Jemal pursues another major tenant for Seneca One with 300 new jobs

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Developer Douglas Jemal is working to land a California-based technology company for his Seneca One tower in downtown Buffalo, potentially taking up the top dozen floors of the city’s tallest building with more than 300 new jobs.

Jemal, whose Douglas Development Corp. owns the 38-story building, confirmed that he is negotiating with a California-based technology company to occupy about 200,000 square feet of space in the landmark tower.

No lease has been signed yet, he said, as discussions are still “in the preliminary stages,” but “it’s looking very positive.”

“It passed muster with their senior board members to pursue,” Jemal said.

Jemal would not identify the company, but said it’s a “well-established” technology-oriented company, with more than 1,000 employees overall and offices in Boston and New York City.

“They’re looking at possibly expanding into Buffalo,” he said. “This is new. This is out of state.”

If Jemal is successful, he said the new company would occupy the 26th through 38th floors of the 1.2-million-square-foot complex. It would become the second-biggest tenant after M&T Bank Corp., which is preparing to move into 330,000 square feet of space on the two enormous base levels below the plaza, plus 11 floors of the tower. 43North, the state-funded business plan competition, has already taken up residency on one floor, with its portfolio companies.

“This is another positive moment, a watershed moment for the city, of what’s happening to Seneca One,” Jemal said. “It’s a new day.”

If Jemal lands a second major tenant and is able to lease 12 floors in the tower, it would give him occupants for 70% of the building’s floors – a major turnaround for an office tower that was vacant as recently as last year.

Jemal previously said that two large office users in the city had issued requests for proposals for space, and specifically asked about Seneca One. He would not identify them, but said one of them was seeking 250,000 square feet, and was “seriously looking” at the tower. He is also working to secure a brewery for the building.

Meanwhile, Jemal continues to move forward with work on the rest of his $120 million redevelopment of Seneca One – which was vacant for more than three years after its two major tenants, HSBC Bank USA and law firm Phillips Lytle, left for the HSBC Atrium and One Canalside, respectively. They were soon followed by the remaining occupants, as the former owner defaulted on its loan and the building fell into foreclosure.

Jemal bought it and the parking ramp across the street for $12.6 million, and began working to transform the building into a mixed-use complex with apartments, retail stores, restaurants and technology-focused office space.

Two new black-clad brick storefront buildings are largely completed on the plaza level, along with two new clubhouse buildings that have not yet been leased. Most of the two annex buildings and a lower portion of the tower have been converted into 115 market-rate apartments, which have been ready for more than a year, but Jemal has held off on formally recruiting tenants.

“I don’t want to open them up until the building doesn’t look like a construction site,” he said.

Jemal said he plans to start renting the units in May, but has been getting about 10 inquiries every week, and already has a large enough waiting list to fill up the units quickly. Precise rates are still being determined.

“There are very few apartments left,” he said. “You are going to have a living downtown.”

Jemal also owns the former Buffalo police headquarters at 74 Franklin St., at Church Street, which he plans to convert to 130 apartments in a $30 million redevelopment. City approvals are still pending, but he said that building is now undergoing asbestos abatement, before workers can start on the internal demolition and then construction.

Published by The Buffalo News

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