CLEVELAND – One of the state’s familiar GOP figures is renewing his political connections at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week while keeping an eye on a potential makeover of the One Seneca Tower in Buffalo.
John A. Catsimatidis, the billionaire Greek immigrant investigating a partnership to buy the almost-vacant building, said Thursday his interest remains keen, and that he has sought the assistance of Sen. Charles E. Schumer in kick-starting the project.
“We’re looking at it and we met with Sen. Schumer about it a couple of weeks ago,” Catsimatidis told The Buffalo News at the convention. “Sen. Schumer is very powerful; let’s see what sway he has.”
Catsimatidis did not elaborate on details of his discussions with the senator and said any moves are still several weeks away while Schumer’s staff investigates how its office could aid the project. Catsimatidis said he is still interested in converting the 38-story tower -- upstate New York's tallest commercial building, which was once home to several HSBC operations -- to a mixed-use project consisting in equal parts of office, condominium and hotel space.
He added THAT he is encouraged by new development in the neighborhood and would be interested in re-establishing a restaurant on the building’s 38th floor to take advantage of “the beautiful view.”
But he reiterated that he is exploring adding partners to the effort.
“I don’t want to be the Lone Ranger,” he said.
He also said he is exploring bringing his talk radio show in New York City to Buffalo.
Born in Greece in 1948, Catsimatidis immigrated to the United States with his family and grew up in Manhattan. He studied electrical engineering at New York University, but dropped out after buying out one of the owners of a small Harlem supermarket where he worked. He opened his own store in 1971 and then bought a second one, which he named Red Apple.
By the time he was 24, he had 10 stores. By the summer of 1981, his business had 27 stores in the Bronx and Manhattan, with $40 million in annual sales. He bought 36 Gristedes supermarkets and 11 affiliated stores in 1986 from 7-Eleven parent Southland Corp. for $50 million, later adding Sloan’s Supermarket and Food Emporium locations. He also purchased United Refining Co. of Warren, Pa., as well as the Kwik Fill, Country Fair and Keystone convenience and gas station chains, totaling 400 locations.
One Seneca is owned by LNR Properties, the special loan servicer representing bondholders who held a $91 million mortgage on which the prior owner, Seneca One Realty, defaulted. The building was constructed in 1972 as the headquarters for Marine Midland Bank and long dominated by Marine and successor HSBC Bank USA. The tower is now 96 percent empty, after HSBC and Phillips Lytle LLP left the building almost simultaneously in late 2013 and thereby triggered the previous servicer to initiate foreclosure proceedings. LNR took possession of the tower last October and acquired the accompanying five-story parking ramp in March.
Catsimatidis called the project “a tough deal” in June.
Catsimatidis -- who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for mayor of New York in 2013 -- still owns Gristedes Foods in Manhattan, the Red Apple Group and the Warren, Pa.-based parent of the Kwik Fill chain. He told The News in June that he has also discussed a possible collaboration with Phillip Ruthen of Connecticut. However, both Catsimatidis, who toured the building on a recent visit to Buffalo, and Ruthen say they have not agreed to any deal to work together.