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Peterson's Penman is leaving for Ciminelli; Longtime realty exec to be VP with developer

Longtime M.J. Peterson Corp. senior executive Dennis M. Penman is leaving the firm after 40 years, moving to developer Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. in a major personnel shift that shakes up local real estate circles.

Penman, 62, an executive vice president at Amherst-based Peterson, will join Ciminelli on Tuesday as an executive vice president and a principal at the developer.

He will be responsible for seeking new real estate development opportunities in Western New York for a firm that is already one of the biggest players in the local market. He will also be a part-owner in those projects, although not in the firm.

"Dennis has an impeccable reputation as one of the most highly respected members of our real estate development community," President Paul Ciminelli said, citing Penman's "depth of experience."

"He knows what works here and how to get it done," Ciminelli said. "He will be a tremendous addition to our team and a valuable asset."

Ciminelli Real Estate manages or has developed more than 9 million square feet of commercial space, with 120 employees and offices in New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

The 30-year-old firm is "going after" a diverse array of work and has "some things that we're looking at in the pipeline," Paul Ciminelli said.

In particular, he said, it's "busy focusing on the [Buffalo Niagara] Medical Campus right now," and "we have Muir Woods that we're looking to develop" in Amherst. Additionally, he said, the firm will look at other commercial and residential projects, such as the Bethune Lofts redevelopment on Main Street.

"Nowadays, things are mixed-use anyway. It's not one or the other," he said. "Dennis brings a long history of doing very successful residential projects. We're fortunate to have a full plate of opportunities that he can bring his background to."

And while Penman focuses on Western New York, Ciminelli said, he and other executives can "spend more time growing the company's client services" in the other states, which is a key strategy for the firm.

"This is an exciting and challenging 'encore career' move for me," Penman said, thanking and praising the Peterson family for "understanding that this is a good move for all."

"I've worked a long time mostly on the residential side of development, and I'm motivated to work with Paul and his team on the commercial side. I know the market, I know the region, and I know the players and developers in Western New York. This is a great opportunity."

Penman has been a fixture of the Buffalo housing and business community for decades. During his four decades with Peterson, he helped the company secure new homebuilding business in Buffalo, but also expanded its interests from residential real estate to include commercial real estate and property-management services.

"Dennis has worked here through four generations of our family and has helped us grow our business exponentially," said Victor L. Peterson Jr., chairman of the company. "Of course, we are sad to see him go but wish him nothing but great success in his endeavors."

Penman said that he has been "happy" to work with Peterson but that the company has matured and is now more focused on its "substantial" real estate brokerage, residential property management and investment portfolio, all of which requires "a lot of personal time" and attention. That doesn't leave as much room for development deals, which is where his interests lie.

"I'm a deal-oriented person," he said. "The existing portfolio is not deal-oriented."

The company is also is making a transition to the next generation, with Victor L. "Pete" Peterson III gradually taking the reins, so Penman has "less operating responsibility."

Penman also has been a figure in city politics and economic development, donating to political leaders and helping the city secure $12.8 million in federal funds in the 1990s. That has earned him positions of leadership in several agencies, which he plans to continue.

He currently serves as vice chairman of Buffalo Urban Development Corp. and interim president of the oft-criticized Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., which is being shut down amid controversy that predated Penman's involvement. He previously served as chairman of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, and he is on the executive committee of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.