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British Developer Bashar Issa Planning a 40 story Mixed Use Building in Downtown Buffalo, NY;
 To Include 300 room Luxury Hotel and 80 Condominiums

By Sharon Linstedt, The Buffalo News, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Oct. 25, 2006 - The British developer who recently bought the faded Statler Towers wants to construct what would be Buffalo's tallest, most expensive building.

Bashar Issa, of Manchester, England, confirmed Tuesday he wants to build a 40-story, 1.2-million-square-foot skyscraper at the corner of South Elmwood Avenue and West Mohawk Street, one block north of City Hall.

At 600 feet tall, the $361 million, ultra-contemporary glass and steel office, hotel and condo tower would eclipse the HSBC Center in height by 33 feet and would rank among the tallest buildings between New York City and Chicago.

"It will give new hope to Buffalo. It will be a symbol of rebirth for those who live and work here and to those outside the region that this is a city on the rise," Issa said.

The developer, who has just embarked on an $80 million makeover of the historic Statler building, said he's not banking on any public funds for the most expensive building ever proposed for Buffalo.

"We plan to privately finance it. I believe projects should work without public money, and if it comes, that's a bonus," Issa said.

While Buffalo has a long history of dramatic development projects that have never seen the light of day, those connected with Issa's proposal say he has the resources to get the building constructed.

The building, designed by Grand Island-based Cannon Design, would include 500,000 square feet of office space spread over 20 floors, topped by a 10-story, 300-room luxury hotel. The top 10 floors would house about 80 condominiums priced at $500,000 and up. The tower also incorporates interior parking space for more than 800 vehicles.

Cannon's Harry L. Warren, the project's lead architect, said he drew his inspiration for the translucent tower from winter scenes at Niagara Falls.

"It's evocative of a frozen waterfall. It's crystalline and faceted," Warren said. "Because you'll be able to see through it, it will be light and airy, touching lightly on the landscape."

Another unusual design feature is metal lattice work that will cover three sides of the glass facade, working to deflect glare both outside and inside the building.

"It is rather like a bride's veil. You can see her face, but you also see the diaphanous screen. It's very intriguing," Warren said.

The decidedly contemporary design received positive reviews from a group of local architects who were briefed on the project earlier this week. John Laping, of Kideney Architects, who also serves as chairman of the Buffalo Preservation Board, said Buffalo is the perfect location for the distinctive structure.

"We didn't have anything like the Guaranty Building when it was built. The Darwin Martin house design was a one-of-kind," Laping said. "Those are architectural icons we've learned to love. I don't know why we can't love a beautiful glass tower, too."

The new building, to be located on what is now a surface parking lot, would be built to the rear of the new federal courthouse. That planned 10-story, semi-elliptical building also relies heavily on glass and light in its modernistic design.

At $361 million, the mixed-use tower surpasses the price tag of all other downtown buildings. By comparison, the HSBC Center, built in 1972, sold last year for $85 million and currently is back on the market at $121 million.

Cannon, whose portfolio has buildings across Western New York and around the world, was thrilled to take on Issa's challenge to design a signature skyscraper for downtown Buffalo.

"This is very special for us, professionally and personally. Not only is it the tallest building we've ever done, it's for our own community," Warren said.

Issa said he hopes to start construction by the end of 2008, with the first tenants in place in 2010.

"The starting time will depend on how long it takes to get through the design process and preleasing. We'd like to have it at least 40 percent leased when we begin," he said.

Cannon has signaled interest in moving its headquarters from Grand Island to the new building, which would bring about 200workers downtown.

George Hamberger, from RealtyUSA, who is representing Issa in his Buffalo projects, said he will be focusing on luring businesses from New York and Toronto to build a tenant base for the signature building.

"I see it as a carrot to bring some new blood to the market. For so long we were robbing from Peter to pay Paul to fill space downtown, but we're now attracting new businesses, and this will aid that cause," Hamberger said.

Mayor Byron W. Brown also sees the proposed tower as a symbol of changing economic times for the city.

"Over the past year, we've seen tremendous investment citywide, and particularly in downtown. These types of proposals reinforce the value and benefit of investing in Buffalo," Brown said, calling the design "bold and exciting."

Issa's project also has captured the interest of competing Buffalo developers, like Amherst's Uniland Development Co., with two nearby projects. "It's encouraging to see out-of-town interest in a project that would further the progress already under way in building a vital downtown core," said Uniland's Michael Montante.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

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