500 Seneca conversion project: 'Buffalo's past is now its future'

Buffalo Business First
Feb 18, 2016
By James Fink

For years, the sprawling seven-story former F.N. Burt warehouse was a poster child for Buffalo’s economic decline.

The 325,000-square-foot Seneca Street structure — visible from the I-190 — sat empty and derelict.

“A lot of people were familiar with only because they passed it by,” said developer Sam Savarino.

But, a $44 million private-sector investment led by Savarino and his development partners the Frontier Development Initiatives, is now the latest project in the city’s economic turnaround. The 500 Seneca Building, which has been open since last summer, had its official coming out party Thursday as leaders including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Rep. Brian Higgins, toured the building.

“Many thought this building should have been torn down,” Savarino said. “They thought it was just standing in the way of other developments. This building has a story to tell.”

Savarino and his partners proved the critics wrong.

And, in a big way.

The building is home to 16 companies including Liberty Mutual’s and Oracle’s upstate offices and 60 of its 98 apartments have been leased.

Amenities include a pet day care, the Phoenix Rising Spa and Hydraulics Fitness Center.

The 500 Seneca Building along with the neighboring structure at 550 Seneca St. — another adaptive re-use of an early 1900s era warehouse — serve as the gateway into the Larkin District and help connect Larkinville with downtown’s central business district.

“Vision is on display when you are talking about this building,” Hochul said.

A registered historic landmark, the warehouse, constructed in 1901, was renovated via incentives offered by the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, Community Preservation Corp. and New York State Pension Fund. It represents a public sector/private sector investment in Buffalo.

“What was once Buffalo’s past has become Buffalo’s future,” said state Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo.