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An ability to transform dross into gold

Laurence Glazer and Harold Samloff:
An ability to transform dross into gold

The polite term for what real estate developers Laurence Glazer and Harold Samloff do is adaptive reuse. Detractors have been known to write the pair off as bottom fishers.
Principals of Buckingham Properties LLC, Samloff and Glazer have made tidy profits buying decrepit industrial and commercial properties cheaply. The only problem with the bottom-fisher epithet is that the profits came not as windfalls but from the partners’ ability to turn dross into gold.
Working at what many developers and more importantly banks consider to be the edge of the investment envelope, Samloff and Glazer have built a respectable portfolio of very viable properties.
Hardly hipsters themselves, the pair in an earlier incarnation had as much to do with creating Rochester’s alternative-scene mecca on Monroe Avenue as the body-pierced youth who hang out on the strip.
But for the past decade or so, they have specialized in turning obsolete factories and worn-out commercial buildings into multiuse space attractive to small and start-up businesses for which low rents matter more than style.
Though others such as Thomas McGuire of McGuire Properties Inc., who has developed more than a dozen similar properties in Rochester, now compete with Buckingham, Glazer and Samloff possibly were the first to systematically pursue the adaptive-reuse market here.
The job is one not everybody can do, says commercial real estate broker Allan Moore, principal of Moore & Associates Inc., and one for which Glazer and Samloff have been too little recognized.
“If you ask me,” he says, “the city ought to put up a statue of these guys.”
Buckingham’s fix-ups do not attract the official or media adulation of, say, a Bausch & Lomb Inc. world headquarters. But in the aggregate, he says, they have brought thousands of jobs to Rochester and boosted the city’s commercial tax base.
Among the firm’s holdings are the downtown Cox Building, Goodman Plaza, the University Business Center, Lyell Business Center, Lyell-Mt. Read Business Center and the West End Business Center.
Buckingham’s most recent acquisition, the 600,000-square-foot former Ragu Foods Inc. factory on Lyell Avenue, is something of a step up. At $6.5 million, the property is the most expensive investment yet for the partnership.
Renamed Gateway Business Center, roughly half the development consists of a warehouse built in 1984. The rest, a welter of structures tacked together over a period of years, is more typical of the monkey-puzzle projects Buckingham has tackled in the past.
What often goes unappreciated, Moore says, is the degree of management skill and imagination required to develop and run them.
Redeveloping old factories usually means tackling environmental and structural challenges that developers of new suburban projects simply do not face, he says. And figuring out how to carve them up and to whom you might rent–and then dealing with a multitude of small, sometimes marginal tenants–is another challenge.
“There’s a lot of risk,” Moore observes. “You have to know people. You have to know the market. You need the vision to see the possibilities. Most developers don’t have the excitement or the imagination to do what they do.”
What they do, Glazer and Samloff agree, is harder than doing ground-up suburban projects.
The pair describe the process by which they tackle projects as planning and technical savvy mixed with serendipity and artistry.
Samloff calls himself the “Mr. Inside” of the partnership to Glazer’s “Mr. Outside.”
“I wear a tie and deal with stuff like financing,” Samloff says. “Larry’s out there at the projects.”
Backing both is a 35-person staff that includes an in- house architect, interior-design specialists, and building-management and leasing staffers.
To start, Glazer says, “you need a vision.”
Some people looking at a moldering former factory see only a sad pile of bricks. He sees it subdivided, and if not sparkling at least respectably neatened and structurally shored up.
Exactly how a property is divided depends largely on tenants.
“You have to let the market define the project,” Samloff says. “The biggest mistake we ever made was putting $100,000 into making the sixth floor of the Cox Building into fancy suites. There wasn’t any market for them.”
The Cox Building is a vintage Class C office complex on St. Paul Street in which a small office in the mid- 1980s went for as little as $25 a month.
Typically, Glazer says, they start rents cheap and keep leases short term. As an operation progresses, they move up.
While rents might start low, Buckingham spares little expense in doing renovations.
In some 20 years of doing electrical work for the firm, “I don’t think I can recall a single instance of them ever saying, “Do it for less,”’ says Jack Finnigan of Finnigan Electrical Co. Inc.
“These guys are first-class all the way. Larry is very hands-on. He’s on top of every detail. Nothing is too small. They are the best, the absolute best.”
Glazer, 51, and Samloff, 60, backed into the real estate development business almost by accident. Buckingham is each one’s second career; Glazer for some 20 years ran a printing company, and Samloff is an attorney.
Their first meetings were casual encounters on a 1960s cocktail-party circuit as the husbands of onetime classmates at Brighton High School. Those chats led to occasional tennis dates, and finally to a business partnership.
Samloff and a partner owned a five-unit apartment building on Buckingham Street. He wanted to buy a second property on the street. The partner did not.
So, Samloff called Glazer, who agreed to sink $1,000 into the venture and buy out Samloff’s original partner.
This was in 1970. At the time, neither had even a remote clue of where the partnership would lead.
A native Rochesterian, Samloff worked for Nixon, Hargrave, Devans & Doyle LLP after graduating law school. In 1968, he left to become a partner in a firm that was to have a constantly changing cast of partners until it ended in the late 1980s as Githler, Samloff & Kroll. Samloff kept a small solo practice until some three years ago.
Glazer grew up in Buffalo, but hoped to become a Manhattanite. He lived in New York City as a graduate student, attending Columbia University while pursuing an MBA degree.
Then he married a Rochester woman and ended up here, working in her family’s printing firm, Great Lakes Press Inc. After more than 20 years with the company, Glazer as co-CEO sold it in 1986 to Case-Hoyt Corp. for $46 million.
At the time the two became partners, Glazer says, “we didn’t have a master plan. Buckingham Properties was a pure sideline.”
Samloff says he had a plan. He saw his real estate dabblings as a sort of a retirement plan and presented the opportunity to Glazer as nothing more than that, prefacing the proposal by introducing himself as “the guy you played tennis with.”
In the early to mid-1970s, the Park Avenue area was hot. Though crowded with substantial, turn-of-century homes, it had suffered since World War II as families migrated to the suburbs.
Samloff and Glazer got into the Park Avenue market as it was heating up in a spate of city-living revivalism that made it Rochester’s trendiest singles neighborhood. They bought more old houses in the area, and prospered as relatively small-scale landlords.
By the second half of the decade, with property values escalating, the pair began to sell and turn their attention to commercial/residential buildings on Monroe Avenue.
The street at the time was an aging commercial strip full of small retailers, many of whom owned their buildings. Such owners were reaching retirement age and wanted to cash in. Also key to Glazer and Samloff, who still say they find it somewhat difficult to get bank financing, is that most owners were willing to hold their mortgages.
As the partners sold off Park Avenue-area residential properties and increased their Monroe Avenue holdings, they gradually conceived a plan: They would control a stretch of several blocks and move it upmarket.
By 1978, they had acquired most of the properties on a block bounded by Monroe Avenue, Oxford Street, Wellesley Street and Wilmer Street. They dubbed the area Oxford Square, and started to court entrepreneurs who would convert small groceries and hardware stores into boutiques and restaurants.
Today, Buckingham has mostly moved out, but the area remains set in the mold in which they cast it.
The third phase of Glazer and Samloff’s metamorphosis into full-blown adaptive-reuse specialists started in 1981 with Buckingham’s acquisition of a former foundry at 961 Lyell Ave.
Like their shift from residential to commercial/residential properties, the move to commercial/industrial was “opportunistic,” Glazer says. “It seemed like a good fit with our profile.”
The building, though run down and no longer marketable for its original use, was sound. The partners could see it turned to some use, and the price was right.
Other, similar properties followed through the early 1980s. But the purchase Glazer calls a watershed for the partners was Buckingham’s acquisition of a 19-acre parcel in 1986 that became the University Business Center.
Neither as yet saw Buckingham as his first calling. Glazer was running a housewares firm, Microwave & More. Samloff still was calling himself a lawyer.
“We cut our teeth on (the University Business Center),” Glazer says.
The project was the largest and most complicated undertaking the partners had attempted. The site contained several buildings; some could be renovated, others needed to be torn down.
They acquired the property in stages, buying four buildings from Burroughs Corp. in 1986, and two more from Gleason Corp. two years later.
With the development, Glazer and Samloff proved they could do new construction as well as refurbishing, says Moore, pointing to a building the pair built for Monro Muffler Brake Inc. on the corner of University Avenue and Culver Road.
The site now is a mix of retail, warehouse and offices–including Buckingham’s–and is largely leased.
Glazer and Samloff developed a self-storage facility there that originally was “just barely held together with two-by-fours,” Moore says. Two years ago, Buckingham sold the storage business for several million dollars.
By the time the University Avenue development was built out in the early 1990s, Glazer and Samloff officially had forsaken their “first careers,” and were calling themselves developers.
In one sense they still run the business as if it were the back-burner nest egg that Samloff initially conceived.
Boasts Samloff: “We don’t take a penny out of it. Every cent of operating profits goes back into the business.”
They do take money from capital gains, he concedes, “but neither of us takes a salary.”
Such parsimony might in part be a virtue born of necessity.
Despite the firm’s string of successes, Samloff laments, banks still look at the kind of projects Buckingham undertakes as complicated and risky. More often than not, financing still comes from higher-cost alternative lenders.
Still, Samloff says, they are not tempted to move into more conventional new-construction projects such as suburban office parks.
He and Glazer know their market, he says. Besides, in suburban construction “there’s too much competition. Everyone’s doing it.”


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