In July 2002, a local development group turned heads when it bought a vacant, sprawling manufacturing building on Exchange Street in Buffalo and vowed to make it the city's "next great place" for office tenants.
With the reinvented Larkin Building now 98 percent leased, the group is plotting its course for the next decade -- a blueprint that envisions creation of the "Larkin District," replete with new office, retail and residential development. It also would like to install a Frederick Law Olmsted-designed traffic circle at the intersection of Seneca and Smith streets and Fillmore Avenue.
"We want to build on and enhance the mixed-use neighborhood that's already there," said Howard Zemsky, a principal in CityView Properties. "We couldn't be happier with our investment in the Larkin Building and want to take the next steps through our Larkin District plan."
CityView has invested more than $30 million in the top-to-bottom renovation of the Larkin Building at 726 Exchange St. and acquisition of a dozen more properties in the area surrounding it. It expects to spend at least $20 million on future projects in the neighborhood.
The first step in the plan will be a new 80,000-square-foot office building, to be located directly across Exchange Street from the Larkin Building, utilizing a portion of a surface parking lot.
The four-story Mill Race Commons building will pay homage to its namesake, a now-buried canal that had provided hydropower to neighborhood businesses starting in the 1820s. The proposed building, which is expected to see construction in 2008, is designed to make the footprint of the former mill race part of its lobby and exterior courtyard.
CityView's 10-year plan also includes:
* A 60,000-square-foot office building at 111 Hydraulic St., a block north of the Larkin Building.
* A three-story, mixed-use residential/retail complex on the southeast corner of Seneca and Emslie streets, combining first-floor shops with 21 apartments on the upper floors.
* Twenty new rowhouses on vacant land surrounded by Seneca, Swan and Hagerman streets.
* A new retail development along Smith Street, between Seneca and Exchange streets.
Mayor Byron W. Brown applauded the CityView plan and its vision for the neighborhood.
"I am very pleased to see another indication of the substantial, rapid and innovative progress in the Larkin District, and throughout Buffalo," Brown said.
Robert Shibley, director the University at Buffalo Urban Design Project, which has worked with CityView on the district blueprint, said the developers have set "a very high standard" in their long-term planning.
"They are working hard on the full range of opportunities to interpret the history of the area, improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, and make the district a great place to work," Shibley said.
Zemsky said the UB group assisted with research on Olmsted's traffic circle, which was planned as part of a never-built parkway for the near East Side neighborhood.
"That's an element we'd really like to work with the city to create. We see it as way to enhance the district through infrastructure," Zemsky said.
Additional traffic-calming measures, pedestrian improvements and streetscape upgrades are all part of the multidimensional district plan.
The CityView group, which also includes Buffalo businessmen Bill Jones, Joe Petrella and Doug Swift, bought the 600,000-square-foot Larkin Building in 2002 for just over $1 million. Built in 1912, it started life as a Larkin Soap Co. property, and later became home to Graphic Controls.
Formally called the Larkin at Exchange Building, it now houses a diverse stable of tenants, including Kaleida Health, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, First Niagara Financial Group, law firms Harris Beach and Kavinoky Cook, collections firm Capital Management, and Travers Collins & Co., an advertising and public relations firm.
Other CityView properties include the Root Building, at 70 W. Chippewa St., and the recently built 598 Main St. The CityView partners also have ownership ties to CityCentre Condominiums, in the 600 block of Main Street.