By: Pepper Van Tassell , Special to The Daily Record//November 14, 2015
By: Pepper Van Tassell , Special to The Daily Record//November 14, 2015//
A historic downtown office building with a storied past will be offered for auction online this week at a starting bid of $1.6 million.
Auction.com set the asking price for the Executive Building at the heart of the Four Corners and will accept offers Tuesday through Thursday, said Daniel O’Neill, senior executive advisor for Pyramid Brokerage Co.
“It will sell for far more than that,” he said.
The eight-story, 157,758-square-foot office building, once the Powers Hotel, is located at 28-42 W. Main St. Its owner is Gordon Drucker, who has local ties but who lives outside the area and who recently sold off two other Rochester properties through online auctions.
“He wanted to dispose of the (Executive Building),” O’Neill said.
Online auctions of property like this are popular, O’Neill added. “I think it’s a good way to get a property sold. If you bid the highest bid, you have 30 days to close. It’s a very quick way to buy a building,” he said.
Developers eyeing up office space in downtown Rochester would be hard pressed to find a better location: The historic eight-story structure with ground-floor retail space is in the heart of the commercial district and in the Downtown Innovation Zone, said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of Rochester Downtown Development Corp.
The building is attached to the Sister Cities Parking Garage, which provides easy access to the Executive Building and to many nearby government and public buildings, she said.
The Downtown Innovation Zone is a cluster of 103 creative or innovative businesses, including three big incubator buildings under development. The idea is to collaborate to create startups and jobs in Rochester, Zimmer-Meyer said.
O’Neill said people are buying up office spaces on the west side of town, which means fewer vacancies, making it a better market for commercial real estate.
The Executive Building is 76 percent occupied, according to Auction.com.
Zimmer-Meyer said that since 2000, 45 office buildings downtown have been converted to housing or are undergoing conversion to housing.
“It creates more of 24/7 environment,” she said.
She said that she’s noticed more foot traffic downtown as a result.
“There are some very interesting trends occurring in that part of the city,” she said.
Stepping back in history
It was a nationwide trend — the fall of the central city hotel to the suburban motel — that ultimately led the conversion of the historic Powers Hotel to an office building in the late 1940s or early 1950s, said Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator for the Landmark Society of Western New York.
Auction.com lists the property as being built in 1910, but Howk believes it had to have been built earlier. Daniel Powers, a colorful entrepreneur and banker, started building the Powers Building — once the tallest structure in Rochester — in 1890 and then built his hotel next door.
“To have one entire downtown block was pretty remarkable,” Howk said.
Many prominent figures, including Franklin Roosevelt, stayed at the Powers Hotel, she said.
“It’s one of the prime pieces of downtown real estate, certainly,” Howk said.
She said the original design of the building was neoclassical, but it has looked the part of different eras through its various renovations. Its ornate balustrade was taken down from the rooftop, and harvest gold panels were later removed from its windows.
In the 1920s, the lobby was an open space of elegant columns. It was redesigned with structural —almost Art Deco — columns before walls went up for restaurants and businesses, she said.
“On the first floor, it would be a challenge to understand that this had been a hotel,” Howk said.
Eligible for grants
Howk hopes that the buyer takes advantage of National Register of Historic Places grants and tax credits for the rehabilitation of income-producing properties.
“Seeing it brought back would certainly be a major accomplishment for whoever is going to develop it, as well as for the community as a whole,” Howk said.
Zimmer-Meyer said she is hopeful a new buyer will upgrade the building’s upper level office space and honor the building’s bones.
“The opportunity to think differently about space is very real here,” said Zimmer-Meyer.
She said that she admires businesses that carve and design a new, innovative space out of an office building cliché.
“Building owners need to think about how to reposition their space to appeal to that market,” she said. “Conventional space is becoming less and less appealing. If you have the ability to expose old walls, polish the concrete or refinish wood floors — that’s the way to make it a really cool building.”
Howk said, “It’s a great opportunity for a developer or an investor to have one of the signature buildings in downtown Rochester. This is certainly the market and the time.”