A virtually vacant, forty year old office tower is getting remade for residential purposes. No, not One HSBC Center, but 100 Van Ness Avenue, a somewhat similar building in San Francisco. It is an example of a high rise being repositioned as a market changes.
Buffalo's One HSBC Center is in flux. HSBC Bank currently leases 650,000 sq.ft. in the 852,000 sq.ft. tower but that lease expires in October 2013. The bank has reorganized its U.S. operations and has not publicly announced if it will be renewing, shrinking or vacating all of its space in the tower. Other tenants have announced plans to leave including the Canadian Consulate, law firm Phillips Lytle, and Capital One Financial. Potentially, the tower could be 90 percent vacant in just 14 months. It is a scary proposition for a downtown market that sees about 200,000 sq.ft. of office space absorbed in an average year.
Tower owner Seneca One Realty LLC has begun exploring options including adding residential and/or hotel space to the building. Redevelopment of former office buildings is commonplace elsewhere and has accelerated locally. Uniland Development converted the former Dulski Federal Office Building on Delaware Avenue into Avant, a mix of office, hotel and upscale condominiums. Benderson Development is putting offices, retail and a Courtyard by Marriott into the former Donovan State Office Building at the foot of Main Street.
Converting a 38-story building, nearly four times the size of Avant would be a significant undertaking. The cost of a conversion is hefty and the market for what could be several hundred residential units and/or hotel rooms is suspect.
In San Francisco, Emerald Fund, Inc. and National Real Estate Advisors are converting the 29-story former California State Automobile Association headquarters building into 399 apartments. While the San Francisco residential market is exponentially stronger and deeper than Buffalo's, the project is an example of how a new façade and use can change the identity of a worn building.
One HSBC Center and the San Francisco building were completed within one year of each other (1972-1973). The San Francisco building is currently 96 percent vacant and is located in the Civic Center area where the market for office space is weak.
The proposed renovation would result in 399 residential units and consists of interior renovations and re-skinning of the building's exterior with a contemporary glass curtain wall system. The goal of the contemporary curtain wall design would be to allow the building to "express a modern residential expression" according to the development application. 6,884 sq.ft. of ground floor retail will be available. Parking for 118 cars is provided and the developers would be adding 134 bicycle parking spaces. A second floor fitness center and a 12,000 sq.ft. rooftop common area is planned for residents. The San Francisco office of architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz is working on the project which is expected to take 19 months.100 Van Ness is slightly shorter than One HSBC Center but nearly half the size: 852,000 vs 408,000 sq.ft. The rectangular floors of 100 Van Ness are suitable for a residential layout, One HSBC's big, square floors are more of a challenge. Each building's height and views make them an ideal conversion candidate.
It will be an interesting year for Buffalo's tallest building. HSBC will be announcing what presence, if any, it will keep in the building and Seneca One Realty will need to decide whether to invest in the property or sell it.