In some cities, developers demolish dated, vacant commercial building stock. But in Buffalo, the combination of a rich historic inventory and little demand has helped save many buildings. And thanks to increased interest in historic preservation and tax credits, many such structures are now being renewed as mixed-use properties, which is helping to revive this western New York city.
The four-story former warehouse and lightbulb showroom of the Robertson-Cataract Electric Co. is a prime example. Built in 1915, the building in 1956 became home to a corn exchange. By the early 1970s, the need for the exchange ended, and the building changed hands multiple times. In the 1990s, it was abandoned.
Yet its reinforced-concrete structure and brick facing helped keep intact the exterior’s cut-stone, terra-cotta detailing and cast-iron Roman Doric columns. Anthony J. Baynes, chairman of holding company AJ Baynes Group, decided its condition and proximity to City Hall made the building ripe for a historic rehabilitation and expansion.
After purchasing the almost-40,000-square-foot building for $600,000 in March 2010, Baynes brought in Kent Frey, president of Frey Electric Construction Co., who contributed another $600,000. With input from architect Steven Carmina, managing partner at locally based Carmina Wood Morris, the team decided its best use would be as loft-style apartments and ground-floor commercial space. They renamed it “100 South” to reflect the project’s location at 100 South Elmwood Ave.
The partners pumped in an additional $5.5 million and applied for federal and state rehabilitation tax credits, says historic-property architect Kerry Traynor, head of Buffalo-based KTA Preservation Specialists, who wrote the application. Carmina’s firm added a fifth floor with penthouse-level bedrooms and patios for six of eight two-story apartments, as well as patios for two units a floor below. Exterior views frame downtown and Lake Erie.
The building opened in October, and 20 of its 26 units have leased. Apartments range from 900-square-foot, $900 one-bedrooms to 1,700-square-foot, $2,200 two-bedrooms. Included are a parking garage in the original basement and 6,700 square feet of unleased commercial space.
The transformation of 100 South remains a strong example of Buffalo’s “industrial, factory aesthetic,” Traynor says. It also reflects downtown Buffalo’s continuing re-emergence as a vibrant place to live, says Andrew Rudnick, head of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, a business-development nonprofit.
Baynes and Frey are busy scouting for an encore.