Howard Zemsky's Path
Howard Zemsky may have been the last one called on in school, due to his last name, but now heâ€™s the first one turned to when it comes to civic-minded projects. Zemsky was president of Russer Foods and as he sold that business, he started to get involved with the Martin House Restoration Corporation, ending up as their director from 2001 to the present time. Being director of one civic organization was not enough for Zemsky â€“ he is the immediate past president of the Binational Tourism Alliance, the director of Buffalo Place, a vice chair at Buffalo State College, vice chairman of the HH Richardson Center Corporation, and commissioner of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
Zemskyâ€™s altruism is astounding, but even more shocking is his background â€“ he wasnâ€™t born in Buffalo. A lot of people who wind up being loyalists to the cityâ€™s many nooks and crannies are people who were born and raised in the area. Zemsky was born in Brooklyn and came here as a young man in 1981. He quickly fell in love with Buffalo and has no plans to leave any time soon. He was married here, and he has raised his three children within the city limits.
â€śI think it takes some time to put down roots. The number of things you can get involved with here and the challenges are all part of the dynamic that makes this an interesting place. I love living here in Buffalo. And by the way â€“ I love the seasons and hate the heat,â€ť says Zemsky.
Zemsky said that for his twenty-year career at Russer Foods, he traveled from coast to coast, never finding a single place that made him think, â€śI should live here.â€ť He always longed for Buffalo and to return to what he grew to think of as his hometown. When he sold Russer Foods, he wanted to get involved with a project just to keep busy. When the Martin House presented itself, it turned out to be the perfect calling for Zemsky.
â€śThe Martin House was the beginning of my education with Buffaloâ€™s history and architecture,â€ť explains Zemsky. It was that love affair that brought him to the Larkin Development Project, which he is the principal owner of. At 726 Exchange Street, one can see the project first-hand â€“ a magnificently restored office building where a warehouse once stood. Zemsky along with City View Properties joined into a partnership to restore the 600,000-foot building. Taurus reference?
â€śThis has consumed six years, given that fundamentally this was an abandoned warehouse six years ago and now itâ€™s a fully occupied office building,â€ť says Zemsky. At Russer, Zemsky worked down the road from this building that was once the Larkin Warehouse Terminal. As he got involved with the Martin House, he learned of the importance of the Larkin Company to Frank Lloyd Wright. The connection being that the company and their executives were the primary commissioners of works by the famed architect. That connection along with the opportunity to branch out in a new direction drew Zemsky like a moth to a flame.
â€śI was looking for other business interests. My interest in the Martin House carried over to the commercial real estate business,â€ť explains Zemsky. He made the decision to take on what he describes as this â€śunconventionalâ€ť project to preserve a historic landmark and to bring it into the 21st century. Zemsky and his partners did not just restore the building â€“ they made it a modern marvel by including a lot of present-day amenities. Some of those features are a bank branch inside the building, a daycare center, a fitness center, a restaurant, and other aspects that make it competitive with newly built structures. â€śWe saw this as an opportunity to fill a void, and so we just started down the road in redeveloping it,â€ť adds Zemsky.
Zemsky says that Buffalo was hemorrhaging jobs to the suburbs because, in part, it lacked large floor plates for businesses and a lot of the conveniences that can be found in the suburbs. The Larking Building is at 98 percent capacity, and the rehabilitation project shows that the city can bring jobs back. He even keeps his own office in the building for his private investment firm, Taurus Partners LLC. The firm invests in small, local companies of Zemskyâ€™s choosing. He says, â€śItâ€™s a private investment vehicle. After twenty years of traveling coast to coast, my interest is in local, regional businesses.â€ť
Zemsky says that unlike a boom town, where the tide is lifting all boats, Buffalo has a lot of opportunities that it wrestles with and challenges that it faces, but that the obstacles give it an appeal. He explains that Buffalo has been good to him and good to his family. He used the Larking building as a metaphor for Buffalo, stating, â€śI think the region has a lot of potential. Here we are in a building that had its heyday a long time ago. It had a period of decline and now itâ€™s reinvigorated for a successful future.â€ť