Douglas Jemal said he was serious about redeveloping the hulking ghost town at One Seneca Tower. Last week, he proved it.
The Washington, D.C.-based developer unveiled plans to reimagine the ground floors of the 38-story, 1.2 million-square-foot edifice. Plans include residential space, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, a grocery, a fitness center, clothing stores and other amenities. If the concepts aren’t unique, they are well-suited to a space seeking to take advantage of, and amplify, the popularity of Canalside. Among the most welcome ideas is to create an attractive outdoor space in the concrete desert that today stretches east from the tower to Washington Street.
Jemal’s initial plan, which he delivered to the Buffalo Planning Board last week, focuses on the spaces on either side of the tower. Its west annex will be transformed into a mix of apartments called Lofts @ Seneca One. On the dreary east plaza, Jemal plans to reconfigure the space, adding new construction to create a 75,000-square-foot, multilevel retail mall, with “a lot of different seating areas and outdoor areas.”
Construction and development would create a new destination for residents and visitors alike, and draw them into the Canalside district. It would serve as another welcome instigator of ancillary development, as other businesses identify opportunities for serving the thousands who will live at, visit or pass through the tower.
It’s a great start, and an unexpectedly swift one, given that Jemal only took possession of the tower in September. He plans to begin asbestos abatement this spring, with construction continuing for the following seven to 12 months. The entire project could take up to five years, depending, in part, on the market, but possibilities for the tower itself include a hotel, additional residential space and offices.
With his commitment to the building, Jemal has eased the very real concerns that Buffalo’s revival could be undermined by an empty behemoth deteriorating at a critical location. That was a real – seemingly likely – possibility, given the outsized scope of the challenge, including both the size of the building and its need for significant renovations.
If his plans for the building are entirely traditional, their expense and complexity nonetheless required a nontraditional developer to take on a project that other developers feared. Jemal fits that bill.
Washington, D.C., where the Brooklyn native now lives, is a testament to his nerve as a salvager of difficult properties. Many of those are now trendy spots in the nation’s capital and feature adaptive reuse. He has won a preservation award for such work.
This is all a part of Buffalo’s renewal, which builds upon itself. It seems much less likely that the tower would have been so quickly adopted if not for developments at Canalside, HarborCenter and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the big bang of the Buffalo Billion.
Those developments also remain in their early stages and require continued government support, but it’s good to see a developer with a vision come to town with plans to act fast and in a way that is as potent as Jemal’s plan.