The Calumet: Making Old Elements Appear New Again

“First comes thought, then organization of that thought into ideas and plans, then transformation of those plans into reality.  The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.”  ~ Napoleon Hill
In Mark Goldman’s imagination twenty four years ago was a plan to transform Chippewa Street in downtown Buffalo from what many people described as a red light district into an entertainment center of the city.  Goldman purchased the Calumet Building in 1988 and the rest is Buffalo history.  
During the 1990′s, Chippewa had an energetic and dynamic nightlife.  The area was a fun, eclectic and safe place to go barhopping with friends.  And everyone had plenty of options. The Third Room (part of the Calumet), Concrete Café, Star Bar, Shebeen and other bars were the places to be.  However, things have changed over time.  According to Goldman “The district has become over-run with bars attracting a challenging clientele.”  In 2010 a double shooting at a bar started to raise eyebrows and questions that the neighborhood was taking a turn for the worse.  For many stakeholders on the street, the heydays of Chippewa were a thing of the past.  Lately, bars open and close quickly as rents remain high and business lightens.
But perhaps as Goldman’s purchase of the Calumet in 1988 was the groundbreaking purchase that transformed the district twenty-four years ago, could another group of imaginative minds use the same building to be the groundbreaking change that this street is poised and ready for?  Goldman views Chippewa as, “A natural conduit between Buffalo’s business district and its waterfront.”  Is the rebirth of Chippewa as a business district about to begin?
In 2009, the Buffalo law firm of Kenney Shelton Liptak Nowak LLP (KSLN) was running out of space in their offices in the Rand Building.  With their lease up for renewal they began looking at leasing options downtown.  After a fruitless search they began to consider purchasing a building.  The Calumet Building was built in 1906 in the Art Nouveau style of architecture.  Its stunning terra cotta exterior is one of only a few in the United States.  When the four partners walked into its space they were blown away by what they saw.  Partner Tom Liptak remembers that “Pigeons were flying through the air as rats and mice were crawling around the empty shell of the building.”  There were remnants of fires that had been burning in the middle of the cavernous space, presumably left by vagrants escaping the elements.   According to partner Jim Nowak, “We didn’t know what we needed to know at that point.”  Nevertheless, their imaginations began to turn.  
Meanwhile, Angelo Natale, co-owner of Soho and President of Natale Builders had been looking at purchasing the Calumet building for over a decade, but could never work out the right deal with Goldman.  He had heard that KSLN was looking at the building.  As he puts it, “Word travels fast on the streets of Chippewa.”  Natale contacted the firm.  Both entities had the same vision and saw the same value in the building.  They formed a partnership and negotiated a deal with Goldman.  Now the work was to begin.
With Steve Carmina as the architect, the new group’s plan was designed to create a welcoming, loft-like space with an urban feel while preserving as much of the historic details and design as they possibly could in order to maintain the Calumet Building’s status as an historical landmark.  They met weekly for over a year, planning every move and crossing every hurdle.  The result of the painstaking venture was realized this July, as the 75-person law firm moved into the space.
And what a space it is.  At the onset, all parties had agreed that the building had, “good bones.”  That cavernous shell of a building allowed them to do pretty much whatever they wanted because they were not limited by existing electrical wiring or plumbing.  What resulted is a sophisticated professional office space that combines old elements of exposed brick walls, original hardwood flooring and original skylights with new features including exposed duct work and partition walls of glass or drywall.  

Calumet-Holly-Buffalo-NY-3.JPG

The best part of this project for Natale was, “making old elements of the building appear new again.”  Instead of replacing the 100-year-old windows, the team preserved and reused the antique gems.  The brick walls were cleaned with great care in accordance with preservation guidelines to maintain their integrity, and the third floor skylights were repaired to mimic the original specs of the building.  The original ceiling beams are now exposed, adding turn-of-the-century character to the modern office environment.  The walls of the space are now adorned with one of a kind artwork completing the space with an understated sense of style.
The law firm’s office entrance is at 233 Franklin Street where an elevator bank was added to the building along with a ramp.  This was an imperative part of the design as it made the second and third floors of the offices wheel-chair and handicap accessible.  This side entrance is the law firm’s official entry way, while the center door on Chippewa is still used as the entrance to Bacchus Restaurant.  
Judy Shelton was the last of the partners to buy in to the venture.  She thought that they were too old to take on such a challenge.  With hindsight being 20/20, Shelton is now entirely enthused with what she and the others have done.  She believes that this restoration has brought the Calumet back to life and has been nothing but positive for their firm, the neighborhood and the city.  She, like all the partners, loves going to work every day and for her, and seemingly everyone at the law firm, it passes the “Going to work test.”  In her words, the restoration is, “Massively cool.” 
To see more on the restoration process or to learn more about Kenney Shelton Liptak Nowak LLP, you can visit their website at www.kslnlaw.com.
So what does all this mean for the Chippewa area?  In Natale’s words, “Activity breeds activity.”  There is a real bustle in the neighborhood during the day.  KSLN partner Pat Kenney notes that “Lunch time down here is full of people.  There is a very vibrant feel in this area of the city.”  It makes sense then that a prosperous, professional law firm establishing itself in one of Buffalo’s most spectacular buildings might be a turning point in the neighborhood.
There has been some activity in the area recently that would indicate that other like minds are on the same track.  This past September Uniland Development, who recently developed the Avant Building on Delaware, bought the entire block on the northwest corner of Chippewa and Delaware, Key Bank has reached out to Mark Goldman to help them develop a plan to regenerate the area, and Natale Builders has been eyeing buildings in the area for years.  Many
people have suggested a large retail store move into the area to attract more foot traffic, but Tom Liptak remarks that, “You’ve got to have a business district in order to develop it in a retail way.”
Shelton envisions Chippewa becoming a mixed-use neighborhood, combining business, entertainment and services.  Laura Zaepfel, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Uniland Development agrees that mixed-use components would be the most appropriate use of the old buildings that occupy the Chippewa Distict.  With some major key players already invested and showing interest, it is not that far-fetched of an idea that the perhaps the Renaissance of Chippewa is upon us. 
According to Goldman what is absolutely necessary is a master plan.  Twenty years ago Goldman did indeed have a master plan, but without enough buy-in from necessary parties it went nowhere.  However, now it appears as though all the stars may be in alignment.  With Goldman leading the way with a visionary plan, financial interest from a lucrative bank and two successful area builders, this could be the beginning of something big.  In Goldman’s words, “The key here is so obvious; any development needs to combine commerce with culture and creativity.  That will get you a winner.”
By changing nothing, nothing changes.  With the renovation of the Calumet, change is beginning on Chippewa and can only foster more positive change when like minds merge.  Consequently the possibilities are seemingly limitless.  What will happen remains to be seen, but one can only hope that the beginnings of a restorative team will begin to collaborate, and as the partners of Kenney Shelton Liptak Nowak felt when they first stepped into the Calumet, we all just might be blown away. 

About the author  ⁄ Hdoyle141

15 comments
Holly Metz Doyle
Holly Metz Doyle

I don't think the plan would really be that specific, although I don't know for certain. I get the impression it would be a plan to incorporate a mixed-use neighborhood, unlike the bar-scene it has become. With that sort of plan I would think there would be room for many options.

BuffaloBobZ
BuffaloBobZ

Agreed chris, I think canalside will have some pretty good night time activity, especially spring summer fall. Plus it will have new bars and restaurants, and outdoor activities in the winter, so maybe there is nightlife to be had there also.

I think overall this is good for Chipewa, even other cities with successful rebirths have thier entertainment areas as mixed use (im thinking carsen street in pittsburgh, lots of bars, but homes and daytime businesses mixed in as well).

Chris
Chris

Why does there only have to be one district? Why not two or three?

I'm sure Canalside will have an a solid pre game, post game crowd, summer crowd.

paulsobo
paulsobo

I have long predicted that the Chippewa Strip once gentrified would be absorbed into the growing government district.

The Statler being right across from the street will eventually be absorbed into the government district as well. If they ever get moving.

Chippewa is not long for remaining the entertainment district. A Shea's type mature dinner theater district is the most this area will develop.

My prediction is that a 24hour redlight district will develop somewhere...the preferred place would best be around the Seneca Casino but thats another pipe dream at a snails pace.

BuffaloQPublic
BuffaloQPublic

– This is a big one! Towering compliments and best wishes.

– It's a good thing and appropriate that Mark Goldman is being consulted.

zamedy
zamedy

I really hope the report I read on this site about Croce building something on the parking lot at Chippewa and Pearl is true, and that he moves quickly on this project. That corner is a 'gateway' in a lot of ways to the Chip Strip and that ugly parking lot destroys the urban fabric.

Glad that the city FINALLY paved the street. It would be great to see some bigger, brighter street lighting tied together with 'Chip Strip' banners perhaps. And can someone please put something in the old porn shop. The plywood across the window looks hideous. Is the space next to Lux (the former McMonkees -which I miss terribly- ) still being turned into a sports bar? Maybe it could expand into that space.

Rand503
Rand503

I'm not sold on the need for a master plan. I can understand a plan that would say that we want a mix of this and that, but what if you don't get it? Do you force businesses to open when they don't want to? Obviously not. Do you turn away businesses that want to open but don't fit the plan? That seems silly.

Perhaps the plan would be to have a certain amount of public space, and some space reserved for non=profits and NGOs. But otherwise, if a florist wants to be where a bank is planned, does it really matter?

thisoldcrackhouse
thisoldcrackhouse

I agree with Pubmoney, the building really was in poor condition. I have seen the completed interior and it is amazing!!! KSLN really stepped up to save the Calumet. Leasing existing office space surely would have been much easier, and less expensive.

Pubmoney1
Pubmoney1

Mr. Goldman let that building go to hell. The upper floors were badly damaged by water from the holes in the roof, the floors were damaged, why do we give him a pass on this.No one wanted to buy this damaged property for the excessive price he was asking. His club the Third Room was also a constant police problem, no better than some of the places that are now on the strip.

LouisTully
LouisTully

Not to mention failing to pay their rent.

brownteeth
brownteeth

I read today that "Big Bad Wolf" lost their lease due to non-payment which is good news considering most of the violent crime originated from there according to B District Police Chief Patterson. The quotes from the owner in the Buff News are so ridiculous, here's my favorite, “Besides the shooting, we haven’t had an incident in a month or two months.”

They have only been open barely a year and this bar owner thinks this is acceptable.

I really hope other bar owners take note that this business model of just letting anyone in your establishment is a bad idea.

WCPerspective
WCPerspective

And Mark Croce has a project in the works to fill in the parking lot at Pearl/Chippewa. The street sure has changed. I spent many nights in Concrete and Atomic and 67 West. The good ol' days! (sigh)

JM
JM

Hard to believe this was the KKK HQ back in the day.

flyguy
flyguy

Thanks fools for screwing up Chippewa for the rest of us who used to enjoy it. I liked the days of Crocodile Bar, Level, Continental, Utopia, McMonkees, Barristers, Quote, The Coliseum, etc. etc. Those places kept Chippewa a destination into the mid 2000's. Most went there to have fun. Its a real shame that a bunch of folks who cant seem to control their violent outbursts end up having to change the culture and vibe of a place that many enjoyed, forcing it to be reinvented. Thanks! Im glad theres an effort to keep the area viable and energetic, just hope these efforts dont end up being sucked lifeless by the same drama.

grad94
grad94

spotted the new addition to the rear, thought it was sensitively done. glad the calumet is in good hands!

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