Downtown Buffalo opened its doors Saturday to hundreds of people who fanned out across the central business district by foot and by trolley to check out the latest in city living.
The third Buffalo Living Tour highlighted six properties that fell vacant, or into disrepair, but retained their good bones and were reborn as apartments, hotels and office space.
The tour drew people who are seriously thinking about moving downtown and those who just wanted to traipse through Buffalo’s architectural landscape on the kind of June afternoon that serves as our reward for surviving another winter.
“This is where we’re looking to retire – on the water, in downtown Buffalo,” said Carolyn Concannon, a Lancaster resident who was on the tour with her daughter, Emma, who is 21.
This is the third year of the Buffalo Living Tour, and organizers said it was the most popular yet. People waited in lines to ride elevators, or board trolleys, at several of the stops on a tour that featured both finished and work-in-progress restoration projects.
“We had people waiting at 9:30, and it opened at 11,” said coordinator Paul D. Maurer, who estimated Saturday’s draw at 1,400 people, compared with 800 in 2013.
In their previous lives, the six properties on the tour saw use as a state office building, a planing mill, a creamery and the headquarters for National Fuel, among other purposes. Developers are spending millions of dollars to revive the structures.
For example, Ellicott Development Co. is rehabilitating the Fairmont Creamery building, on Scott Street, as apartments and offices for Liazon Corp., a health insurance benefits exchange company. On Saturday, visitors to the Fairmont walked through a fifth floor divided only by lengths of metal that ran floor to ceiling and marked where the walls for the residential units will be built out.
Angela and Jeff Milkie said the Fairmont project reminded them of work they’ve seen in Atlanta, where developers have converted a number of former schools into apartments. The couple moved to East Amherst in March for Jeff’s engineering job and said they came on Saturday’s tour to get a better feel for the Buffalo rental market.
“We used to live a lot closer to the city, in Atlanta, and it’s something we miss, the walkability,” Angela said. (Asked whether they’ve found a go-to place for chicken wings and beef on weck yet, she said, “We’re actually vegetarians.”)
Outside on Scott Street, Darcy Grisanti, of Williamsville, and her granddaughter Alexandra, a University at Buffalo student, waited for the rest of their group to finish their tour inside the Fairmont. “We want to see all the new stuff in downtown. And plus it’s good exercise,” Grisanti said.
Alexandra said she didn’t know why the tour included the unfinished Fairmont space – “It looks like a hazard; there’s nothing done” – but she was impressed with one of the earlier stops on their tour, the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in the former Donovan State Office Building on Main Street.
“They put a lot of money in that place,” Alexandra said, before engaging in a friendly debate with her grandmother over whether to walk or ride the trolley to the next stop.
The Courtyard by Marriott takes up four floors inside the restored One Canalside building, which also houses the Phillips Lytle law firm. Tour participants got to see two suites in the hotel, including one that offered up-close views of the waterfront and the HarborCenter construction project.
As the Concannons waited to take an elevator up to the suites, Carolyn said she used to park in the Donovan building lot to go to Sabres games at the old Memorial Auditorium. “We love to see things reused,” Carolyn said, noting that she and her daughter are both interested in interior design.
The Concannons regularly come downtown to bike, kayak, take yoga classes at Canalside and dine at the food truck rodeo in Larkinville. “We do it all,” Carolyn said.
Kelly Wassum and her parents, Duane and Karen, were riding the trolley to the former Lake Hotel on West Huron Street, converted by Kissling Interests into eight apartments.
“We’re always interested in seeing how Buffalo is changing,” said the younger Wassum, a designer who works downtown and lives in the Town of Tonawanda.
Asked whether they’d consider moving into one of the buildings they saw on the tour, Duane said, “The rent is about three times our mortgage.”
His wife, Karen, said they wish the tour had included condominiums or other downtown properties for sale. “Yes, I can see us living here, but not to rent,” she said.
The other venues on Saturday’s tour were T.M. Montante Development’s Planing Mill on Elm Street; the Hamister Group’s former Tishman Building on Lafayette Square, which includes a Hilton Garden Inn; and Ellicott Development’s Graystone on Johnson Park.