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Sep 10, 2020

Eat, drink and be merry: Jemal’s $120 million makeover transforms Seneca One

Buffalo’s tallest building is getting a whole new vibe.

From a new lobby bar to an extensive food court, from a clubhouse to restaurants, the new Seneca One tower will have no shortage of places to eat, drink and be merry – or even to get married.

That’s an unexpected – but carefully planned – result of Douglas Jemal’s $120 million transformation of the once-drab monolith.

To date, much of the public’s attention has centered on the developer’s efforts to fill the 1.2-million-square-foot complex’s extensive office space, starting with M&T Bank Corp. and now several other technology-based tenants.

He’s also bringing new life to the building with 115 new apartments that are slated to open to tenants on Sept. 1. Leasing has already begun, and the model units are already taken.

“We’re off to a really good start,” said Sean Heidinger, Jemal’s new Buffalo-based director of business development. “Fall is big here. There’s a lot going on.”

But the Washington-based developer has also dedicated significant resources and creativity to an array of amenities designed to not only meet the needs of tenants, but also to lure patrons and visitors.

In particular, he and his team are seeking to make the entire lobby and plaza level attractive as a venue for meetings, conferences, banquets and other events.

“The entire lobby level can be leveraged as an event space, and our goal is to bring in national conferences,” Heidinger said. “Our goal is to make living here unlike anywhere else in Buffalo.”

Citing nearby Canalside and Sahlen Field, he added, “There’s a lot to leverage right around Seneca One that will make coming to Buffalo attractive.”

Western New Yorkers have been watching closely and with curiosity as Jemal has undertaken a complete makeover of the former One HSBC Center office building into a lively mixed-use complex centered around high-technology.

He lured M&T as his anchor tenant, taking up 10 floors of the 38-story tower and two vast basement levels of the plaza for the bank’s planned new technology hub. Renovation of the tower floors is almost done, while the lower levels will be ready by late November, said M&T Senior Vice President Keith Belanger.

The bank also has an option for five more floors of the tower, should it decide it needs them. Jemal also brought in business incubator 43North, as well as technology firms Odoo, Lighthouse Technology Services and Serendipity Labs.

But it’s the lower-level and exterior changes – with new assembly places, shops and food options – that will be visible to most Buffalonians, especially those who remember what it used to look like.

Inside, the sprawling marble lobby has been transformed into a new social gathering place with new lighting, plants and décor, including soft-seating chairs and couches, rugs and small tables. New artwork and glass murals adorn the walls, along with a canoe and a gondola boat labeled Seneca One.

Elsewhere in the lobby, an elaborate new wood-paneled security desk has been set up near the elevator banks, replacing the long, flat security desk in the center of the lobby that will now become an information and communications center for tenants and visitors to find out about events and activities. Two new glass-walled corner conference rooms were carved out of the walls near the turnstyles that provide access to the elevators.

“This is the nucleus of the whole building,” Heidinger said. “Everything runs through here.”

Along one wall in a side area, Jemal installed the wood bar from the set of the HBO series “The Sopranos” after buying it at auction and updating it – including with elements of an industrial and bank vault theme that also play out elsewhere in the building.

The fully stocked bar, which will open in about a month, will initially be used for special events and then phased in for daily happy hours during the week, said Kylee Bennett, general manager of Seneca One for food-service provider Sodexo.

“There’s going to be a large focus on local products, craft beer, craft cocktails,” Bennett said. “We really want to support the local Buffalo community. We’re excited.”

It will also offer food, she added, “so if people want to stay and have dinner with us, they can do that as well.” The menu is still being finalized, she said, but it will offer entrees, as well as burgers and “normal Buffalo fare.”

And that’s separate from the building’s new food hall, located around the corner in the former corporate cafeteria for HSBC. Also run by Sodexo, it will offer “a little bit of everything,” Bennett said, including a rotating bowl station for international concepts like Mediterranean, Mexican or Asian food, as well as a pizza oven for flatbreads, a variety of pasta dishes, a grill and a daily toast bar. Each will have separate counters, with chefs or employees preparing and handing out food items for now because of Covid-19.

Grab-and-go items will also be available, as well as a salad bar “when Covid settles down and we’re allowed to do self-service again,” Bennett added. She said Sodexo is also partnering with local restaurants and vendors to rotate in and out so that “they’ll be able to keep it interesting for the building and reflect what Buffalo has to offer.”

“We want to be able to say we have 100% support from the local community,” she said. It’s also touchless for ordering and checkout.

Like the lobby bar, the food hall will open this fall. Bennett said Sodexo also plans to offer “some other very exciting stuff” for both apartment and office tenants, although she declined to specify them yet.

And of course, they are planning on multiple options for coffee. “Coffee is very important to the tech community, and we’d like for there to be enough options that everybody is satisfied.”

Above the food hall is a state-of-the-art conference center. It features seven technology-equipped conference rooms that are connected via an indoor pedestrian bridge to two more conference rooms above the main lobby, with windows overlooking the activity below. That’s in addition to the 250-person auditorium on the main level, as well as an enormous open event hall behind the elevators that overlooks Main Street and the plaza.

And all of the spaces can be used for events, he added. For example, he noted, a company or group could do a big presentation in the auditorium, and then partition off part of the lobby for a reception.

“This space is an open book. It could be anything,” Heidinger said. “We can go out and pitch Seneca One and Buffalo in general to large tech conferences, so we can start bringing in bigger events and bigger collaborative gatherings to Buffalo.”

Then there’s the one-story stone clubhouse on the plaza level at the northeast corner of Seneca and Main, which Heidinger calls a “community asset” with “a little bit of everything.” He said M&T has already been using it for team-building, presentations, creativity sessions and decision-making meetings.

The rustic but industrial interior features a working stone fireplace and chimney, a Foosball table and other games, and various couches, tables and other furniture. The wooden walls – from a barn in Eden – are adorned with artwork and vintage signage, like an original Coca-Cola billboard from 1947, a neon Ford Tractor sign, and round silver plates from the basement of the old Buffalo Police Headquarters, which Jemal also owns.

A 1926 Douglas Motorcycle Company bike hangs from the ceiling at one end. There’s also an old-fashioned wood bar – with lights and stools – that was shipped here from England and reassembled. “It was like a big Lego set when it showed up,” Heidinger said.

The building also has WiFi and a sound system. “We’re going to use this as much as we can,” Heidinger said. “The idea is to get out of the office, and get in somewhere where it feels more comfortable. It’s an escape, kind of like you’re in Ellicottville.”

A second clubhouse on the other side of Main, as well as two standalone buildings on the plaza, will be filled with other retailers or restaurants. Heidinger said Jemal has “probably 10 different local people interested” in the space, but nothing is definite yet.

“A little bit of everything is key,” he said. “A diverse selection down here will help to bring people out of the tower, but also bring people from Main Street and the business district down here to the tower.”

Published by The Buffalo News

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