In February of 2021, the mortgage division of HUNT Real Estate Corp. opened its new headquarters on the second floor of the historic Brisbane Building at 403 Main Street. The relocation into a 10,000 square foot office, from its former home in Lancaster, prompted Peter Hunt, Chairman & CEO of HUNT Real Estate Corp., to take a closer look at the building, which was in need of significant repairs, primarily on the interior courtyard, as well as the three-walled “courtyard” facing Lafayette Square.
I met up with Peter, Stephen Hunt (Hunt co-owner, sale and leasing of commercial real estate), and Stephen P. Fitzmaurice (Senior Vice President HUNT Property Solutions), for a tour of the courtyards, to examine the restoration work that was underway. It was Peter who told me that it was a combination of the Hunt consolidation as well as the pandemic that paved the way for the restoration work.
“It’s a bi-product of the pandemic,” Peter told me. “It gave us some down time to consider what we needed to do. Now, we are repositioning the building. Our plan is to reopen the original entranceway that faces Clinton Street. The overall location of the building is pretty darn good, with a couple of nearby hotels, restaurants, the proximity to the square – it’s one of the most walkable areas in downtown Buffalo.
“And you have the Library, with its new public spaces, and The Hotel @ The Lafayette, with the café and the bistro seating at the corner. I found a photo of a similar building to The Brisbane in Brooklyn, NY that has bistro tables and chairs along the perimeter. One of the ideas is to emulate that same sort of vital urban vibe. As we reopen the central entranceway that overlooks the square, we are talking about either creating a restaurant scenario or an event space. Either would play off the new The C. Stuart and Jane H. Hunt Art Gallery. We already have available spaces to work with, and more space freeing up the first of the year.”
The creation of a promenade, with more bistro seating along Clinton Street, would be a real game changer for the Brisbane, and Lafayette Square. This new type of thinking – about the possibilities – was set into motion with the advent of the gallery, which also features resident artists and dedicated studios.
“I knew that as soon as Peter suggested that we construct an art gallery at the corner Clinton and Washington, that there were some exciting changes ahead,” said Steve. “But first we needed to repair the building, that had suffered at the hands of the weather over the years. The interior courtyard was in rough shape. The lintels were shaped like a ‘U,’ so they collected water. We made copper drip edges to keep the water away from the building. The brickwork was also compromised.
“Peter and Stephen made a decision about 18 months ago to reposition the Brisbane Building during the pandemic. We started with an $800,000 investment in energy efficiency. We replaced the 35 year old energy management system, installed variable frequency drives on all the air handlers in the building, replaced old pneumatic controls with direct digital controls, replaced all the controls on the perimeter radiation system, and replaced all the fluorescent bulbs in the building with LED’s. While we were at it, we enlarged all the outside air intakes by 40% and installed active systems to remove virus particles.
“We are now in the process of restoring the exterior of the building. Peter’s father, Stuart, did a lot of work to restore the building when he acquired it in 1985. Now, almost 40 years later, we’ll be investing approximately $1.5 million to bring the building back to what it once was (thanks to tax credits and timely refinancing). The restoration work will be going on for the next couple of months. Jake Schneider is our advisor for the historic tax credits, which are instrumental when considering a project of this nature. In the process we were able to have the Brisbane Building listed on the National Historic Register, so all work is being done according to the National Park Service and State Historic Preservation Office standards.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Rainbow Clothing just vacated the building, which leaves a 16,000 square foot footprint, with 16 foot ceilings, columns, and a significant sized basement for a possible banquet area. Hunt is already considering the options for that space, which would have a Washington Street and a Main Street presence.
Restoration projects of this nature are the unsung heroes, when comes to the rebirth of Buffalo. Not only is the Brisbane Building being restored and spiffed up, it’s also getting a new lease on life as far as playing a role as a crucial building block in the heart of downtown. Soon, it will be filled with life on the ground floor, as it was always intended to do. Buildings such as this are instrumental in telling the stories of a city. In this case, there’s a brand new chapter that is being written, that will soon be part of a best seller in downtown Buffalo.