There has been a shift in Buffalo’s development climate. For the first time, outside interests are not only taking a look at Buffalo’s downtown real estate, they are actually buying into it. And that’s a good thing. That means that new money, and new ideas are being injected into the city’s core.
Just yesterday, I had a chance to meet up Chris Greco, real estate broker and C.E.A. from Buffalo. Greco introduced me to Jeffrey and Leslie Wynn (Gold Wynn) – brothers from Toronto (Wynn Group) who have begun to invest in the local real estate market.
Greco has teamed up with the Wynns on their latest project, 69 Delaware Avenue, to transform the building back to an appearance that resembles its original splendor. Over the years, the building’s concourse/lobby had been pretty much trashed, with walls covering up the intricate stairwell, plaster covering up ornamental details, and just about every other travesty that one can imagine (including the frieze archway above the entranceway door in the lead image – it was recently uncovered).
In order to bring luster back to the building, originally the Buffalo Athletic Club (BAC), Jeffrey Wynn paid a visit to the Buffalo History Museum. He dug up a wealth of information, including old photos of the club. From there, the team began to recreate the circa 1922 appearance of the edifice.
One of the only items that they left intact was the original shoeshine station, which is now operational once again. Capitalizing on the shoeshine element, Greco spoke with his barber, Jonny the Barber (Jonathan Palmeri), who agreed to open up a classic barber shop in the lobby.
Now, visitors to the building (offices – now 80 percent full) can get an old fashioned cut and a hot shave, and then get their shoes polished before heading back to work. Or they can grab a lunch at Ashker’s Café, which is celebrating its soft opening in the building this Friday (formerly Shayleen’s, and Andiamo).
Or they can get a quick workout in at LA Fitness, which is currently undergoing a major upgrade. The Wynns recently brought a top dog from the fitness company to Buffalo to demonstrate all of the work that they were doing, and now LA Fitness plans on making this fitness center one of the premier locations in the chain (more news on all of these advancements coming soon).
Jeffrey Wynn is an art deco enthusiast. The properties that the Wynns are eyeing here in Buffalo tend to have art deco elements, which are then lovingly restored. 69 Delaware is no different. Between interior designer Gray Abraham (Decollect out of Port Hope, Ontario), and Toronto artist David Chestnutt, the lobby has been transformed into an art deco wonderland.
With giant oversized floor lamps, spectacular murals dedicated to Buffalo’s history (and future), a brilliant display case filled with Buffalo Athletic Club memorabilia, a deco concierge station, and the revealed staircase, the entire look of the entranceway has been cleverly modified to impress any visitor to the EB Green building.
The appearance has gone from tragic to classic, almost overnight. It actually took a year and a half to bring it around from “being pretty much a dump,” as they described it. And they’re not done with this building – not by a long shot. They have more plans and ambitions, although I am not at liberty to discuss those at this point in time. What I can say is, Buffalo should be very thankful to have the Wynns playing around with our real estate. As their corporation name implies, everything that they touch turns to gold – they have a property portfolio that spans the globe, and they have their eyes on Buffalo, with feet on the ground.
Talking with Jeffrey Wynn, one would think that the guy lives here. He and Leslie actually are spending a lot of time here. They have been everywhere, eaten everywhere, and they talk Buffalo shop like old pros. These two are sold on Buffalo.
69 Delaware is the Wynn’s 7th investment property in Buffalo. They recently picked up 1165 Delaware Avenue. They have been steadily restoring the art deco nature of the building.
They say that they have some impressive real estate deals in the works, and that they have just begun to invest in this city. Since there’s nothing left in Toronto to play with (the brothers own 4000 residential units in TO), they are focusing their regional efforts on Buffalo. At the same time, they say that it’s not exactly easy to find buildings anymore. That’s why they hope to acquire parking lots, to build mid-rises… if anyone will let the parking lots go at a reasonable price.
At this point in the conversation, the topic began to shift from opportunities, to possibilities. What can the City do, to free up parking lots to developers that want to build? These guys want to build. They see the future of Buffalo as “infill”. Like many Buffalo Rising readers, they can’t believe the amount of surface parking, and the opportunities at hand to add to the City’s tax rolls. Is it time for the City to tax surface parking lots, in order to get the owners to make a move? How else do we free up this property that does virtually zip for Buffalo? According to Assemblyman Sean Ryan, the City should be charging sewer fees to parking lot owners, like other cities. there should be more regulations in place, instead of fewer regulations (which is what has been happening). Over the years, the laws have changed in favor of parking lot owners (on a number of fronts). Unfortunately, there is no cohesive urban plan for these types of problematic issues. The Wynns want to build modern glass mid-rise buildings, with concierge amenities in the lobbies. They feel that this is the future of Buffalo. This is where people downsizing from the suburbs, and coming from other cities, will want to live. But parking lot owners are perfectly content sitting around collecting money.
In the four years that the Wynns have been seriously scoping out Buffalo, they can’t believe the amazing changes that they have seen. “People are moving back into the city,” said Jeffrey. “There are more people walking around in downtown Buffalo, and there are more things to do. It’s taking place relatively quickly. Now people want to live in the city – although we specialize in residential, we were immediately sold on 69 Delaware (now rebranded as the Athletic Club Building) the minute we saw it. We’ve lit up the whole outside, added the historic athletic club lettering up top, and we’re flying our flags. While we love Toronto, we love coming to Buffalo. It’s the buildings, but it’s also things like the Olmsted Park System – there’s nothing like that in Toronto. We want to be a part of bringing people back into Buffalo. We’ve been coming to Buffalo forever, but we’re just now seeing some traction. The time is now for this city.”