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One Seneca Tower's revised plan calls for fewer apartments, more retail

Washington developer Douglas Jemal is shifting his plans for the lower portions of One Seneca Tower, trimming back the number of apartments while bringing in more space for retail stores and restaurants.

Jemal is turning to the second phase of his planned redevelopment of the tower, even before real construction work begins on the first phase that was already approved.

His Douglas Development Corp. still plans to renovate the tower's annex buildings into retail space and apartments. But now it wants to:

  • Reduce the number of apartments from 183 to 142.
  • Increase the amount of retail space.
  • Construct a four-story mixed-use building and a single-story retail building on the plaza adjacent to the 38-story tower.
  • Reduce the height of a proposed wind wall, while adding a wind canopy.

“We think we came up with a better plan,” Jemal said.

The four-story building would replace a proposed one-story, 9,000-square-foot retail building that Jemal originally planned for that spot, and which was previously approved by the city. It would consist of 10,937 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 42 apartments on the upper three floors, and would be located just east of the tower.

Meanwhile, the new one-story structure, with 4,284 square feet of retail space, would be located in the northeast corner of the site next to the intersection of Washington and Seneca streets.

Other elements of the previous plan — designed by Antunovich Associates, Trautman Associates, Wendel Cos. and Siracuse Engineers — are also being modified, subject to approval by the city. The Planning Board will review the $6.2 million in new features on Monday.

"This project represents a significant additional step forward in the developer's ongoing effort to transform what is currently vacant, desolate property into a bustling hub of retail, office and residential space," Jemal's attorney, Adam S. Walters of Phillips Lytle LLP, wrote in a letter to the Planning Board. "The addition of the two newly proposed buildings will bring even more Buffalonians, visitors and tourists into our downtown core and will perfectly complement the previously approved plans to redevelop the annex buildings."

Jemal, who bought the vacant former home of HSBC Bank USA for $12.6 million last October, is undertaking a comprehensive redevelopment of the 1.2-million-square-foot complex in an effort to revive the tallest privately owned building in upstate New York. Expected to cost well over $120 million, the project is likely to involve a mix of residential, retail, restaurant, office and possibly hotel space to reoccupy the empty tower, two four-story annex buildings to the south and west, and the plaza itself.

Under the first phase, which the city Planning Board approved in February, Jemal planned to convert the two five-story annex buildings into a combination of 183 market-rate apartments, plus 43,000 square feet of retail space at the plaza level. The 150,000 square feet of residential space would include studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.

Now that plan is being modified with scaled-back residential space. Instead of 183 apartments, there will now be 100 units in the annex buildings. The space on the third and fourth floors of the south annex building that had previously been targeted for apartments will now be retail space instead. And the mechanical penthouse level of the annexes will house equipment.

Additionally, a four-story wind wall that had been approved for the northwest corner of the tower will now be reduced to 20 feet in height. The developer also plans to install a "wind canopy" that will cover the area between the tower and annex buildings.

Jemal also modified the facade design for the tower and annex to make it look "cleaner" and more "streamlined" by using more glass and a white stucco finish. The landscaping plan has been changed. A proposed bridge over Main Street has been eliminated from the project. And a new curved access drive will be constructed on the northwestern part of the plaza, adding to the curved northeastern drive that was approved earlier.

"The project design will continue to bring a human scale to the currently foreboding plaza area," Walters wrote. "The project will serve to make the east side of the site more pedestrian friendly in addition to bringing more shoppers into the general area ... Further, the developer anticipates that the project will continue the momentum of other successful projects in the area and become another success story in the city's resurgence."

If approved, construction of the one-story building under general contractor R&P Oak Hill would start in October and finish by April 2018. Work on the larger building would begin in November, and finish by April 2019.

Jemal said his company has signed agreements with contractors to begin the work.

For now, asbestos abatement work is underway, and exterior lighting has been added to the tower's facade to illuminate it in varying colors. Meanwhile, the remainder of the tower's existing office space itself is being actively marketed for lease by CBRE Buffalo. Any further redevelopment of that space for other uses will depend on market demand, officials have said.

"The developer anticipates returning to the Planning Board once a redevelopment plan for the tower is formalized," Walters wrote in his letter to the Board.

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