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Seneca One developer Douglas Jemal buys M&T regional HQ in Syracuse

Not content to limit himself to Buffalo, Washington, D.C., developer Douglas Jemal is making another major purchase, this time in Syracuse.

Jemal signed an agreement last week to buy M&T Bank Corp.'s landmark Central New York regional headquarters building, kicking off yet another adaptive reuse project of a historic downtown office building.

Terms of the deal, which is expected to close by the end of the first quarter, were not disclosed. But Jemal said he expects to spend between $20 million and $30 million on a renovation of the 10-story building into a mixture of apartments, retail space and a hotel.

"This is what I do for a living. This is what I love to do," he said.

"The building's 120 years old," he said. "It was very well-maintained by M&T, but it's not going to be what it is today."

Located on 1.18 acres at 101 S. Salina St., on the southeast corner of the city's prominent Clinton Square, the 205,240-square-foot building was constructed in 1896, and is part of the Hanover Square Historic District.

The white granite and limestone building consists of 120,000 square feet of office and retail space – with twin towers rising from a central base, similar to Statler City in Buffalo – plus an attached parking garage with 510 spaces. The majestic gold-rimmed main lobby features a grand bank branch, in a style harkening back decades.

Designed by R.W. Gibson, the neoclassical structure was originally home to Onondaga County Savings Bank – later OnBank – that eventually was acquired by Buffalo-based M&T. M&T then retained the building as its regional headquarters and main branch, but decided last year that it didn't need such a large space and wanted to reconfigure its operations.

So it put the building up for sale for $5.9 million. M&T plans to relocate its offices to the fourth floor of a smaller building on South Clinton Street nearby, with a branch on the ground floor.

Jemal has built his Douglas Development Corp. into one of the leading real estate firms in the Washington area, with multiple prominent projects under his belt that have transformed once-neglected parts of the city. He also now owns properties in Maryland, Richmond, Nashville, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Reading, Pa.

This is the first purchase in Syracuse by Jemal, who burst onto the upstate New York scene with his $12.6 million purchase and $120 million redevelopment of the vacant Seneca One tower in downtown Buffalo. He has since purchased an industrial property on Rano Street, the former Buffalo Police headquarters on Niagara Square, and the Boulevard Mall in Amherst, as well as a personal house.

He also owned a property in Rochester, but has since sold it, he said.

Jemal said he was attracted to the M&T building by the "location, the historic significance of the building and the challenge to do an adaptive reuse." He noted that's similar to what drew him to Buffalo's Seneca One tower, formerly the headquarters for Marine Midland Bank and later HSBC Bank USA.

"I’m really motivated by a particular asset more than an area," he said.

Ironically, as M&T prepares to vacate the Syracuse building, it's also moving into 11 floors of the tower and two pedestal levels at Seneca One, where it will create a technology hub with 1,500 employees as the building's anchor tenant.

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