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The big guns: Who’s who among Buffalo developers

It’s a great time to be a developer in Western New York.

After a long period of relative stagnation, the region’s commercial real estate market has surged in the past couple of years, spurred by billions of dollars of investment in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Canalside, the Outer Harbor and other initiatives.

From the downtown core to the suburbs, developers are investing private dollars into projects to build new office, hotel, retail and other commercial facilities, or to convert aging industrial warehouses and plants into modern, new complexes. More than four dozen projects of various size and scope are now under way.

Who is behind all this development?

Here’s a look at the major players.

The big four

Name: Benderson Development Co.

CEO: Randy Benderson

Major local projects: One Canalside, Boulevard Consumer Square, Niagara Consumer Square, Boulevard Crossings, Sheridan Harlem Plaza, Transit Commons, Eastgate Plaza, Walden Square, Walden Crossings, Walden Plaza, McKinley Commons, McKinley Square, Galleria Commons, Transit Valley Plaza, Amherst Development Park, Sheridan Delaware Plaza, Sheridan Eggert Plaza, Tops Elmwood Plaza, Youngmann Development Park, Walden Distribution Center, Walden Development Center, Orchard Fresh Plaza and Cabela’s Crossing, among others.

Founded in Buffalo in 1950 by Nate Benderson but now based in Sarasota, Fla., and run by Nate’s son, Benderson Development is the region’s leading retail developer and is one of the nation’s largest privately owned developers. It owns and manages more than 700 properties and 40 million square feet of commercial space in 38 states, including retail, office, industrial, hotel, residential and land holdings. Its affiliates include Buffalo Lodging Associates LLC – which owns and operates 40 hotels in the United States and Canada – and the Delta Sonic car wash franchise.

Name: Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.

CEO: Paul Ciminelli

Major local projects: Conventus, Centerpointe Corporate Park, Concourse Center, Bethune Lofts, Niagara Falls Municipal Complex, New Era Cap Co. headquarters

Ciminelli is one of the leading commercial real estate developers in Western New York. Founded in 1981, the firm owns, manages or has developed 11 million square feet of office, medical, commercial and residential space in Western New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts and southern Ontario. It serves more than 350 clients. It also manages branches and offices across four states for First Niagara Financial Group, as well as the KeyCenter and Bank of America Building at Fountain Plaza. Its Allpro Parking LLC division operates and manages more than 32,600 parking spaces in 72 parking facilities in Buffalo and six other cities.

Name: Ellicott Development Co.

CEO: Carl Paladino and William Paladino

Major local projects: Ellicott Square Building, Belesario Apartments, the Pasquale at Waterfront Place,the Townhomes at Waterfront Place, Lawley Building, Mohawk Building, Swan Tower, Haeberle Plaza, the Graystone, the Giacomo, the Commodore, the Bellasara, the Antonio and the Mosey, plus seven hotels.

Considered the biggest private landlord in downtown Buffalo, Ellicott Development’s diverse portfolio includes more than 2.5 million square feet of office and retail space, hotels, loft-style apartments, townhomes and condos. It also manages car rental and airport parking facilities at Buffalo Niagara and Rochester airports, plus several parking lots. Ellicott also owns a group of four gas stations and convenience stores called Trading Company, as well as 15 Family Dollar stores that Ellicott has developed.

Name: Uniland Development Corp.

CEO: Carl Montante Sr.

Major local projects: CrossPoint Business Park, Audubon Business Centre, Audubon Industrial Park, Audubon Office Park, Sweet Home Centre, Maple Ridge Plaza, Sheridan Meadows Corporate Park North and South, Airport Commerce Park, Airborne Business Park, University Corporate Centre, Eastview Commerce Park, Amherst Industrial Park, Amherst International Park, Walden Business Centre, Interstate Commerce Centre, Tonawanda Commerce Centre, Avant Building, Delaware North Companies headquarters, Catholic Health System headquarters.

Founded in 1974 by Carl J. Montante and Thomas M. Montante, Uniland is the area’s largest commercial real estate developer, serving more than 450 tenants. Over the past 40 years, it has built more than 12.34 million square feet of space and operates more than 130 properties with 6.2 million square feet. It’s the largest developer of office and industrial parks in the Buffalo and Rochester areas. Besides the Avant, one of its best-known projects is CrossPoint Business Park in Amherst, which is home to office facilities for Geico Corp., Citigroup and Bank of America Corp., among other tenants.


Name: Calamar Enterprises

CEO: Kenneth M. Franasiak

Major local projects: Woodlands Corporate Center, Woodlands Medical Campus, Woodlands Residential Village and Eagle Crest Senior Village

Calamar is a construction and development firm specializing in commercial, residential and land development in the Northeast, Midwest and southern Ontario. It has built office, light manufacturing, medical, warehouse, retail, senior housing, multi-family condos and apartments, and manufactured housing projects. It has also developed more than 1,500 senior housing units in the last 20 years while overseeing about $125 million in construction work in the last 10 years.

Name: First Amherst Development Group LLC

CEO: Benjamin N. Obletz

Major local projects: Snyder Square, 4498 Main@Harlem, Williamsville Executive Center, UB Commons, Lofts@Elk Terminal, Granite Works, Amherst Commerce Park, Sheridan Commons, Evans/Sheridan Plaza.

Description: Founded in 1958 by Bernard I. Obletz and now run by his grandson, First Amherst has more than 30 properties and 2 million square feet of space throughout the Buffalo area, southern Ontario and Portland, Ore., with a mixed portfolio of office, retail, medical, warehouse and flex space.

Name: Greenleaf & Co.

CEO: James Swiezy

Major local projects: Bosch Building at 916-918 Main St., 1040 and 1165 Delaware Ave., and 954 and 960 Amherst St.

A real estate management, construction and development firm, Greenleaf owns or manages about 40 apartment buildings with more than 700 units in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village, Linwood, Buffalo State College, Delaware District, North Buffalo and Delaware Park areas. It’s currently renovating the Bosch Building at 916 and 918 Main St. into a $4.2 million mixed-use development with 19 loft-style apartments.

Name: Hamister Group Inc.

CEO: Mark E. Hamister

Major local projects: Tishman Building, 310 Rainbow Boulevard, Orchard Heights Assisted-Living Facility and Brompton Heights Senior Living Residence.

Hamister is one of the nation’s top 100 hospitality management companies. It develops select-service hotels under the Marriott, Hilton, InterContinental and Hyatt brands, as well as assisted-living, independent living and memory care facilities. It owns hotels and health care properties in New York, Mississippi, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. It is redeveloping the 20-story Tishman Building in downtown Buffalo into a 123-room Hilton Garden Inn hotel and its new corporate headquarters. It was also named the preferred developer for Niagara Falls’ 310 Rainbow Blvd., where it proposes to build a five-story building with a 114-room Hilton Garden Inn, 24 apartments and retail space.

Name: Iskalo Development Corp.

CEO: Paul B. Iskalo

Major local projects: Harbinger Square, Electric Tower, 2410 North Forest, Mennonite Meeting House, Lord Amherst Hospitality Campus, 52 South Union Road, 8600 Transit Road, 6467 Main Street

Founded in 1988, Iskalo specializes in corporate and medical office, light industrial, warehouse, retail, mixed-use and multi-family facilities but has expanded into hospitality more recently. The firm has about 1 million square feet of space in a dozen buildings. It’s best known for redeveloping the former Niagara Mohawk building in downtown Buffalo into the Electric Tower, and it is currently redeveloping the Lord Amherst Hotel and building a second hotel behind it.

Name: Kissling Interests LLC

CEO: Anthony M. Kissling

Major local projects: Cathedral Place, Allentown Lofts, Remington Lofts, Ambassador Apartments, West Huron Lofts and Buffalo Townhomes.

Kissling Interests is a fourth-generation family-owned investment firm that dates to 1870. Kissling himself is based in New York City, but he has been active in Western New York for more than 15 years. He owns more than 950 apartments in 19 complexes in Buffalo, many in historic buildings that he converted into lofts, and also owns the 11-story Cathedral Place on Main Street.

Name: Larkin Development Group

CEO: Howard Zemsky

Major local projects: Larkin at Exchange Building, Larkin U Building and Larkin Square.

Howard Zemsky is credited with turning around a former industrial zone east of downtown into the now-trendy Larkinville District, anchored by the 600,000- square-foot Larkin at Exchange office building that is now the corporate headquarters of First Niagara Financial Group, among other tenants. Zemsky also redeveloped the nearby Larkin U building and turned Larkin Square into a neighborhood social and entertainment destination. He is also co-chairman of the state Regional Economic Development Council.

Name: McGuire Development Co.

CEO: James F. Dentinger

Major local projects: Brain & Spine Center, Williamsville Pediatric Center and Compass East.

Part of the larger McGuire Group health care company, McGuire Development is a full-service real estate development and brokerage affiliate with more than 2 million square feet of space in its portfolio in Western New York, Florida, Connecticut, Michigan and Rhide Island. It has developed specialties in health care and nonprofit work, and it bought the former Sheehan Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, which it is now converting into Compass East.

Name: Signature Development Buffalo LLC

CEO: Rocco R. Termini

Major local projects: IS Lofts, Ellicott Lofts, Ellicott Commons, Oak School Lofts, Webb Building, AM&A’s Warehouse Lofts, Distillery Lofts and Hotel @ the Lafayette.

Termini has developed a reputation for historic preservation and adaptive re-use projects, with a focus on mixed-use facilities in the city and a willingness to take on large ventures, such as the AM&A’s warehouse and Hotel @ the Lafayette, a century-old luxury hotel-turned-flophouse that he painstakingly restored into an upscale boutique hotel and wedding destination.

Name: Sinatra & Company Realty

CEO: Nick Sinatra

Major local projects: Fenton Village and Village Square Plaza.

Sinatra, who returned to Western New York a few years ago, has emerged as a player in the Buffalo real estate scene. His firm has made a series of acquisitions in Buffalo, Kenmore and Tonawanda, mostly residential apartments and single-family homes for rent, but also some retail and commercial. He is redoing the Fenton Village at 945 West Ferry St. in Buffalo.

Name: TM Montante Development

CEO: Thomas M. Montante

Major local projects: Riverview Solar Technology Park, Planing Mill Building and Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital redevelopment.

Formerly called Broad- Elm Management until 2008, TM Montante has specialized in solar energy and related projects, such as its Solar Technology Park in Tonawanda. More recently, TM Montante Development has stepped up activity with its planned $7 million conversion of the former Spaghetti Warehouse and E.M. Hager & Sons Planing Mill building in Buffalo into the Planing Mill adaptive-reuse facility, and its $63 million redevelopment – along with Canterbury Woods – of the Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital into a mixture of senior care, condos, market-rate apartments and some retail space.