Anthony J. Baynes, former chairman of the Erie County control board, is putting his money where his mouth is, buying the vacant former Corn Exchange building to restore the 94-year-old structure in downtown Buffalo.
Baynes, who has lamented the decay of some of the city’s buildings, paid $600,000 for the building at 100 South Elmwood Ave. at Niagara Street near City Hall and adjacent to the federal office building at 120 South Elmwood. The purchase closed late last week.
Baynes and his family plan to spend $4.4 million of their own money on a full-scale renovation to convert the one-time manufacturing plant into offices. He was contacted by several law firms even before purchasing the building, although he doesn’t yet have commitments from them.
“That’s a perfect spot for offices,” he said. “You’re building the federal courthouse across the street. The FBI’s right there. City Hall is diagonally across.”
Baynes said he has already made arrangements with developer and restaurateur Mark Croce about parking, “so I’ll have ample parking.”
Originally built in 1916, the building was home to the Buffalo Corn Exchange for nearly 30 years but has been vacant for the past several years. It was owned by a group of investors from Rochester but was threatened with being boarded up until Baynes stepped in.
“I grew up here, and it’s very difficult to see a building boarded up directly across the street from City Hall,” Baynes said. “That’s ridiculous. It’s sad when you see that.”
The project will be led by Baynes’ son, A. J., and his daughter, Katie. Plans call for a three-phase renovation and rehabilitation, starting with restoring the roof and mechanical infrastructure. Baynes said his son is already lining up contractors to put on a new roof, and three architects are bidding on the entire project.
“We’re going to get started on this as soon as the weather breaks,” Baynes said.
The second phase will involve gutting and restoring the building’s interior, followed by a complete exterior restoration in the third phase “to pay tribute” to the building’s original early 20th century architecture.
Baynes wants to bring back the facade’s original design, including wrought-iron railings, fluted columns and a “majestic” entrance. At the same time, it will have modern features such as a video intercom security system, state-of-the-art air makeup and handling systems, lighting and lavish finishes.
“This restoration is something that is near and dear to the entire family,” said A. J. Baynes Jr. “We were born and raised in Buffalo, and we are very happy to become a part of its renewed renaissance.”
Baynes and his family have limited experience in real estate development and renovation. Previously, he restored a nearly 100-year-old vacant Clarence schoolhouse that is now the headquarters for his logistics company’s U. S. operations. He is looking for a third project now.
He said he is not seeking government money for the Corn Exchange venture, although he would take it if it were available. But “we’re not worried about that at this point,” he said.
Baynes is no stranger to taking on projects to benefit his hometown, although this time he has a significant financial stake.
The founder and owner of Extra Mile Transportation LLC served as chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, better known as the control board, for about 18 months before resigning in August 2007 because of health problems.
“My job as control board chairman was to help the community,” he said. “I can’t do that anymore as control board chairman due to health reasons, but now I have an opportunity to do something here that will help turn around the city of Buffalo. When you look at the Lafayette Hotel, the Statler, enough buildings are boarded up, and I couldn’t see another one.”