#13. Julia Spitz
Through the work we are doing with this blog, we’re learning so much about the hard work that is being done in our city and neighborhoods. So, when we received this nomination by Matt Davison, we thought that it would be great to talk to someone who really sees what is happening in our neighborhoods, and is working to make it a better place for people to live, and move back to. We sat down with her at 95 Perry Street to learn more.
Who is Julia Spitz?
Julia: “I was born and raised in Buffalo. I lived in Buffalo for a little bit as a kid, then my parents moved to Snyder. Then I went to Canisius College, and moved back to the city — and never left. I’m never going to leave. I’m married, thirty-one, and really close to thirty-two (not looking forward to that) and a property manager at Savarino Properties, a family business. I used to be a Savarino; now I have a married name of Spitz.
“I manage a suite of properties, and they’re not just owned by Savarino. We work with some fabulous partners. I oversee the bookkeeping, the rental income, repairs, and maintenance. But what I think is most fun about what I do is that I have some really enthusiastic tenants, and some really, really generous and trusting building owners. They really allow me to get fun with it, which is kind of rare in the property management industry. For instance, we partnered with one of our tenants, Art Services Initiative, last year, and we put out an RFP to local artists to do public art on the outside of this building. We put a panel together and narrowed it down, and then we let our tenants decide which public art project won. We have chair massage days, we do blood drives, food drives, clothing drives, e-scrap drives. We do barbecues where the building owner cooks and all the tenants get to eat, and an ice cream truck comes. It’s really fun, and it makes it so much more than just collecting rent and fixing things. I find that it’s a great way to promote Buffalo as well. Whether it be not-for-profit causes that we’re having drives for, or small businesses. Like when the masseuse comes, the local masseuse is making money. When we hire the ice cream truck, the ice cream truck guy is making money. So it’s a really nice way to support the community, and to have fun.”
Sounds like you like your job
Julia: “I love my job. What really makes me like my job is our tenants. They are so enthusiastic, they have great ideas, they’re fun. You see them in the elevator, you see them in the hallway, you see them at bars and restaurants. We have somehow managed to amass this amazing, fantastic group of tenants. And it makes my job fun every day. And half of the things we do come from our tenants. So whether it’s just seeing them in the elevator and saying “Hey, why don’t we have a professional clothing drive?” Or, we do an annual survey, and someone said, “We want outdoor garbage cans.” If you listen to your tenants, they have great ideas. So we partnered with Griffith Studios and got some cool outdoor garbage cans that aren’t just garbage cans, they’re art. They promote the brand of the neighborhood.”
We wanted to dive in a little deeper to find out what really made Julia so passionate about her job. Julia: “I used to just collect rent, and make repairs. I was responsive, helpful, nice, and friendly, but it kind of ended at that. One of our tenants, Brian Kulpa, who’s actually the mayor of Williamsville, started talking to me about something called Tactical Urbanism. It’s a whole movement, but basically it’s about doing little things in a neighborhood that make it unique and special that kind of start something, and give it a groundswell. He suggested I take out a book from the library. The book is called ‘For the Love of Cities’ by Peter Kegayama. I took it out, I read it, and it completely changed the way I do things. So now, it’s more about the community. It’s more about making buildings unique and fun and different. And sure, you’ve got to maintain them, you’ve got to repair everything, you’ve got to collect rent. But that’s a bare minimum. We try to make it a little better than that. And so now, every so often I’ll do something and I’ll email Brian and say “Hey, that was because of you.””
“Our first public art project was because of him. We transformed the lobby of a building into a big mural of the Edward Cotter. Just fun stuff like that.”
Julia added, “I’m blessed to have tenants who think all those things are fun. If you have a barbecue and nobody shows up, what’the use? You need to have enthusiastic tenants, which we have in spades. And you need to have trusting and generous owners. Which, again, we have in spades. With all of these projects,, there is no neighborhood association, there’s no dues, there’s no grants. Everything we do is with private money and through the generosity of our building owners.”
So is it a Buffalo thing?
Julia: “I think it is a Buffalo thing. I know many other building owners and property managers in the industry, and I will say, overall, Buffalo has a little more of a neighborly feel when it comes to property managers and tenants. I know out-of-town property managers who tell me horror stories about how long it takes to get responses and how things fall into disrepair. But I think with the local set of property owners, there’s a very nice relationship between tenants, property managers and building owners.”
Do you see any trends in Buffalo, as far as development or restoration?
Julia: “There’s a ton! One would certainly be just the fact that people want to move to the City of Buffalo again, residentially, is huge. There’s a huge trend toward downtown and urban living, which is wonderful. It’s why the real estate values are so high in the city right now. Also, offices are moving to Buffalo. A lot of our tenants are companies that came from office parks in the suburbs, and now they want to be in the city. And that is so gratifying, and so wonderful for our economic base. Another thing that kind of has always been around, but in the last three or four years it’s really had an upswell, is public art in relation to communities and buildings. And it’s not just village associations and art museums doing it anymore. It’s private property owners who see the value in it and are paying for it. It’s really a trend that’s developing. People say, “Oh, you work in that building with the Go Mural on it.” It becomes iconic, and it separates your building or your city from every other building, and every other city. It comes in a lot of different forms; it could be a mural, it could be a statue, or a water feature. I learned about this one in Minneapolis in the Twins Stadium that when the wind blows, it completely moves, it’s so cool. But it’s on their baseball stadium. It’s not like it’s on their art museum.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
Julia: “I would definitely say, listen more. In particular, listen to your tenants. Because, once I started doing that, everything changed. It’s not just doing what you’re supposed to do. I have a very Type A personality and it’s easy for me to just think inside the box and complete the task to the best of my ability. It’s nice to realize that sometimes there’s a task you never thought of that you could also do really, really well but someone has to suggest it to you for you to even consider it. So, listen. I talk a lot, so that’s really hard advice for me to take.”
Is there an area of need in which Buffalo, as a community could help with?
Julia: “Do you know we’re the only city in the nation of our size without a children’s museum? For the benefit of the children in the area, for the benefit of economic development, for the benefit of tourism, and just for general quality of life, we need a children’s museum. I’m on the board of Explore & More Children’s Museum and they’re coming to Canalside. But they need the community’s support, and they need politicians’ support, and they need upswell. They need to be talked about, and people need to know what’s happening. For the deep and rich cultural options in this city, for us not to have that, blows my mind. So they’re coming to this city, but they need everybody’s help to get there. That would be a need that needs to be filled. And it’s also very selfish, because I love them.”
Give us some parting words
Julia: “I love Buffalo, I really do. I feel lucky to live here, I feel proud to live here. Even when our sports teams are doing bad, and our economy isn’t doing great, I love living here. And I think more people have that feeling now, and they’re moving to this city, there’s groundswell, and it’s contagious. And I know I’m probably not old enough to say this, but I’ve never felt this way in my life. I’ve never thought that everyone else was as excited about this city as I was. I feel like anyone you meet now is excited about what’s happening here.”
Julia: “Angela Keppel. She is the Associate Director of the Elmwood Village Association. But she’s also a docent at the history museum, and has a kick-ass blog about where streets in Buffalo got their name. She doesn’t just give you, “It’s named after this guy.” It’s paragraphs and paragraphs of thoroughly researched, fascinating information about how streets got their name. She’s also possibly the world’s biggest Tim Russert fan. She is just a really pro-Buffalo, phenomenal human being.”