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The Kisslings:
Manhattanites drawn to Buffalo's "Good Bones"

By Nancy Cardillo

The Ambassador building
The Ambassador on North Street is one of the
Kisslings' many renovated apartment
buildings in Buffalo.
Photo by Jim Bush.
Tony Kissling is the fourth generation owner of the family real estate business. The business was started more than 130 years ago when his great grandfather—a baker in Germany—arrived in the United States and began buying properties in and around Manhattan. Fast forward to November 1996. Tony and his son, Daniel, wanted to expand their business to other cities, and began looking at more than fifteen cities within a 400—mile radius of Manhattan, including Buffalo.

Tony and Daniel did their homework, and they chose Buffalo. They began looking at architecturally significant buildings built between the late 1800s and the late 1920s. (Buffalo’s golden years, when it was among the wealthiest cities in the country.)

“We wanted to find great buildings in the best locations, fix them up and rent them out,” says Tony. “Between December and April we looked at hundreds of properties, and bought our first building in May of 1997.”

So, now the question that screams to be answered: “Why Buffalo?”

“Buffalo is a great city. It wasn’t just ‘dropped together’ like some other cities,” says Tony. “It was designed when there was great wealth to do it carefully and thoughtfully. It’s got good bones. And it’s beautiful.”

Buffalo is beautiful. There’s our world-renowned architecture. We have great parks, many designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. A good infrastructure and good roads. Tree-lined streets with one Victorian home after another. Our proximity to Canada. So why isn’t our little burg booming? And, more curiously, why would a successful real estate business owner from Manhattan choose Buffalo as his next city in which to invest?

“Don’t underestimate Buffalo,” says Tony Kissling. “It has very few negative points. It’s one of the best wired cities in the country. The utilities, such as Niagara Mohawk, have the capabilities to handle much more than they are now. There’s Chippewa, great restaurants, affordable housing, friendly people, and so much more.

“Buffalo’s easy to get to, too. There’s a beautiful new airport with plenty of low-cost airlines, and that airport is at least five times as busy as it was seven years ago, when we first started coming up here.”

There’s no doubt, when talking to Tony Kissling, that Buffalo has at least one out-of-town fan who was willing to take the gamble. Though Tony doesn’t see it as a gamble. “If I didn’t believe in Buffalo, I wouldn’t be buying real estate up there. Period. I believe Buffalo has a bright future and that, with patience and perseverance, this city will explode in the next few years.”

So why don’t other successful business owners see what Tony Kissling sees? Why are we having so much trouble bringing businesses in to the Buffalo Niagara Region? Tony doesn’t think that out-of-town business owners have a negative impression of Buffalo, he believes they have no impression of Buffalo. It’s a nonentity to them because we’re not doing the job on selling our city properly.

He tells the story of a business acquaintance who, after hearing Tony go on about Buffalo, decided to inquire about the city for his business. He called up here “to ask some questions and get some information.” The result?

“He couldn’t get the answers he wanted. Nobody he talked to tried to sell him on Buffalo or recognized the potential lead,” says Tony. He got discouraged.”

“Don’t get me wrong ... my experience entering the Buffalo market has been a very positive one,” says Tony. “The mayor and a few others did whatever they could for me. But, at the same time, I did everything with private financing. I didn’t need any city financing. I had no board to answer to; I did it all my way. And that does make a difference.

“One of the problems I see is that there are key city people who simply collect paychecks ... who allow things to happen that shouldn’t. And they don’t market Buffalo well enough. It’s not everyone, but it’s enough to do damage. They need to focus on keeping businesses here and on getting new businesses interested in coming here.”

No revelations there, but how to do that?

Tony believes the solution lies in appointing a task force that’s run by a private enterprise CEO. He believes the area simply needs to attract one or two large, healthy businesses and the rest will follow. That we need to fly people up here, show them what Buffalo has to offer. One or two corporations can start the ball rolling by creating good—paying jobs, by spreading the wealth. Tony thinks that—like him—once they see Buffalo, they’ll be hooked.

“Buffalo has everything in place. It just needs a catalyst—one or two good businesses to jump start the change,” says Tony. “I’ve made money in Buffalo; it’s very doable. I own roughly 750 apartments in ten-fifteen buildings and our vacancy rate is maybe two percent.”

The Kisslings pride themselves on improving the properties they purchase, adding desirable amenities and making them affordable, convenient and attractive for renters. They use all local contractors, lawyers, accountant, etc. in the process.

And who’s renting these apartments? According to Tony, young people. Medical students, people moving into the area, just starting out.

“Housing is much more affordable here,” says Tony. “There’s plenty of great office space, things to do on the weekends, great restaurants. We just need to keep a positive attitude because, I believe, Buffalo will turn itself around.”

Tony, from your lips to the city’s ears.

Nancy Cardillo is a freelance writer based in Western New York.

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