One of the premier developers behind rapid commercial growth in Amherst will join a new management partnership to market Key Center at Fountain Plaza in downtown Buffalo.
Ciminelli Development Co. Inc., will become exclusive leasing agent at Key Center for Emmes Asset Management Corp., a New York-city company taking over the buildings April 1.
Emmes Asset Management has been retained by a New York city investment partnership which bought the twin-tower office complex on Main Street in 1996 through Property Markets Group.
Emmes Asset Management is replacing Property Markets Group as the investment group's asset manager for the property. Property Markets Group was unable to market the 153,000-square-foot south tower, which has been vacant since its completion in the early 1990s. In short, the New York City-based owner, 60 Key Center LLC, hired Emmes as a middle man, which in turn hired Ciminelli as the local agent for the property.
"It's our intention to be very aggressive in the marketplace. I think we're going to be as competitive as necessary to make the project successful," said Harley Frank, marketing director for Emmes Asset Management.
Ciminelli Development will be a third-party manager and leasing agent for the building. The development company has a proven track record recruiting tenants to its 11-building Centerpointe complex in Amherst, where 98 percent of office space is occupied.
Buffalo Place Inc. Executive Director Michael Schmand said he hopes Ciminelli can be as successful downtown.
"I think this new group will take a much more proactive approach in marketing the building," Schmand said. "Ciminelli has
done a great job in Amherst. If they can do the same job downtown, everybody is a winner."
Ciminelli has been criticized by other downtown building owners for ignoring the city's health to attract business for its Amherst properties.
Company President Paul Ciminelli said he looks forward to taking an active role downtown.
"We're looking to bring our process to downtown Buffalo as a way to make downtown Buffalo a better place to work. We think it's important. For this entire area to succeed, downtown Buffalo must succeed," Ciminelli said.
Selling space in Key Center puts Ciminelli in direct competition downtown with Carl Paladino, a Ciminelli critic. Paladino owns the Ellicott Square Building and several other downtown office buildings.
James Dentinger, vice president of Ciminelli, said the new managers hope to put the right leasing packages together to attract tenants. Dentinger also mentioned the possibility of attracting a restaurant or retail tenants to the south tower to make office space in the building more marketable.
Schmand said Property Markets Group had a reputation for being inflexible with pricing. A little price flexibility and more aggressive marketing may finally get the south tower off the ground, he said.
The 231,000-square-foot north tower is nearly full, with a district headquarters for Key Bank and local offices for several national financial planning companies.
Key Center was Property Markets Group's first office tower project. The firm primarily handles retail and residential properties.
Emmes Asset Management, which controls 18 million square-feet of commercial real estate valued at about $1 billion, specializes in taking over undermanaged properties.
Frank said he is confident the south tower can be successful. Although the vacancy rate in downtown Buffalo is high, about 22 percent compared to an average of 11 percent in other U.S. cities, there is a lack of "class A" space, Frank said.
The Key Center building and location can be sold to image-conscious companies who prefer to be in a first-class facility, he said.
One problem the new property managers could face is parking, an issue which also troubles other downtown buildings.
Key Center has an underground garage, but not enough available space to accommodate all tenants if the south tower fills.
"I'm not going to focus on what the problems are. I'm going to focus on how can we turn problems into opportunities," Frank said when asked about parking. "I think we can do things that don't cost a lot of money to make that building an important piece of the Buffalo landscape."