Tag Archives: Buffalo Preservation

Two Things

23 Jun

1. Congratulations to Mike Miller on becoming the Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

2. Buffalo Repat has an interesting post that anecdotally shows that unchecked annexation can sometimes be as harmful as no annexation at all.

UPDATE: Links fixed. Tut mir Leid.

Shorter Canalside Scoping Session

26 Feb

Fewer waterfalls, more museums, outraged preservationists, retail is bad, and Bass Pro hasn’t signed shit yet.

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Other than that, it’s full steam ahead!

pro·ac·tive (adj.)

2 Jul

Some have misinterpreted my closing comments in this post:

One hopes that the preservation community (and community-at-large) might prioritize buildings that may not be designated landmarks, are endangered and need saving. Perhaps they could take lessons learned from the Livery fiasco and be more pro-active rather than re-active when it comes to saving buildings deemed important. These things shouldn’t have to happen at the point when emergency injunctive relief is required to prevent demolition. A plan. Priorities. It would do a lot to not only save buildings, but dramatically improve the reputation of the preservationist community. By being pro-active rather than re-active, they lose the “obstructionist” epithet altogether. Just a thought.

Some assail my comment because, they claim, preservationists are being “proactive”. I disagree. Calling the tip line isn’t enough. Calling your councilman isn’t enough. That may arguably be literally proactive, but it’s passive. I’ll let Prodigal Son explain:

The definition of pro-active is “getting involved before the building is crumbling.” I’m sure some well meaning people called the city tip line to complain about the Livery for years. But obviously, no support was galvanized until crisis mode hit. If anyone in the preservation community (whomever that is) could get everyone organized before it got to this point, that would be progress. Lets have a vigil, signatures, BRO articles and media frenzy about the AM&A’s building (to pick a random one). Doesn’t happen. Tim Tielman tried to get people organized for his “Save Our Churches” campaign, and that never got farther than one meeting.

Buffalo – a shrinking city of 280k-ish people – has at least two grassroots preservation activist organizations. Cynthia Van Ness’ Preservation Coalition and Tim Tielman’s Campaign for Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture. The missions are similar enough that these groups could be joined. If governments can be expected to downsize in response to a shrinking population, so can nonprofit activist groups.

If they joined forces, then it would be fantastic if they selected, on an annual basis, five buildings that they want to save each year. They could hold fundraisers, teach-ins, solicit investment, file legal action, etc. Whatever it took to focus on private and public properties that are at imminent risk of destruction but are in some way worth preserving. They could set the agenda with respect to preservation issues and shed that public perception that they have of being reactionary obstructionists, and instead re-cast themselves as the proactive protectors of Buffalo’s heritage before the building starts crashing in around them or some owner decides he wants to raze it to add more surface parking.

Because in my mind, the heroes of the preservation community right now are named “Savarino” and “Termini” and “ESD”. Applying the law of Larry the Cable Guy – they get it done.

If the building is privately owned, such as Freudenheim’s Livery, the group could file for injunctive relief – the building is an imminent harm to its surroundings and is a public or private nuisance. If the building is privately owned, perhaps they could get the city to take the property by eminent domain for the greater public good. If the building is publicly owned, then they could partner with friendly engineering and architectural firms to draw up plans and raise funds to actually get the buildings structurally sound and rebuilt. It would be like Buffalo ReUse writ large – instead of saving fixtures from homes for resale, you save the building itself.

So, what would be the five most endangered buildings in 2008? Proactively prioritize, proselytize, and repair.

Ribbons and Photo Ops

2 Jul

At around 3:30 this afternoon, near the Erie Canal Terminus, Hillary Clinton and other dignitaries, luminaries, glitterati, politicos, and other people with fancy suits will be simultaneously thumbing their Blackberries whilst arguing over who gets to stand close to the ribbon to get their maw on the evening news.

That’s because the canal terminus park isn’t “officially” open until the electeds get their photo op.

On a serious note, everyone who had a hand in crafting the park that we have today deserves the community’s praise and accolades. When I moved to Buffalo in 2001, that spot was a barren wasteland of a parking lot under the skyway. As a newcomer, I had no idea that it held any special significance whatsoever. Now, its historic importance is evident to all, and the city has a new, well-designed, well thought-out attraction to be proud of.

But the work has only just begun. The Canal Side project writ large will bring residents, businesses, retail, and restaurants. Hot dog vendors are a great start, but something more permanent and winterized will be needed to ensure that the project is attractive year-round.

So, give the electeds their oversized scissors and red ribbons. Give them their photo ops and their speeches. It doesn’t matter. With this project, we all won one.

The Livery – Postscript

1 Jul

The handling of the Livery Building situation by the city and the court system has been nothing short of impressive. I never thought they could pull it together, but they did. Judge Burns did what he always does – he was thoughtful and came up with a solution that everyone could stomach.

The evidently neglectful Freudenheims are not getting off scot-free, the building is going to be saved thanks to an angel developer – Savarino Companies, and a solution was reached with lightning speed, by Buffalo standards.

Judge Burns and the city’s Law Department are to be commended, and Savarino just bought a whole bunch of goodwill along with that building. Score one for Buffalo, for a change.

One hopes that the preservation community (and community-at-large) might prioritize buildings that may not be designated landmarks, are endangered and need saving. Perhaps they could take lessons learned from the Livery fiasco and be more pro-active rather than re-active when it comes to saving buildings deemed important. These things shouldn’t have to happen at the point when emergency injunctive relief is required to prevent demolition. A plan. Priorities. It would do a lot to not only save buildings, but dramatically improve the reputation of the preservationist community. By being pro-active rather than re-active, they lose the “obstructionist” epithet altogether. Just a thought.

Livery Building on Thursday

19 Jun

Outside Counsel takes a peek at the Livery Building, and makes an observation aside from the very poor condition of the building.

Buffalo is far from unique in its resistance to change– what makes this city unusual, I think, is that the reactionary mentality is so frequently what prevails. The ultimate result is decay, rather then renewal. There are a number of reasons for this– the declining population base means that (a) there is less pressure to change; (ii) scarcer resources to bring about change; and (3) the population is old, and conservative. There is a history of bad choices which brought about bad results. People are afraid to make more bad choices, and so make none. Leadership is in short supply– there does not seem to be a vision of Buffalo that anyone can agree on. Instead of planning on what to become, the population here is instead consumed by nostalgia.

That boils it all down in a nutshell quite nicely, no?

As a further observation:

There are neglected, decaying old buildings everywhere in Buffalo, of course but it only gets attention when it happens in white, affluent neighborhoods- and those are pretty much the neighborhoods with the clout to block development. An interesting paradox, when you think about it: the desirable neighborhoods for development are the ones that are most likely to resist it, and the best equipped to resist it as well. Meanwhile, east of Main Street, the buildings just fall, like trees in the forest.

It’s a pity. The building would have been an attractive apartment conversion. Instead it has been falling apart for years, a roost for pigeons, and no doubt other vermin as well. It is sweet that the neighborhood wants to save it now, although it is worth noting that nobody is stepping up with their own money to do it.

Seriously, what do we do with this?

It’s easy to say “save it”.

It’s hard to figure out exactly how. Or who.

The Doctrine of Estoppel

17 Jun

As a follow-up on the Livery Building post, Bill Altreuter posts a comment:

Notwithstanding the rapid degeneration of this comment string (and what’s up with that?) I thought I’d mention that I did a little digging and learned that about 20 years ago the Freudenheim’s planned on converting the building into apartments or condos. They were frustrated in this when the neighbors objected and got the city to put the kibosh on the project. (Parking was what the basis for the kvetching was.)

The Freudenheim’s have been stuck with this white elephant ever since.

If the neighbors put the kibosh on a viable redevelopment project some 20 years ago, it seems that they are, to a certain degree, estopped from now bemoaning its loss.

Discuss.

The Livery

16 Jun

Last week, an old Buffalo building began to crumble and fall. It wasn’t hit by lightning or a Cessna – it began to crumble from its own weight due to years, if not decades’ worth of neglect from the owners, who had it on the market for $400,000 – a price that the market evidently couldn’t bear. There aren’t too many people around in town who can throw down $400 large for a building and then invest a like amount to shore it up, much less renovate it. So, as usual in Buffalo, another building bites the dust.

Also as usual, a band of reactivists gets vocal, files for injunctive relief, and decries how the demolition of the building would ruin the city, “destroy the fabric of the community”, etc. Too late for all that now. Unless you have the scratch to buy it and fix it yourself, it’s probably coming down. Yes, the owners should be required to pay for the demolition. In a perfect world, they’d pay for the neglect that was the proximate cause of the demolition. But in Buffalo, the basic shoring-up work needed to keep an allegedly $400,000 building standing isn’t done. It’s permitted to crumble, because there is no incentive not to.

The grassroots effort to save the building has a website here. I find it pitiful and despicable that a group of regular citizens has to raise money to help save a building privately owned by a tone-deaf owner who is wealthy and doesn’t seem to give a crap. The photo used above is taken from their website.

Buffalo Geek and I spoke about this on Friday, and his notion is that the preservationist community, which is seen as somewhat of a joke outside the Elmwood/Buffalo Rising bubble, would do itself a lot of favors if, instead of just being loud and obnoxious, it took action once in a while. His idea is that they should solicit some like-minded local charities and otherwise raise $1 million per year, and select up to five buildings to save every year. They could not only make their point, but actually do the work. How? Well, maybe the city takes the buildings by eminent domain and transfers title to the preservationist non-profit for one dollar. The work is done, and the building is marketed as a fundraising vehicle for the next round of rehabilitations. It’s one thing to hold rallies and hold up signs after it’s too late. It’s another to actually do it. Like, say, Buffalo ReUse does. There are tax credits and other incentives available for these rehabs. If the preservationists don’t know how to get them, no one does.

So, the bubbleistas hold up signs decrying the newest pair of demons, Nina and Bob Freudenheim. They allege that the couple, whose company owns the Livery Building, should be required to pay for the demolition. Yes, and they should have been required to maintain the building to code, too. They’re right, of course, but it’s too little, too late.

The allegation that the demolition of the building will ruin the “fabric of the community”? Well, I’d argue that a neighborhood and the people in it make up the fabric of a community – not buildings, no matter how old or pretty. But when the Elmwood Hotel at the corner of Elmwood and Forest was being proposed in 2005, Nina Freudenheim, who lives on tony Penhurst and (one would surmise) is a person of some means who could have afforded to do the very bare minimum to shore up the Livery building, was among the plaintiffs who sued to block the hotel. The argument given by hotel opponents also echoed the “fabric of the community” arguments we often hear when this sort of thing goes on. It’s all somewhat ironic.

The renovation of these beyond-help old buildings which teeter between demolition for safety and preservation for history, would happen far more often if we had an economy that worked. If we had more and more widespread wealth, we’d have more people willing and able to do this kind of work. If we had a growing population and more vibrant economy, the preservation of buildings like the Livery would be a foregone conclusion.

Whatever happens to the Livery, one hopes that it might be a wake-up call to loads of people. There should be protests and placards against dumb policies, laws, and politicians who help perpetuate this state of affairs in which we find ourselves. If buildings are worth saving, then action trumps reaction.

It’s not so much about the buildings – it’s about the people.

Peace Bridge Paradise

21 May

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The neighborhood in the immediate vicinity of the Peace Bridge has been designated as one of the 11 most endangered places in the United States. Part of the Peace Bridge project involves the construction of a new customs plaza, and this would require the demolition of several homes in this very attractive community.

The original plan had been to have border management shared on the Canadian side of the river. American DHS officials would check passports and handle customs matters on Canadian soil to avoid idling on the bridge and to streamline operations. The problem was that Canada would not permit US officials to fingerprint motorists who simply changed their minds and made a U-turn rather than cross the border. That is violative of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the US would not relent on that one point.

Interestingly, the Canadians suggested several alternatives to permit US inspectors to have real or quasi-US sovereignty at those booths – everything from the airport model, where US inspectors check you before leaving, e.g., the Bahamas, to literally swapping land, to embassy-like sovereignty, to Chunnel-style border pre-clearance. Nothing was satisfactory to the Bush Administration.

Let’s be honest – the fact that the federal government nixed all of these possible solutions was extraordinarily short-sighted and stupid

As much as I can’t stand the use of a Joni Mitchell song to make a point, and as much as I’m annoyed as hell by the terms “built environment” and “sense of place”, I agree that the Peace Bridge project as currently constituted should not go forward.

Buffalo obviously has no use for a signature bridge or a twin span or anything else. What’s the point? Its construction has been hindered by everything from a decade-long design process to bird flight patterns to fish swim patterns to Bush intransigence.

But this region absolutely needs improvements made to border crossing to Canada – something that could be very helpful to our economy.

The new span from Canada should not be at the Peace Bridge, and it should not be at the Railroad bridge either. What’s the point of building a bridge at a spot where it has to make a 90-degree turn the moment it hits US soil? What’s the point of building a bridge at the Scajaquada, which people are already demanding be downgraded to a skate park or something?

Instead, we need:

1. A companion span at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. It has the most congestion of any bridge crossing at just about any given non-Bills game time and handles a lot of truck traffic due to the fact that it’s the easiest connection from 405 to the I-190. An expansion of existing Customs facilities would also be needed.

2. A 21st century signage system peppered throughout WNY that shows motorists exactly which bridges have what delay. NITTEC has been using the overhead programmable signs to do just that over the last few days, and it’s been quite helpful, I’m sure, to visiting Victoria Day holidaymakers and shoppers. Separate, similar signs should be installed throughout our region and on the QEW in Ontario.

I don’t disagree that the Columbus Parkway neighborhood is worth preserving, and the uncertainty is probably in some ways more harmful than the demolition itself might be. But let’s scrap the whole Peace Bridge nonsense while we’re ahead.

If it was wanted or needed, it would have been built years ago. Let some other area both reap the benefit and suffer the inconvenience that comes with a new international bridge.

Leave Pearl Street Alone

16 May

The amazing expansion and renovation that the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery in downtown Buffalo has undertaken in recent years has been incredible. From upstairs expansion, the new outdoor decks and patios, its commitment to local businesses and the local economy, to the fact that it employs 111 people and contributes to the livability of this city, it is a business that deserves the benefit of the doubt always.

That’s why this story in today’s Buffalo News incensed me so.

The Preservation Board of the City of Buffalo is unhappy with Pearl Street’s recent changes, most recently including a corner sign depicting its new mascot, “Lake Effect Man”. Branding is an important component to a business like Pearl Street with ambitions such as the ones described in the article – to be the largest selling brewpub in the world.

“[Going before] the Preservation Board has been a terrible experience,” Ketry said. “They don’t respect anything that has to do with the private sector. They have these pie-in-the-sky notions and don’t get what it takes to create growth in a business environment.”

But the board considered Ketry’s proposals excessive and out of line for a street known for its variety of historic buildings. They include the recently restored Webb Lofts two doors down and the terra-cotta Guaranty Building at Pearl and Church streets.

“Should an 1840s building be a spectacle? Not in a historic district,” said Russell Pawlak, a board member. “It diminishes the beauty of the building. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

“They have far and away exceeded what we thought would be appropriate for that building,” said John Laping, board chairman.

Laping said the Common Council should not have overruled the Preservation Board without seeking its advice.

Ellicott Council Member Brian Davis, who has come to Ketry’s aid, said he thought Pearl Street’s contribution to the local economy overrode other considerations.

“Buffalo can’t be afraid to take steps that are going to put more attention on the city in a positive way. I thought [the changes] would help bring more people to downtown,” Davis said.

The Council member said he considered Ketry’s role in making the business a success and the 111 people in his employ. None of the changes, he added, was necessarily permanent.

“Everything he has added to the building can be removed. It’s not permanent in nature; it’s nuts and bolts,” Davis said.

That quaint brick 1840s building was built to house a commercial entity. The fact that it still houses a viable commercial entity in 2008 is astonishing. Especially in this city. The changes that Pearl Street is making to the facade and structure in order to maintain and grow its business do not detract from the history of that building, or from its beauty. It’s not as if Pearl Street covered the brick with vinyl. It’s not as if Pearl Street ripped the whole thing down to build some sort of Dryvit-laden Panera Bread lookalike.

Let Pearl Street thrive.

(Photo by the Buffalo News’ Harry Scull)