He’s not exactly one of the household names in Western New York development, but a Kaleida Health transplant surgeon is carving a reputation for himself in real estate by placing big bets on the long-term future of his adopted hometown.
Since moving to Buffalo more than a decade ago, Dr. Fadi Dagher has invested more than $10 million to buy up and improve both residential and commercial properties in Buffalo, Amherst and Tonawanda. At first, it was pure investment, but now he increasingly wants to make his own mark.
He’s part of the group that purchased the former Holiday Inn Resort & Conference Center on Grand Island, which has now been rebranded as Byblos Niagara Resort & Spa and is under the management of the Byblos Hospitality Group from Dubai. Most recently, he and another out-of-town partner from Dubai purchased two office buildings in the Waterfront Village in downtown Buffalo – one of which is now home to his real estate investment business, D&S Capital Real Estate.
He’s also buying a run-down motel just north of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and plans to renovate or rebuild it into a modern and updated midscale hotel to serve the medical community. And he’s eying several other deals to expand his local holdings, including condo or mixed-use conversions of some older industrial buildings. “We are currently looking at multiple other urban renewal opportunities in the city,” he said.
Dagher is realistic about the challenges in Buffalo and the need to diversify its economic development opportunities and focus on “smart growth.” He’s focused on urban renewal, and advocates creation of “transit-oriented,” bicycle-friendly and walkable centers, putting him in line with much of what local urban planners and community leaders now support for the city.
But he also sees new potential in many areas, and is eager to find others who agree with his vision or can be convinced by his passion, which he’s not shy about sharing. In particular, he’s hoping to bring more foreign investment into the city.
“You can not sell anything unless you believe in it,” the 50-year-old doctor said. “I’m a big believer in Buffalo. Buffalo’s on the right track. It’s coming back for sure.”
Dagher, of Clarence, is part of the newer crop of real estate investors and developers in Western New York who come with a fresh eye for building potential and an optimistic outlook that isn’t jaded by decades of decline. Just as with many transplants to the region, they see the positives of the area – personally, socially, culturally and financially – and often can’t understand why locals are so negative.
“Buffalo is our home now. We’re pretty well settled here,” said Dagher, who was born and raised in Lebanon but did his medical studies at New York University and never looked back to the Middle East. After two years practicing in Detroit, he came to Buffalo General Medical Center in 2003. “I’m here to stay, because I believe strongly about Buffalo. I’m optimistic that we will be doing very well in the long-term.”
So while much of the real estate attention tends to be focused on the homegrown players – the big-name, family-owned firms like Benderson Development Co., Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., the Montantes’ Uniland Development Co., and the Paladinos’ Ellicott Development Co. – the newcomers are more bullish about local prospects. And like Dagher, they’re putting their money into action.
“I think it is sustainable, as long as we know what direction we’re going in and try to attract more business to the city,” he said of the current development activity in Buffalo. But it has to move beyond just University at Buffalo and the medical campus. “Obviously we have to create more opportunities to keep it sustainable. (But) I’m optimistic that we will be doing very well in the long-term.”
Dagher – whose wife, Christine, is a pediatrician, and who has three sons – began buying property locally soon after moving here 11 years ago, and has spent at least $8.3 million just on purchases. He owns and leases about 10 single-family homes or duplexes in North Buffalo, as well as a retail strip plaza in Tonawanda. And he paid $200,000 in October 2007 to buy some vacant land on Transit Road in Amherst, where he plans a 14-unit condo project.
In early February, he teamed up with Habib Al Salhi – the “S” in D&S Capital – to buy a pair of office buildings, called 50 and 60 Lakefront Boulevard, in Waterfront Village, paying $7.2 million for the 133,000-square-foot complex. The buildings are about 85 percent occupied, but Dagher took some space on the third floor of one of them for his new office, and he plans to convert part of the first floor into retail space, including for a new seafood restaurant and possibly an outdoor bar area.
The building already has a glass-enclosed patio with tables and chairs facing the Waterfront Village courtyard and the nearby marina, with views out to the lighthouse and Lake Erie beyond it. But the outer wall is comprised of several overhead glass doors that can be opened to the outside during the summer, making it attractive not only for the office tenants but also for those who live in the nearby residential complex.
“I’m trying to change the concept of this building,” he said. “There definitely is a market for it, and the views are great. I’d like to see some more life here. I’m willing to collaborate with anyone who has vision.”
There’s about 20,000 square feet of commercial space still available for restaurants, retail and entrepreneurs, he said. He’s also reached out to city officials to propose that the city build a parking ramp that would maximize the available space, so that he could develop some of the sprawling parking lot nearby for other projects that would “improve the access and walkability within the community” and “revitalize the waterfront area.”
He expects to complete his purchase next week of the Buffalo Tourist Lodge at 1159 Main St., at Best Street. The current owners had planned to capitalize on the medical campus growth by renovating the aging facility into a Sleep Inn, but they were unable to get the financing together. Dagher and his partner now hope to follow through on that plan and are already engaged in a feasibility study to ensure that they are pursuing the best brand for the site.
“It’s a great opportunity to engage the downtown community and address local needs,” he said. “We still have room for growth.”