Friday, September 24, 2021

Hoffmans in high gear

Saved former Post Office building that church sought to demolish; Social Security office moving in on 10-year lease, $20,000 per month. Chronicle photo/Mark Frost

Suzanne & Peter Hoffman started buying and rehabbing buildings downtown in 2004. ‘Suzanne was a State Trooper, barracked out of South Glens Falls and Wilton,’ said Peter. ‘She’d always say, ‘Glens Falls, Glens Falls, Glens Falls.’

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

Peter and Suzanne Hoffman call their business Glen Street Associates, but they’ve got so much going on around the corner that Peter quips maybe they should change it to Warren Street Associates.

Social Security is about to relocate its local office to the former Post Office building once targeted for demolition by St. Mary’s Church next-door, now restored and repurposed by the Hoffmans.

Across the street, they bought two non-descript buildings.

The former Red Cross building, “my intention then was just to knock it down and make parking,” Mr. Hoffman said. Then he went in and decided, “It’s not a bad building, it’s straight and true.”

It’s now home to the Dance Center of Queensbury on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor.

Next-door, what was Mailings Made Easy will soon have the restaurant Sweet Beet Bistro, moving in from Greenwich this fall.

The Post Office foyer was intact, but the rest of the building was a wreck, says Peter Hoffman. The mailboxes had been discarded. He replaced them with ones he bought from the shuttered Plattsburgh Air Force Base. Chronicle photos/Mark Frost

How did that come about? Mrs. Hoffman says, “We went to her restaurant over in Greenwich. We just loved her enthusiasm.”

Mr. Hoffman says he told her, if you’re ever interested in coming to Glens Falls, “come and see us.”

Of Dance Center of Queensbury owner Diane LaBruzzo, he says, “she’s been a great tenant for 10 years” in various of their spaces. “She’s kind of family to us now.”

Work? ‘I got a guy’

The Warren Street buildings were a beehive of activity when The Chronicle visited a few weeks ago. Some 60 people were working on site, Mr. Hoffman said, some of their own 11 employees, but more of them independent contractors.

“That mason,” he said, pointing to the man working on the facade of what will be Sweet Beet, “he’s been with me forever, from when we were teenagers working for our dads. They do all the masonry.”

He references an iron worker, “from Briggs Welding in Whitehall,” and electricians from MBS Electric in Colonie.

“You build up such a great relationship with various trades through the years,” says Mr. Hoffman.

A man comes walking by. Mr. Hoffman introduces him as Claude Rodrigue. “No one has done more drywall…in the Capital District than this guy here. A million square feet he’s done for me. Without this guy I couldn’t do it.”

To refurbish and, where needed, repair the maple floor in what will be the Sweet Beet building, “we got a guy. He’s Jamaican and he does our floor work.”

Doors stored in the basement. “I’ve probably got a thousand of these,” said Peter Hoffman.

And, “we have a terrific guy who does our concrete work. He’s 76 years old. I got the geriatric group going.”

Mr. Hoffman points to the facade of the former Red Cross building and says, “I made the shutters down in my shop in Clifton Park. Iron stars with cedar and mahogany. I’m a carpenter.”

The quirky design of the building, with the entrance fronted with granite spheres from Canada atop swirled corrugated iron pipes is Mr. Hoffman’s doing, too.

He says he and his wife both design, but she says it’s all his ideas. “I just approve or disapprove.”

“We wanted to have that industrial feel, that 1940’s feel,” Mr. Hoffman says. (He pronounces it huffman, not hoffman.)

At 66, still long-term

Mr. Hoffman says he’s 66 years old and that these new projects reflect that he’s still investing for the long-term.

“In my world,” he says, “you don’t see the return for 10 years” — after “you’ve paid the mortgage down” and can “generate cash flow.”

Greenery, lighting fixtures and other vintage details matter, the Hoffmans said.

He says people tell him they “should have done this.” He retorts, “Would you bet your retirement you’ll be successful? You don’t want to take the gamble.”

He says that in buying a building, “you go to a closing, there is stack of papers you sign. They’re all about what they’ll take if it fails. Your dog. Your grandchild.”

Mr. Hoffman is quick with quips. Taking The Chronicle through the Joubert & White building, he tells the story of a prospective business tenant who wanted to rent there but not at Peter’s price.

Peter says he told him, “Like Sonny told Cher, it ain’t me, babe, you’re looking for.”

Started in GF in 2004

The Hoffmans started redeveloping buildings in Glens Falls in 2004.

Mr. Hoffman says, “Suzanne used to be a State Trooper, barracked out of South Glens Falls and Wilton. She’d always say, ‘Glens Falls, Glens Falls, Glens Falls.’”

Their first project was 100 Glen.

“They had no Class A office space” downtown, Mr. Hoffman says. “In six months from the time we gutted it, it was full.”

“We felt Glens Falls is underserved,” he says. “I still feel Glens Falls is underserved for the needs that it has.”

They have a swath of buildings on Glen Street, now this growing array on Warren Street.

In all, the Hoffmans said, “We have 65 commercial tenants, 175 apartments,” including buildings in South Glens Falls and Hudson Falls.

The couple live in Clifton Park and have a Lake George home at Huletts Landing.

On Warren Street, they previously redeveloped the 53,000 square foot former Joubert & White buckboard manufacturing building just east of the post office.

It now has apartments on the east extension and such businesses in the main building as The Conkling Center not-for-profit serving seniors; Weather Routing; Valmet’s sales office; and aboutgolf ltd, which sells golf simulators.

The Post Office project

The signature project now is the 106-year-old, long-unused, post office building the Hoffmans bought for $150,000 in 2010.

When it first became available as surplus government property, St. Mary’s Church as a not-for-profit got preference and bought it for $10,025 in 2001.

It announced plans to raze it to make way for a long-sought Parish Center.

That raised hackles among some church members — and in Mr. Hoffman, who said his initial interest “was more about preservation than ownership.”

The state ultimately ruled that the church was obligated to try to save the building, not demolish it.

Mr. Hoffman bought it for $150,000 in 2010. He estimated at the time it would take $4-million to restore and renovate it.

The Social Security Administration will shortly relocate its office from Queensbury.

It has a 10-year lease paying $20,267.11 per month, Robin Croft, a spokeswoman for the General Services Administration, replied to a Chronicle inquiry. She said SSA will lease 7,500 square feet, compared to its 9,000 square foot current office on Cronin Road in Queensbury.

“I think it’s the best building structurally in Glens Falls,” Mr. Hoffman said. “How could you knock this building down?”

He takes The Chronicle on a loving tour relishing the building’s every vintage detail — from “the parachute ceiling” in the lobby, to the “cornice and capitals on the pillars.” Inside, he says, “See the spindle? It’s all turned limestone.”

He lingers at the staircase to the basement. “The stairs are marble, the treads are cast-iron,” he says. But the curved bannister is the piéce de resistance. “Cast in a foundry in one piece,” Mr. Hoffman says. “I don’t think you could do that today with all the great technology we have.”

When they bought the building, he says the front foyer was intact.

“The rest of the building was leaking and the plaster was falling down.”

On the stairway, “the water was running down. It was frozen on these stairs.” He said he slipped rushing down the stairs at one point and broke a bone in his back.

On the day of The Chronicle’s visit, officials from and on behalf of Social Security swarmed the space, punching their checklist of details with Mr. Hoffman’s building manager. He said on projects as big as this one he uses British American Contracting Services (BACS) to manage it.

The lobby has been outfitted again with post office boxes, though they’re not the original ones that were long ago scrapped.

Mr. Hoffman said he bought these from the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.

Valuing vintage decor

Mr. Hoffman said he is always buying period iron and lighting and building accoutrements. “We inventory so we have it when we need it,” he says.

“Because,” adds Mrs. Hoffman, “if you go to find it when you need it, you won’t find it.”

In the post office basement he stops and points to doors of copper and of wood propped against the wall. “I probably have a thousand doors like these,” he says. He says now he has somewhere to store them.

He says the interior of Sweet Beet will feature antique lighting — “10 German hand-blown fixtures from the ’30s” that he says he bought “from a dealer in Virginia.”

“We wanted to use them in the right place,” Mr. Hoffman says and they decided Sweet Beet is the place. “She’s gonna be kind of urban chic,” he says.

Mrs. Hoffman says, “It’s going to have a cool effect. I was here when it was darker — the glow of them is so pretty.”

Brickwork added to the front of the building incorporates vintage window lentils. “They’re cast iron,” says Mr. Hoffman. “We’ll let ’em rust and gives such a nice patina.”

“We do that little bit extra,” says Mr. Hoffman of outfitting businesses’ spaces.

“We don’t get hung up in the process. What’s the final product and will the tenant become successful with that process?

“If they fail, we fail.”

He applies strong personal preferences. Behind the Sweet Beet building, he said they’ll move the power lines below ground.

“Overhead wires kind of assault my senses,” Mr. Hoffman says.

He insists on greenery. “We have a flower person. We have a water truck,” he says. “In an urban environment, when you can shoehorn flowers and vegetation in, it’s so important.”

“We’re gonna have trees in the center median” running down the parking lot in-between the Dance Center and Sweet Beet buildings.

“You got one time to make a first impression,” Mr. Hoffman remarks.

They Hoffmans have moved their own office into the upstairs of the Post Office building from their building on the corner of Glen and Park Streets.

It wasn’t initially part of the plan, but new tenant Adirondack Health Institute needed more space.

“We gave it [the office] to AHI,” Mrs. Hoffman says. “We’ll move for anybody.”

Now, the Hoffmans’ own office on the post office’s second floor and the building’s vast basement feature more of their collected items.

Maybe they’ll put some of them to use sooner rather than later. Mr. Hoffman says they’re about to buy another building he won’t identify. “It’s small,” he says.

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