Real estate developer Tony Kissling wants to bring a chic, Big Apple feel to the Queen City.
The New York City-based investor, whose Kissling Interests owns multiple properties in Buffalo and North Tonawanda, is spending $10.5 million to convert the historic Main-Cathedral Building into a high-end office and apartment complex, with penthouse garden apartments that will command monthly rents of more than $4,000.
The 11-story brick-and-concrete building, which sits at 298 Main St. and wraps around to Cathedral Place in back, will feature five floors of office space aimed at professional firms and an equal number of floors for luxury downtown living – about 45,000 square feet for each use.
Besides tony finishes on all floors, features of the building will include 24-hour security, valet parking and concierge services, basement storage for both commercial and residential tenants, and an upscale first-floor restaurant to add to growing offerings nearby. A “high-tech” bank branch is also being planned for the ground floor, and Kissling is replacing the building’s elevators and infrastructure.
The 104,000-square-foot building is on Main near Swan Street, across from Ellicott Square and along the Metro Rail line, and is adding to development activity in that part of the city. Paul J. Kolkmeyer is converting nearby former office buildings at 237 and 251 Main into a mix of new apartments, condominiums and offices.
“There’s a lot of energy going on at this end of Main Street,” said Robert E. Roller, a commercial real estate broker at CBRE-Buffalo, who is handling the office leasing for the building. “We think the timing is excellent for the rebirth of the Cathedral tower.”
‘Live-work’ lofts planned
Most of the floors have been gutted to the walls, ceilings, floors and pillars. Details for the “live-work” loft apartments are being finalized by the interior design team – Kissling’s wife, Suzanne, and Lilian Weinreich Architects of New York – while the office space will depend on tenant demands. Kissling and his team hope to have the apartments ready by late fall.
The building’s main lobby is finished, showcasing a blend of natural white marble, porcelain and limestone on all four sides between the two entrances.
Landlords and developers are buying older buildings and converting them into a mixture of luxury loft apartments, new restaurants and stores, with many being promptly leased.
“We are excited not only for the redevelopment of this historic building, but also for the future of Buffalo,” said Rose Seege, Kissling’s vice president for operations and finance. “This location provides us the opportunity to craft a work/live lofts environment that we believe is key to reversing urban blight and making city living exciting again.”
Appeal for transplants
The rents that Kissling is seeking aren’t cheap. The one- and two-bedroom apartments would range in size from 1,400 to 2,000 square feet, with rents of $2,000 to $3,000 per month. The penthouses would be about 1,500 to 1,600 square feet and priced at $4,000 to $5,000.
Seege notes that many of the prospective future residents would be transplants from more costly cities such as New York, Boston, Toronto, Chicago or Los Angeles accustomed to paying significantly higher prices to live in equally sized or smaller apartments.
The oddly shaped former White Building was built in 1905 to replace an earlier 1881 version by the same name, which was built by Dr. James Platt White, a key figure at the newly formed University of Buffalo School of Medicine. It later became known as the Weed Block Building, after major tenant Weed & Co. hardware store that occupied space for more than 40 years. In subsequent decades, it was home to the headquarters of Buffalo’s BlueCross health plan prior to the merger with BlueShield, and then housed Damon Morey LLP until the law firm left in 2009 to move to the newly redeveloped Avant building.
Kissling bought the building in 2001 for $2.6 million and planned to invest $2 million in major renovations, while the law firm still occupied the top five floors. But the firm’s departure left the building 85 percent vacant for four years, despite efforts to market it through a New York City broker. So Kissling decided to undertake the adaptive-reuse project, using his own capital plus a $750,000 City-by-City loan and historic tax credits of up to 40 percent of the project’s cost.
Kissling is now also applying for a grant of as much as $1 million from the Better Buffalo Fund, part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic-development program.
Designing for tenants
Under the design by Carmina Wood Morris PC, plans call for professional office space on floors two through six, plus 24 loft units on seven through 10, and two penthouse apartments on the top floor, with their own outdoor rooftop patios. Outside, Kissling is putting in a new inlaid natural stone patio walkway on the Main Street side, and will set up a drive-up valet area on Cathedral, with cars parked at the Downtown Garage at 93 Pearl St.
The first floor would include a bank in the 4,000-square-foot former Globe Market area fronting Cathedral, while Kissling is seeking a “high-end bistro-type casual” eatery serving lunch, dinner and “maybe breakfast” for about 2,000 to 3,000 square feet of additional space along Main.
Kissling’s firm now occupies part of the second floor, beside a law firm, but the next four floors are largely empty and could be available for a single large tenant, like a law firm. The developer also has leeway to move tenants around. But all of the space would be completely renovated regardless, with rents likely going up accordingly, he acknowledged. “If we could identify someone to take all of the vacant space, that would be ideal,” Roller said, citing a particular law firm that Kissling is targeting. “We’re looking for first-class, A-type users.”