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Towering questions

The fate of the HSBC tower is becoming an issue of taxpayer concern. Hsbc The owner of the tower - the tallest privately owned building in upstate New York - has floated the idea of having the government pitch in to help keep the building out of bankruptcy court, in part, to give the local community some control over how the building will be used.

The owner - Seneca One, a NYC real estate investment company - is facing a $75 million balloon mortgage payment at the same time the two tenants who take up most of the building are leaving. That's called a financial problem. It's tough to refinance a mortgage when you have an empty building.

Seneca One has a plan to make the top-third of the 38-story building a hotel, the middle-third condos and apartments and the bottom-third office space. It's a lovely plan that would contribute brilliantly to the neighboring Canalside redevelopment efforts.

News Business columnist David Robinson has outlined the situation eloquently. It's a touchy subject. Should the government step in and become the lender of last resort for this project? Or should it be left completely up to market forces?

Local landlords fear the building could be bought cheap in bankruptcy court and the new owner could simply rent the 850,000 square feet space out at low rates, thus drawing tenants from other downtown buildings - and doing little to enhance the emerging Canalside district.

The building towers over the city and will stand as a symbol of Buffalo's new century. What it will convey has yet to be decided.

- Grove Potter



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