Jason Cox grew up along the Erie Canal at a time when the Remington Rand factory stood as a shuttered testament to an earlier heyday in his city.
From where he stands now, in one of the first new apartments in the revamped complex, there's a sense that his hometown is turning a corner, thanks in part to its past and in larger part to a Manhattan developer who already has made his mark on the Buffalo real estate market.
Tony Kissling has looked to the Rand site for his first project in Western New York outside Buffalo, and his $28 million project has made quite an impression on Cox and others.
The Remington Lofts on the Canal include 81 loft apartments, a roof garden with Wi-Fi, a yoga center, a salon and school for hair stylists, and the Remington Tavern -- a new restaurant and oyster bar in the works that will be run by the chefs of two of Buffalo's top restaurants, Tempo and Hutch's.
"I don't remember any activity [at the site] all through my childhood," said Cox, a 38-year-old Proctor & Gamble sales director for pet food. "Everything's starting to improve."
Flats in the Lofts, on Sweeney Street, rent for $1,200 to $1,500 a month, and feature big windows, 14-foot ceilings and stainless steel appliances.
"It's real New York City-style lofts," said Kissling. "We just can't finish them fast enough."
Cox is among those hooked. His guitars lean against a wall by windows with a wide view of the Erie Canal and, on the horizon, the railroad bridge he jumped from as a kid. It takes him just a few minutes to walk to the nearby Webster Street commercial strip, where he can take his children for ice cream, go for a drink or shop.
"I think it's going to turn the whole town around. I think we'll tap into all the suburbs of Buffalo, Niagara Falls," said Kissling. "I think this is going to give the whole city a shot in the arm."
To Kissling, this city of about 31,000 has the same promising waterfront ingredient that attracted him and his Manhattan-based real estate company to Buffalo in 1999. He was drawn to the Queen City by its lakeside location, its historic architecture, its street grid.
> Coordinated effort
Eight years ago, with the run-down North Tonawanda factory for sale, Kissling considered the rows of windows, the view, the spacious floor plan, the nearby business district, and he started to put together a deal.
The 176,000-square-foot project is named for the last big corporate resident of the factory complex: Remington Rand, a company that made office filing systems, typewriters and an early computer. It had one of its factories in the four-story building that stretches along Sweeney.
The factory was built in about 1900 by a company that made airplane engines during World War I. For a time, it was known as Herschell Spillman, and carousels were built here. Remington Rand moved in about 1925, City Historian Peter Trinkwalder said.
When Kissling bought the place in 2007, it was being partly used by an assortment of businesses and small manufacturers. His Lofts plan came together gradually, with help from the North Tonawanda Lumber City Development Corp.
The city's economic development agency coordinated $1.75 million in grants that went toward the $28 million conversion. Another $200,000 went to two of the ground-floor tenants as 3 percent loans. About half that sum turns into grants if the Leon Studio One beauty school and Evolation Yoga hire 37 workers between them as projected in the first three years.
> Perfect complement
Remington Tavern, an "upscale casual" restaurant and seafood-and-oyster bar, received approximately $250,000 in grants and low-interest loans from Lumber City, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency and Kissling.
The restaurant, estimated to cost about $1.3 million, will include almost 10,000 square feet, a waterfront terrace and 45 to 60 employees. It is expected to open by November, with part of it ready in time for the Oct. 19-22 National Preservation Conference in Buffalo.
Chefs Paul Jenkins of Tempo and Mark Hutchinson of Hutch's are parters.
Jenkins said the menu will have a creative range, with Mexican shrimp cocktail, East Coast raw oysters and New Orleans-style "po-boy" sandwiches.
"We've hired a chef. He's a rock star," Jenkins said of Jeff Kolbas, a Western New York native who left a job at a Tampa lobster and seafood restaurant. He has been working at Tempo and fine-tuning the new menu in preparation for the fall opening.
> 'Next best location'
The Remington Tavern juts out from the main factory complex and has a carved stone reference to its origins: "Power House. Buffalo & Niagara Falls Electric Railway. 1895."
After giving a tour of the gutted building, Jenkins sat outside talking. He paused to appreciate what is becoming a familiar sound: a passing train, which he has noticed going by about 3:20 p.m. most days. He called it "super sexy."
"I like it. I just like the vibe," he said. "It's industrial."
He hadn't considered North Tonawanda until he was persuaded by Kissling, whom he met at a golf tournament several years ago.
"I guarantee it'll be the next best location," Jenkins said. "Come by boat. Come by bike. Come on foot."
The Lofts' main floor tenants come from Erie County. They say their new spaces in Niagara County provide an opportunity they couldn't get in Buffalo: access to new clients.
"We can now reach out to all of Niagara County," said Leon Tringali, owner of Leon Studio One, who already has one beauty school on Main Street in Williamsville. The Lofts' expansive windowed spaces and canal frontage led him to open a second location here.
"That's the only reason I want to be in North Tonawanda -- because of this building," said Tringali, whose forearm is tattooed with the scissors, comb and razor tools of his trade.
Like Tringali and Jenkins, Mark Drost decided to set up headquarters and new studios here for his Evolation Yoga, in part because of the beauty and flexibility of the Lofts space.
> A new hot spot
His company, named for a mix of evolution and elation, specializes in yoga classes of varying intensities. With studios in Costa Rica, Florida, Brooklyn and Buffalo, and a website listing more coming soon to places from Australia to Miami, Drost wanted room to create a head office and space to offer more services.
At the Lofts, he has about 7,000 square feet, two studios, rooms for "treatments" including massage.
Another entrepreneur, Meghan Bromley, opened Liquid Energy Juice Bar Cafe across from the yoga reception desk.
"At first I thought, 'North Tonawanda? Why would I put a studio there?' But I really like it here," said Drost, a Hamburg native. "This is going to be something else. This is going to be a place where people come from all over Western New York."