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Urban Land Institute to study HSBC tower

Faced with losing three anchor tenants and having nearly 90 percent of the 38-story building vacant, the owner of One HSBC Center is looking to the Urban Land Institute to craft a future for the signature downtown tower.

The institute is sending six experts to Buffalo on Feb. 25 to study the 871,000-square-foot building. A report from the team is expected Feb. 28.

"It is an opportunity to reinvest ourselves," said Steve Fitzmaurice, chief operating officer of Seneca One Holdings, which owns the building. "It's time to think of the possibilities more so than the past."

One HSBC Tower, constructed in 1971, is downtown's tallest office building. For the first four decades, HSBC Bank occupied portions of 22 floors for about 650,000 square feet but is not renewing its lease due to global restructuring.

Phillips Lytle LLP leased 85,000 square feet but is moving to the One Canalside Building in December. The third anchor tenant, the Canadian Consulate, occupied 25,000 square feet on two floors but left last summer when the Buffalo office closed.

Combined, the three anchor tenants accounted for 90 percent of the building's leasable office space.

Finding a future for the building is a priority for Mayor Byron Brown, who authorized the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. to underwrite the ULI exercise.

"We need a clearer picture," Brown said. "These are experts in urban planning and development."

The ULI team will spend Feb. 25-26 meeting with officials of the public and private sectors and touring downtown and city locations. The report will be made public a few days later.

Fitzmaurice said it will be the first Buffalo visit for five of the six experts.

Seneca One, a New York City-based investment group, favors a mixed-use redevelopment with apartments and condominiums. A hotel and restaurant are also being considered. Keeping existing office tenants in place is critical.

"Who knows? Maybe they will come in and throw that idea right out the window," Fitzmaurice said. "They might come up with something altogether different. The point is, we will be getting a fresh look and a blueprint for our future."