Some of us always believed. He did more than that. He put his money where his heart was.
Some of us thought that, someday, old Buffalo buildings would revive. Downtown would become “cool” again. Hurting neighborhoods would get healthier. Past glories would pave the way to the city’s future.
Bill Breeser thought so. The difference between him and most of us, though, is he ante’ed up. He placed a bet on Buffalo’s future. Then another. And another.
There is nothing that screams “belief” louder than an investment. For a long time, as Buffalo slumbered, he bet on its reawakening. He bought old buildings on a long-ignored commercial stretch off the old railroad/industrial “Belt Line.”
Downtown developers have the highest profiles, the biggest projects. From Rocco Termini to Carl Paladino, everybody knows their names.
Breeser is among a legion of under-the-radar types. They couldn’t tackle huge projects, but made smaller bets on Buffalo’s revival.
Those bets are finally paying off.
Breeser is a blond, boyish Canisius College grad whose quick smile and “hi howarya?” ease haven’t changed in the two decades I’ve known him.
The first century-old building he got, on a half-forgotten stretch of Niagara Street, was once a factory for Thomas Flyer automobile parts. The red-brick walls were solid, the inside vast, the roof good. It was a new home for Better Wire Products, a manufacturing company Breeser owned, It was 1997. Breeser was in business.
He bought more nearby buildings over the years, mostly former factories. In some, he put small companies he acquired. Others, he sealed and waited for a better day. And waited.
For a long time, friends asked him, “Why are you buying all those dilapidated old buildings?”
For a long time, Breeser wondered himself.
“For a while,” he told me, “I was looking pretty stupid.”
Not so many people wonder anymore.
Resurgence Brewery will open at month’s end in a century-old brick warehouse on Niagara Street. Breeser owns the building. Nearby buildings he owns are home to an animal clinic, an art gallery, offices, a kennel, artist space and – soon – a restaurant. From the first stake 17 years ago, he now owns nearly all of the buildings on either side of Niagara Street, from Auburn to Breckenridge.
“These are really cool spaces,” he told me, standing in front of Resurgence in the Friday morning sun. “You’ve just got to figure out ways to re-use them.”
Building by building, he’s figuring it out.
It’s a good story, not just for what Breeser has done, but for what he represents. He stands for everyone who kept the faith in Buffalo, who put dollars behind their devotion, who waited for revival – out of self-interest, yes, but also for the community they call home. Some, like Breeser, brought businesses to old warehouses and factories, or sealed them for better days. Others bought and fixed houses in threadbare neighborhoods as investments – places now in demand for a younger generation that once bypassed the city for the ’burbs.
“I’d joke that the first 50 years of my life, everyone was getting out of Buffalo,” said Breeser, 58. “I hope that for the next 50 years, everyone will be coming back.”
Reverse migration is the story of much of Buffalo’s downtown and West Side resurgence. Between the post-college crowd and young couples, and empty-nesters grabbing a piece of downtown, the city’s tide is rising.
Breeser was born here, went to Hutch Tech, bought a home in the city and raised a family. He always thought the city was cool. Like a lot of us, he wondered when the masses would catch on.
Fresh out of college in 1978, he began buying houses on the city’s West Side.
“I thought,” he told me, “I could help to revitalize the city.”
That early dream died as he watched prices flatten – or deflate. As it turned out, he wasn’t wrong about the West Side. He was just about 30 years early. He sold his residential stake in the ’90s and bought the old factory on Niagara Street.
“I figured I could make a living and give people jobs,” he said. “I thought that, if I lived long enough, I might see the city come back.”
He has, happily, lived long enough. As the tide rose, his work force more than doubled, to 45.
Breeser’s faith in Buffalo wasn’t blind. On visits to Manhattan decades ago, he watched Soho morph from a swath of abandoned warehouses into lofts, galleries and restaurants. He later saw similar moth-to-butterfly transformations on business trips to Boston, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. It stood to reason that the same thing would happen in Buffalo. Someday.
That day is upon us. It is good for him – buildings he bought cheap are now in demand. It is good for Buffalo, which has risen on the faith – and dollars – of people like him.
Sometimes good things come to those who wait. And wait.