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More than a ‘Penney’s worth’ of open space in Bewley Building

LOCKPORT – When Lockport’s legendary collector Charles Rand Penney died, the loss was notable in the art world and made a difference to the hundreds of buyers who descended on his estate sale, which was so large it had to be held in a former hockey rink.

But one little-noticed impact was on the owners of a downtown Lockport commercial building.

The fifth floor of the Bewley Building at Main and Market streets was, in effect, Penney’s attic. He rented most of the fifth story, and some of the fourth story, too, because he needed that much space for all his stuff.

Now, the building in the heart of downtown Lockport is nearly 20 percent vacant, and a large portion of the available space used to be Penney’s storage areas.

There are a couple of vacant ground-level storefronts and other openings scattered through the 93,000-square-foot, five-story edifice, as well.

It’s not unusual in commercial buildings for space to be available – 17,000 square feet, in this case.

“It’s like a big hotel. People come, people go,” building manager Jeffrey A. Seekins said.

He and Eric C. Tudor, the real estate broker hired in December to help fill up the building again, said their goals are to pull in tenants who would be new to Lockport.

“We’re not in business to steal someone’s tenant across the street,” Seekins said.

“We do have a lot of contacts nationally and in Canada. We’re interested in bringing in some back-office operations,” said Tudor, who is a partner in the recently formed Tudor Collins real estate brokerage firm in Buffalo after a long stint with Coldwell Banker.

Seekins said, “It happens in small towns that they trade people around. We want to bring in new blood for Lockport.”

The building, erected in 1928, has its own 92-space parking lot and an unusual inside design.

There are two interior “light courts” surrounded by office space on all sides, which means every space in the building has a window that lets in daylight, either from the light courts or with a view of the downtown streets or the Erie Canal, which runs behind the building.

A lot of the best views were in Penney’s storage spaces, all fully subdivided and suitable for offices, which he started renting in the 1960s.

“These spaces were all dedicated to different things,” Seekins recalled. One office might contain Penney’s collection of African art, and the next might hold souvenirs from county fairs.

“He coveted the idea of being an artiste,” Seekins said.

Bewley Building Associates, headed by David Bewley and Christopher Cook, owns the structure. The storefronts available include a 3,000-square-foot space and another of half that size.

Tudor said something sports-related might be an option, since Lockport’s Cornerstone Arena is practically across the street. But Seekins said a clothing store, a retail segment downtown Lockport has long been lacking, especially on the men’s side, also could be a good fit.

“I think the Greater Lockport Development Corp. (the city development agency) is trying real hard to bring people in,” Seekins said.

“Lockport needs to be the new ‘in thing.’”

The asking price is $12 per square foot for the ground floor and $10 a foot on the other floors. But even with the openings, the building is profitable, Seekins said.

“There’s no distress. We want to see if we can fill it,” Tudor said.

“The emphasis is on leasing. If somebody were to approach us, we’d consider a sale.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com