Buffalo just can’t seem to get out of its own way. On a week in which preliminary work appears to have begun around the Webster Block and actual testing of lit grain elevators moved forward, another project was announced that would inject private funding and add people to a growing part of the city. It took less than 24 hours for the preservation crowd to condemn the thought of this project.
The background here dates to early 2012 when Sam Savarino purchased the decaying Erie Frieght House on Ohio Street from Great Lakes Paper Fibers. Savarino’s purchase came shortly after a large portion of the building collapsed and was subsequently condemned by the city. The Freight House received local landmark status just prior to Savarino’s purchase.
Savarino now has plans to demolish the 150+ year old structure to replace it with a 48-unit apartment building that would front the river. Of course, there are some out there who bemoan the $15 million project and contend that the Freight House survive.
The Buffalo Rising story shows Savarino’s has done his due diligence and that the building is beyond the point of stabilization for reuse. Naturally, Preservation Buffalo Niagara says the building could indeed be stabilized and rehabbed.
As is the typical course of action when these types of disagreements occur, the owner/developer’s guy insists that the building is beyond repair while those who want to preserve the building have an architect who insists that the building can be saved.
Many who stand against the demolition of this structure point to other adaptive reuses of historic buildings throughout Buffalo. They ignorantly include this decrepit structure in the same breath as such buildings as the Statler, H.H. Richardson Complex and the Webb building. It is embarrassing that a building that has already fallen into the river once is being compared to projects like the Statler or the Webb Building.
It is unfortunate that this is the only existing freight house from the Canal era. It is also unfortunate that previous owners have altered the building in so many ways (see: rusted, corrugated steel siding) that has long robbed it of any historic character. The long line of neglect prior to Savarino’s purchase of the property is another unfortunate part of this building’s history.
The neglect the building has suffered has not only caused major structural deterioration, but has caused a portion of the building to fall in on itself and into the river. Again, the building collapsed in on itself and into the river. Based on the shape and condition of the building, there doesn’t seem to be any realistic options available for reuse to begin with – particularly with the vacant DL&W Terminal and Canalside just up the river.
For those that are so concerned that a vital piece of history will be wiped from the slate, why not reuse the bones of this building for something even better? It is plainly obvious that this thing is knocking on death’s door. But there is probably plenty of usable timber from the frame of the building. As Savarino said, he is willing to salvage as much timber as he can for future use.
Perhaps Canalside would benefit from a model freight house built with authentic timber from the real thing. It doesn’t matter what the use of the building would be, but take any and all useable timber from the freight house frame and ship it over to Canalside. From there, build a “replethentic” freight house that accurately recreates one of these important historic structures. That is a close to a win-win you can get, no?
A great deal of the complaints that have been drawn here aren’t necessarily wrong, but most read as “preservation for preservation sake”. The opinions of those against the project are far closer to obstruction rather than preservation.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara did indeed do the right thing in standing up for this structure. They’re just far too late and are now at risk of standing in the way of a far more lucrative and beneficial project. They’re also attempting to stand in the way of someone who has been a champion for adaptive reuse for historic buildings.
Not only is Savarino the man behind the trio of beautiful buildings along Mississippi St., he also stood up with the preservation crowd regarding the historic building at the corner of Illinois and South Park. Savarino went so far as to have a rendering of what a reuse project would look like at that location. Hell, his most recent announcement is a revised plan that includes the most historic part of the building he plans to renovate. It’s safe to assume that for someone like Savarino to raise the white flag on such a building indicates that it is indeed beyond rehabilitation.
So, for all the preservationists who need this building to be saved, realize that you’re practicing a bit of self-cannibalization by attacking a project that Savarino has put forward.
This project should not only be lauded, but fast tracked. Not only is it a $15 million private investment into the Ohio St. corridor, it will inject 48 new residences into a neighborhood that is nothing but vacant properties and park space. With the revitalization of Ohio St. on the way, this would be a phenomenal compliment to the new connection between the outer and inner harbor.
Creating residences in this area will also set the standard for progress along the Buffalo River. It started with Mutual and Riverfest Park and will take another step forward with this type of private investment. This has the potential to take the next step forward with regard to the development of another key piece of Buffalo’s waterfront.
So long as further obstruction can be avoided, this will be an outstanding addition to an already burgeoning waterfront.