Great Buildings: Corn Exchange
Image courtesy of Carmina Wood Morris
Like others who have responded to the market for cool loft living downtown, developers Anthony Baynes and Ken Frey have repurposed a long-languishing former industrial building. Located on a triangular parcel where South Elmwood and Niagara Street merge at West Mohawk, the former Corn Exchange building has a particularly handsome Renaissance Revival façade with beautiful insets of ornamental brickwork, trimmed in terra cotta.
It was designed by the Buffalo architectural firm Wood and Brandney; Turner Construction began construction of the building in October, 1915.The reenforced concrete shell was planned for the Robertson-Cataract Electric Company retail showroom and warehouse. By 1908, the use of electricity in Buffalo was widespread, becoming popular for residential lighting, cooking, and laundry. By 1920, the firm had 175 employees and had grown to be one of the largest distributors of electrical equipment between Boston and Chicago.
Robertson-Cataract sold the property in the mid-1960s to the Catholic Diocese, who in turn sold it to a developer in the eighties. It went into foreclosure in 1992 and was bought by the Corn Building Corporation. (This is why the structure is commonly known as the Corn Exchange Building.) During this and subsequent ownerships, the building’s potential remained undeveloped. Until now.
The newly residential complex, now called 100 South (its actual addess is 100 South Elmwood), has ten one-bedroom apartments and sixteen two-bedroom units, ranging in size from 900 to 1,700 square feet. All the units were rented within two months of their availability. Ben Obletz of First Amherst Development (Elk Lofts, Granite Works) is the leasing agent.
The apartments are impressive. Each has hardwood floors, stainless-steel appliances, and in-unit laundry. Contemporary touches like granite countertops, cherry cabinetry, tiled showers, and a pleasant, open layout complement the historic elements, which include exposed brick walls.
Project architects Carmina Wood Morris took full advantage of a 1956-era double-height fifth floor addition when they created the fourth floor townhouses that extend through to the top floor. Each townhouse now has floor-to-ceiling windows and opens to roof access with an appealing urban terrace.
In reconfiguring the building, the architects incorporated elements such as unusually wide (non-rectangular) corridors, staggered apartment entry door openings, and heavily insulated walls in the interests of privacy and comfort. The basement was repurposed to include a ramp and underground parking, another amenity that separates these lofts from many others on the market. There’s key-fob access for residents, secure elevator and stairways, and video security cameras on all sides of the building and in the basement level parking.
The unfinished first floor space features 6,500 square feet of open space, which may be divided and finished for more than one commercial tenant. The building’s location near courts, office buildings, and highway access makes it perfect for myriad uses.
Developer Anthony Baynes (AJ Baynes Group) has been involved with a number of other civic and business activities, and was once chairman of Buffalo’s Control Board, but says of this project, “Of all the things I’ve been involved with, this might be the one of which I’m most proud. This is the one my children and grandchildren will look at and know that I helped preserve.”
“It was exciting to be part of the rehabilitation of a building that was vacant for so many years,” adds his partner Kent Frey (Frey Electric Construction Company). “It was great to bring it back to life and still be able to keep the original look of how it was designed one hundred years ago.” Frey says that many suburbanites may not realize how far the city has progressed with its downtown residential development, and notes that there are approximately four thousand loft apartments that have been rehabbed over the past five years, virtually all rented and occupied. The ripple effect benefits shops on Elmwood and Hertel, and businesses and restaurants all across town.
The completed 100 South project joins the Avant (the old Dulski Building), the new Federal Court House, The FBI building, New Era’s headquarters (the old Federal Reserve), Homeland Security, and the current restoration of Buffalo’s venerable Statler Hotel as a major downtown development that has enhanced the neighborhood surrounding Niagara Square.
The ownership group is currently looking at other existing buildings with unused potential for similar adaptive reuse projects.
Barry A. Muskat is Buffalo Spree’s architecture critic and long-time contributor. He sees 100 South as another sign that the vibrancy of the city housing market is drawing an entire cross-section of people to live in Buffalo.