By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Architect Karl Frizlen was born, raised and educated in Stuttgart, Germany but has made his home in Buffalo since he married his wife, Judith, a Kenmore native, in 1991.
“I like Buffalo. It reminds me of a lot of European cities. It has this kind-of hometown feel,” he told me earlier this month during an interview at Horsefeathers Market & Residences for today’s In the field feature in WNY Refresh. “It’s family-oriented. We raised two children (Dasha and Jason) about six blocks from here, on Ashland in the Elmwood Village.
The $3.8 million Horsefeathers’ project – a mix of residential apartments and a European-style marketplace – is Frizlen’s most ambitious project in his adopted city. He’s focused on the renovation of the former West Side antiques showroom and warehouse during the last couple of years, after two decades helping to change the look of his Elmwood neighborhood. That includes his volunteer work helping to coordinate the Elmwood-Bidwell farmers’ market, which will close out the season in a couple of weeks, as the Winter Market at Horsefeathers serves a similar purpose during the colder months.
After asking about the indoor winter market for Refresh, I also asked Frizlen about how Buffalo can fulfill its hopes for the future as in continues to remake its neighborhoods, downtown and waterfront. Here’s some of what he said:
“I feel very strongly that to revive a city, you have to have density. You cannot take buildings down and replace them with parking lots. That’s what we have done for the last 50 years in the city and it got us where we’re at.
“The only way to bring life into the city is having people live in the city. You can bring as many attractions as you want to and as many silver bullet projects as you want to. It’s not going to revive the city. It’s only going to revive if you have people living there. In every great city in the world, you can see that. Look at Toronto and New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis.
“Fortunately now, we’re at the very beginning. We’ve realized we cannot take this very valuable building substance down anymore. You cannot take them down. We’ve got to rebuild them.”
There are a few thousand people living downtown, Frizlen said, and he sees the prospect for thousands more moving into the city, including the West Side, in projects like Horsefeathers. The 24 units on the upper four floors of the redevelopment were gobbled up over the summer within three months, fetching $840 to $1,350 a month, including cable, rental rates much steeper than generally seen on the West Side. The tenants are a mix of medical residents from UB Medical School, young professionals and others who have moved into the city from the suburbs to be closer to their workplaces.
How did it come together?
“It was an architectural artifacts store,” Frizlen said. “It had a warehouse and salvage materials. I bought the building in the spring of last year but signed an agreement to purchase the building three years earlier. It had all to do with financing. The tax credit issue was the easiest. The historic state tax credits brought institutional investors into the project and that made it possible.
“Dealing with banks these days is like pulling teeth, and you make it more difficult because you are not in the Elmwood Village, you’re on the West Side with no proven record. You can’t find the rental comparables – $1,350 is unheard of in this neighborhood, so the appraisals don’t show what I saw was possible.
“That continues. Even now after the project is completed, they still can’t believe it. Sometimes, you shake your head. You have to convince someone that these projects are viable like projects on Delaware or Elmwood or in Amherst.
“You’re not making a killing with these projects, but it’s financially sound.”
Frizlen credits community support with helping to bring off the Horsefeathers’ project, including encouragement from PUSH Buffalo and Robin Johnson, of Vilardo Printing, a nearby businesswoman known in the neighborhood as “the mayor of Connecticut Street.”
He now sees the same promise in this section of the city as he did in the Elmwood Village a quarter century ago.
“In order for the city of Buffalo to come back, we have to rely on communities,” Frizlen said. “I’ve seen that through the Elmwood Village Association. When there was strength in that organization, supported by thousands of residents, that really brought the village back. When I moved in there 25 years ago and they were at the corner of Ashland and Summer, there were prostitutes, drug dealing going on. That has substantially diminished. People take care of their properties, call the cops. There are more owner-occupied properties.”
He said of the young people buying homes on the West Side: “They’re going to change these neighborhoods, make them livable and walkable.”
Frizlen sees the same promise in wide swaths of his adopted city.
“I’m very positive right now. I think we’re on the right track.”