When it comes to M&T Bank Corp., Buffalo landlords will go a long way to keep the bank happy. The Lafayette Court Building in downtown Buffalo has a brand new look for its first-floor lobby, after owner Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. spent nearly $5 million on a renovation to modernize the space as part of its effort to secure M&T’s second tech hub as the anchor tenant.
Gone are the marble interiors, elegant fountains, plants and other corporate office features that characterized the lobby since the mid-1980s. Now it’s more industrial-chic and warehouse gray, with abundant open space, exposed lighting, ductwork and pipes overhead, a honeycomb architectural ceiling, geometric murals and overhead interior garage doors.
That’s consistent with the more contemporary and sleek look M&T sought for its tech hub on five of the building’s eight floors, where collaboration and openness is key. And that change to the lobby was part of the negotiation that kept M&T in the 190,000-square-foot building, where it occupies the entire third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth floors.
“For them to stay, we had to make it the quality that M&T would want,” said Executive Vice President Kyle Ciminelli. “We think we’ve accomplished that.” It’s the second time that Ciminelli has overhauled the lobby of one of its downtown office buildings. Located at 465 Main St., Lafayette Court was built in 1903 as a department store, and was home to Hengerer’s, Sibley’s and Kaufmann’s before it was converted to office space in the mid-1980s. “Like we did with Fountain Plaza, we realized that to continue to attract the best talent, we really needed to bring this lobby back to Class A status, and also make it more engaging and interactive,” Ciminelli said.
The core element of the $4.7 million revamp is the new and enlarged 5,000-square-foot retail space for The Lunch Box, a locally owned cafeteria and catering company that now takes up a significant portion of the first floor. It also has locations at the Tri-Main Building at 2495 Main and at 500 Seneca, and used to have a café at the Olympic Tower at 300 Pearl St. But it had already relocated to a small corner of Lafayette Court prior to the renovation.
Since then, Lunch Box owner Amy McCarthy sold her cafe and catering business last August to Ben and Allie Kestner, who had worked for her, but had ambitious plans to own and grow a business of their own. Both are Culinary Institute of America-trained chefs who met in class and have since worked at or managed restaurants in the Hudson Valley, Albany and now Buffalo.
When Ciminelli officials proposed creating a food court with multiple restaurants, the Kestners instead said they could take on the entire space for an enhanced cafe and bake shop.
“It made it a lot easier for us,” Ciminelli said. “Instead of having to go out and find three different retailers, we were able to stick with one and work together with them on the design.”
The Kestners also are seeking a liquor license. And the bakery in front – Lola’s Bakeshop, named for the Kestners’ daughter – will offer a variety of freshly baked goods and coffee. “We’re always hearing from our tenants that they’d like more food offerings,” Ciminelli said. “So here we are, and that’s not only going to complement the building but add to the vibrancy on Washington Street.”
The lobby, which has entrances from both Main and Washington streets, also has a renovated fitness center with new exercise equipment. And there are two additional retail spaces along Main – one of which is still occupied by Business First, which is downsizing and relocating when its lease expires in a year. Ciminelli is hoping to land a private or personal fitness tenant for the other space.
In making changes to the building, Ciminelli took advantage of both M&T’s desire for renovations as well as significant pending vacancies when both Bryant & Stratton College and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development moved out. Neither was expected to want to pay the higher rent that a revamped building could demand, Ciminelli said, so the developer has also converted those spaces to “plain-vanilla” boxes for new tenants.
Besides the bank, the only other current tenant is law firm Gross Shuman, which occupies part of the sixth floor. The other 6,000 square feet on that floor and the entire second floor will be marketed for lease in September, but the building is 85% full.