For years, the corner of Auburn and Grant has been a real eyesore and detractor for Grant Street. With so many positive advancements taking place on the West Side, one would think that this significant corner lot would be poised to contribute to the West Side renaissance. Unfortunately, this lot is owned by Greek-American billionaire businessman and radio talk show host John Catsimatidis, who is apparently planning on sitting on the property until its value goes up in price.
Don’t laugh. Honestly, I learned this during a meeting with Assemblyman Sean Ryan last week. Apparently there have been a number of offers to purchase the property at a reasonable price, but the offers have been declined. If you’re like me, then you’re probably scratching your head, wondering why a billionaire who doesn’t even live here, is holding out, and holding Buffalo back in the process. How much money could Catsimatidis stand to make if he sits on this property for another five years? Maybe an extra $50K to $100K? What could that pittance of money do, for a guy who already has boatloads of financial assets? The property has been assessed at a value between $40K and $70K (the higher amount if there are not tanks buried at the site).
Ryan told me that Catsimatidis made all of his money in the oil refining business. He’s the guy who owns United Refining Co. (Red Apple Group) which lays claim to the Red Apple gas stations here in town. These are the “zombie gas stations” that have caused such a stir in WNY media as of late. While Erie County is dealing with the zombie gas stations, the West Side is stuck with Catsimatidis and his fallow lot. Recent pressure from Ryan, and others, prompted the billionaire to seed the lot with grass. Unfortunately, additional eyesores abound in the form of construction barriers, which Ryan believes are not up to City code. These barriers are essentially litter depositories that detract from the corner. Ryan is working to get the barriers removed, but beyond that we are still going to be held hostage by a guy who probably has more cash in his back pocket than he will ever get for this corner lot.
What drives people like this to retain properties that are relatively insignificant when held up to the rest of their real estate portfolios? It’s mind boggling to think that this guy is actually holding onto the property for the money. Is it ego? Is it a game? No matter the reason, there is only one real loser here, and that’s Buffalo.