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Adams hopes future is looking up for One HSBC

by chocieni
Fri, Mar 1st 2013 12:00 pm

 Like so many others, Kenneth Adams is interested in what the future holds for One HSBC Center, the towering Buffalo landmark.

The New York City-based owner of the 38-story, 851,000-square-foot building has a dilemma.

It is well-documented that the building will lose three anchor tenants by year-end: HSBC Bank, Phillips Lytle law firm and the already-closed Canadian Consulate. They account for nearly 90 percent of the leasable square footage.

Later this month, building owner Seneca One Realty LLC will meet with a team of urban planning and development experts from the Urban Land Institute to review possible plans for One HSBC Center. A mixed-use scenario looms, anchored by apartments and condos on the upper floors, maybe a hotel and a few floors of office space.

The Urban Land Institute team will meet with local real estate and development insiders before making a recommendation.

"We don't want to make a decision in a vacuum," said Steve Fitzmaurice, Seneca One chief operating officer. "That's why we are bringing the experts in. But we also don't want some guy from California to come in and say, 'Here's the magic plan.' "

That has happened before and it failed miserably. Case in point is how the design of the Buffalo Place pedestrian mall hurt, not helped, the central business district. That's now being corrected through the "Cars Sharing Main Street" program.

Adams, president and CEO of Empire State Development Corp., is among those who are curious about the building's future. It's fair to assume that at some point, ESD may be asked to offer some incentives, grants or abatements to help underwrite whatever happens there.

"This much I am sure of: Evolving market forces will create a new opportunity for the building," he said.

There are many factors working in the building's favor, he said. Chief among them is the basic real estate rule of "location, location, location."

One HSBC Center sits on the northern edge of the Canalside District, where more than $200 million in construction projects are under way or about to begin. That includes Benderson Development Co.'s $30 million One Canalside Building makeover of the former Donovan State Office Building. Also, the Buffalo Sabres' $123 million HarborCenter twin rink/hotel complex on the Webster Block.

Work is under way on replica Erie Canal waterways, and later this year, an urban park will be developed to serve as a people-friendly bridge between the One Canalside Building and HarborCenter.

Last year, more than 400,000 people visited Canalside for everything from concerts to taking in the sunset to sampling foods during a chili cook-off. That number is expected to grow by 20 percent this year.

"There is so much energy and so much momentum going on at Canalside that it will spill over to the (One HSBC Center) building," Adams said. "In the next few years, that area is really going to change. And with that change will be development opportunities that we aren't aware of yet. I really do believe that market forces will drive the future of that building."

His organization is ready to help, he added, saying, "There may be some situations where ESD can deploy its resources."

What might those be?

If an office tenant new to the area wants to move there, ESD might be willing to step in with some incentives.

"We want more new jobs in downtown Buffalo," Adams said.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown also is interested in what comes out of the Urban Land Institute review. That's one of the reasons why he wanted Buffalo Urban Development Corp. - of which he is president - to help fund the study with a $10,000 allocation.

Brown said his personal preference is to see the tower reinvent itself in the mixed-use scenario that Seneca One seems to prefer. He is not wedded to the mixed-use concept, however.

"It is important to be open-minded," the mayor said.

Last year, a team of Urban Land Institute experts looked at the now-closed Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital property. From their recommendations came the idea of using the property as the home of a veterinary college.

Going into the study, few - if any - envisioned such an organization on the property.

"That's why you need to be open-minded," Brown said. "And that's why we are all looking forward to see what comes out of this process."

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