project. Unfortunately, I don’t see it all happening quickly enough for Cuomo.

Still, I hate to see 38 floors of empty. Nobody ever said marriage – however well-matched the partners seem – is easy.


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