Category Archives: Buffalo

Derek’s thoughts on Buffalo-related issues

Derek and Amanda retire from the CTRC

This year marks the tenth that Amanda and I have been volunteers with the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation, and my fourth serving on the Board of Directors.  The CTRC is in the best position it’s ever been in to succeed and move into the future, and with that knowledge Amanda and I are both “retiring” from our roles.

It’s tough to leave an organization that you’ve been so heavily invested in for so long.  I went from being just one of the volunteers, removing broken glass and boarding up problematic access points, to being on several committees, to serving as PR lead, volunteer coordinator, IT guy, and eventually being elected to the Board and as Treasurer.  Amanda similarly served in a number of different roles – as merchandise coordinator, volunteer coordinator, and this year developed the CTRC’s first official docent training program.

I’m amazed and proud at how far the organization has come.  We’ve grown our income by leaps and bounds.  We’ve put out a master plan, showing how the building could be redeveloped in a phased approach.  We’ve landed grants from a number of organizations, including a $300,000 grant from New York State for canopy restoration and two grants from the Wendt Foundation which have allowed us to fund an executive director.  We’ve brought national media attention to the building on a number of occasions.  Most importantly, we’ve completed the first phase of replacing the roof – a major step in rehabilitation of the Central Terminal.

So why leave?  Life is different today than it was ten years ago.  When Amanda and I started, we were just married and had no kids.  I was blown away by the Terminal and the fact that such an amazing building existed in Buffalo that I never even knew about, and I lived in WNY my whole life.  It was clear that the building and the organization could use all the help it could get and I had time to give.  Now, we have a daughter starting kindergarten and a preschooler still at home.  Our weeknights and weekends are more precious than ever.  Career-wise, I’ve moved up the ladder and as such things go it requires more time and focus.  I frankly don’t feel like sitting in front of the computer for a few hours in the evening after being glued to it all day anymore.

The organization is different now as well.  We have a Board of Directors with a much wider range of skills and experience.  We have an Executive Director who can serve the daily needs of the organization.  We have more volunteers serving as leaders in key roles.  The CTRC’s focus now isn’t on basic fundraising events and keeping the lights on, but major restoration and preparation for tenants.  It’s not the scrappy scramble that it used to be, which is a good thing, even if I do miss it from time to time – the feeling that individually you are essential to the success of an event, a project, or a goal.  Of course, the organization can’t grow and thrive if it never advances past that stage, and I’m comfortable in knowing that I’m stepping back at the highest point thus far in the organization’s success with a group of talented people pushing it forward.

I chose to “retire” from the Board on September 1st – Mike Miller Day, as proclaimed by the Mayor of Buffalo at Mike’s wake four years ago.  It seemed fitting, given that it was Mike’s enthusiasm and inclusiveness that cemented my dedication to the CTRC, and his unfortunate passing that ultimately led to me serving in a greater capacity.  I’m sure Mike would be proud of the work that Amanda and I, and the entire organization has done in his absence.  I look forward to being at the Central Terminal’s grand re-opening celebration some day, knowing that we played a role in it’s survival and revival.


Higgins vs. The Skyway, the return

Congressman Brian Higgins today repeated his call for the Skyway to be torn down and replaced, and every news outlet ran with it like it was major news.  It’s been four years since I’ve written on the topic, but the claims that Higgins made today seemed to me to be more over the top than usual, and some of them seem to be either half-truths or lies.

Let’s start with the subheading of Higgins’s statement, specifically the safety-related portion of it – “20 Year Cost of Upkeep on Elevated Highway Deemed “Fracture Critical,” “Functionally Obsolete” and “Deficient” Expected to Reach Over $100 Million”.  First, you have to have an understanding of these different terms.  According to NYSDOT, “structurally deficient” means:

Bridges are considered “structurally deficient,” according to the FHWA, if the condition rating of one of its major components is less than 5, the bridge has inadequate load capacity, or repeated bridge flooding causes traffic delays.  The fact that a bridge is “structurally deficient” does not imply that it is unsafe or likely to collapse.

“Functionally obsolete” simply means that bridge doesn’t meet current design standards in respect to things like lane and shoulder widths, or the current traffic load exceeds what it was designed for.  “Fracture critical” according to the Save Our Bridges project means:

A “fracture critical” bridge is defined by the FHWA as a steel member in tension, or with a tension element, whose failure would probably cause a portion of or the entire bridge to collapse.

Fracture critical bridges, of which there are a total of about 18,000 throughout the U.S., lack redundancy, which means that in the event of a steel member’s failure there is no path for the transfer of the weight being supported by that member to hold up the bridge. Therefore, failure occurs quickly, as reflected in the video that captured the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minnesota.

I’ve perused the NYSDOT bridge data for all the bridge segments that make up the Skyway from Lackawanna to Buffalo.  While several are noted as being functionally obsolete, none that I found were noted as being structurally deficient by the Federal guidelines, and only a couple fell slightly under NYS’s stricter standards.  In fact, since some components were just completely reconstructed within the last year they gain the NYSDOT’s highest rating.  While I can’t find online the Federal DOT report that Higgins references in his letter to the NYSDOT, Save our Bridges does not list the Skyway as being “fracture critical.” So is Higgins just trying to use scare tactics to make the public think the Skyway is about to fall down?  If it was really that dangerous, why would the Congressman suggest that the best course of action is to, “put the brakes on long-term maintenance of the Buffalo Skyway while alternatives are reviewed.”

On the financial claims, once again the Congressman fails to release a complete apples-to-apples comparison of maintenance to the Skyway vs. demolition and rebuild with an alternative plan.  Instead, he’s comparing the $117 million to maintain the Skyway for the next 50 years vs. $75 million to construct a new bridge that would, at best, be one component of the network of new roads and bridges needed to replace the Skyway.  No maintenance costs are included in that figure.

Also not included in that figure are any plans, proposals, or costs to build all the other components needed to reroute the 43,000 daily vehicles that cross the Skyway, a significant portion of which connect to the I-190.  And no, all those drivers won’t just jump onto the 90 at Hamburg due to the toll annoyance and that there are many portions of the I-190 that are already at or over peak capacity.  Since Higgins himself said the Southtowns Connector project will never happen, and that the last thing anyone wants is Niagara Falls Boulevard on the waterfront, what is the alternative plan?  You don’t do transportation planning well by removing a frequently used thoroughfare and replace it with nothing.  That would be “functionally obsolete” from day 1.

I don’t believe in “preserving” the Skyway the same way that I believe in preservation of Buffalo Central Terminal.  As the Congressman says, we need to steer scarce transportation dollars towards the right projects.  We don’t, however, arrive at the right solution through incomplete analysis, rhetoric, and scare tactics.

A new job, a new future

2012 marks my 12th year working for Praxair since graduating from RIT with a degree in IT.  I started working on Praxair’s first e-Commerce systems, and then transitioned to help build Praxair’s first intranet on Lotus Domino, and then was part of the team that rolled out Microsoft SharePoint enterprise wide for document management and collaboration, eventually transitioned all the intranet content to this platform as well.

It’s been five years since I started on our SharePoint implementation project, and recently a new opportunity arose that piqued my interest.  The opportunity was to rejoin the e-Commerce group, however this time as part of the business team instead of the IT team.  It’s a great opportunity for me to become directly involved with the products we sell and learn more about our business operations.

This new role also sets me on a track which will likely result in me relocating out of the Buffalo area, which will be a bittersweet change as I’ve grown to know so many people here and invested so much time and affection in certain pet projects.  However, those experiences certainly helped build my skills which ultimately prepared me for this career move.

For the near term, though, I’ll be sticking around and continuing to work with our IT team here, and our business teams in Chicago and Danbury.  I’m excited to be taking on this new challenge at Praxair.

I am pleased to announce that Derek Punaro, currently Lead IT Information Architect, has accepted the position of E-Commerce Specialist, reporting to me. Derek will replace [redacted], who has left Praxair to pursue other opportunities.

Derek’s main focus will be the e-catalog that supports all our different packaged gas e-commerce channels and will work closely with everyone on the team in this capacity. One important part of this will be to work with the Product Data Hub project team to align the system and workprocesses with the e-catalog efforts. Derek’s broad experience in information architecture, programming and systems will be a great asset to the business.

Derek will work to transition from his current position to his new role over the coming weeks and will be in contact with many of you to understand our projects, data, systems and work processes. Please join me in welcoming Derek to our team!

Jakob Janzon
Marketing & Business Development
Praxair, Inc.

Trico – Dissecting the Anti-Preservation Stance

Last week if you would have asked me about my thoughts on Buffalo’s Trico plant, I probably would have told you I didn’t have many.  My knowledge of the property was limited, as frankly is my knowledge of many of Buffalo’s buildings aside from the Central Terminal.  It’s a side effect of being intently focused on one project and having limited available time to focus on things outside of my paid job, my unpaid job, and my family. However, I was certainly familiar with the building.  It’s hard to not have noticed it if you’ve ever been anywhere near the city.  It’s been profiled by Buffalo Rising and Buffalo Spree and the Buffalo News numerous times as it’s changed ownership and been acquired by the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Suddenly this week rumors began circulating that BNMC was preparing a demolition plan for Trico Plant #1.  That rumor was substantiated when Preservation Buffalo Niagara released a statement saying that BNMC had rejected their offers of assistance to help fund an adaptive reuse study for the building and would likely try to push their demolition request through bypassing the Buffalo Preservation Board’s review.  This is where I start to become peeved.  Trico Plant #1 has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2001 – six years before BNMC acquired rights to develop this property.  They obviously knew what they were getting, and they certainly had no problems in leveraging that status to get state and private funding to redevelop part of the building into the Innovation Center.  So now, why is BNMC trying to end run around the city entity responsible for protecting the type of structures they’ve taken advantage of in the past?

BNMC has been excessively silent this week, saying nothing more than this terse quote obtained by the Buffalo News:

Matthew Enstice, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus president and chief executive officer, left a voicemail message at The News that he was “surprised” by Preservation Buffalo Niagara’s decision to go public with its criticism and felt as if they “were working as good partners,” but would have no further comment.

Ok, now let’s start cutting the bullshit.  BNMC was in no way surprised by PBN’s statement.  Nor were they surprised by their stance.  More than likely, BNMC has been sitting on these demolition plans for quite some time and any meetings between the two organizations were cursory simply so they could make the above statement publicly.  The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus knew this would be a hot button issue with the local preservation community, hence the quick demolition schedule – try and get it pushed through before anyone can tie it up. Of course, that was highly unlikely to happen, and now instead of being upfront and forthcoming with their plans, BNMC has blown a large chunk of their accumulated community goodwill by proposing demolition of a registered historic structure without so much as indicating that they even have a plan for the space.  If there’s one thing that preservationists (even those “moderate” ones like myself) don’t want to see it’s demolition to create more “shovel-ready” sites or expansive parking lots at the expense of viable, redevelopable buildings.

I also had the honor of sparring a bit with a few folks on Twitter today on the topic.  Some standpoints were flatly untenable and other were valid points for consideration.  But we can’t have a real dialog on the subject until we dispense with the lies and misconceptions and get some real facts.  So let’s break down some of the common arguments.

  1. “The Trico building isn’t historic.”False.  It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  That is the very definition of being a historic place.  There is an application and a review process that is vetted by professionals in the field.  Applications go first to your state Historic Preservation Office, generally with letters of support from your local Board (if there is one) and local officials, and if it gets past them it then goes to the National Parks Service.  If they sign off on it and include it in the Register, congratulations – you are now a “Historic Place.”
  2. The Trico building is ugly.” – Subjective.  Even if it is, that doesn’t affect whether or not it’s worthy of preservation.  See the Third Church of Christ, Scientist in D.C.
  3. It can’t be adapted for use as a modern medical facility.” – False.  First, factory buildings tend to be the easiest to adapt because they’re generally wide open floor plates with high ceilings and only support columns to work around.  Wake Forest University’s Biotech Place [PDF] is a clear example of a similar space adapted for exactly this kind of use.  Is it possible that the structure doesn’t fit what BNMC wants to do with it?  We don’t know.  They haven’t announced any plans or made any such statement.
  4. It’s falling apart.”  – Extent Unknown.  We know there was roof damage back in 2007 when BNMC acquired the building and we know that bricks have fallen off.  So the question then is…  why hasn’t the landlord done anything in the last 5 years to fix it?  Not taking care of your property for the intended purpose of eventually making it more convenient or urgent to knock down is known as “demolition by neglect” and that makes a lot of people quite ornery.
  5. It’s contaminated.” – Unknown.  While some have commented that environmental studies were done early on, the results of those studies haven’t been made public.  Regardless, most types of contamination are fixable, and many will need to be remedied before demolition could take place anyways.
  6. We have too many vacant buildings. It’s better torn down.”  – False.  In the case of Trico, we have a National Register listed building which makes it eligible for up to 40% in redevelopment tax credits.  Saving it preserves a piece of history and part of Buffalo’s character, keeps it out of the landfill, and saves from the need to reconstruct from scratch.
  7. “…buildings in Buffalo that sit vacant for years are only “historic” when someone wants to something with them.” – False.  Trico Plant #1 was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 – six years before BNMC acquired the property.  They knew what they were getting, both in status and condition.
  8. Buffalo wouldn’t fight to keep Trico here, but we’ll sue people for the bldg.” – FalseQuite a bit was done to try and keep Trico here actually, but ultimately they packed up and took production to Mexico, like many of the manufacturing jobs in this country have.  And that has no impact on whether or not to allow BNMC to tear down a historic building.
  9. BNMC needs the space to expand.” – Mixed.  The Medical Campus is certainly growing, and that’s fantastic.  But expand how?  If you’re demolishing the Trico plant, what is replacing it?  If there was a viable plan to replace the plant with a new building, that makes a much stronger case for demolition.  But then again, take a look at these two parcels and tell me which makes more sense to reuse and which to build new on?

So where does that leave us?  Well, an application for local landmark designation went before the Preservation Board today, with a public hearing scheduled for March 22nd.  There’s too much visibility on the building now to let a quick demolition permit slip by unnoticed.  You can follow updates on the Save Trico Plant 1 Facebook page.  There are also many questions that remain to be answered, and some that have yet to be asked, but at risk of burning any bridges related to my own preservation project, I’ll leave those cans of worms for some of the other investigative bloggers to open.

Could Trico be torn down?  Yes.  It’s designation on the National Register offers it very little in the way of protection from demolition.  Local landmark status carries heavier weight in that regard.  Could Trico be replaced with a magnificent new facility that would make everyone forget that the “ugly factory” ever existed?  Probably.  But if those were the plans, BNMC would have that plastered all over every available media outlet.  Could we end up tearing down a building – who’s history is tied to an invention used by every person who drives a car, from a company who’s founder’s namesake foundation is the largest philanthropic organization in Buffalo today – with just another parking lot that will remain for the next 5, 10, 20 or more years?  Absolutely.  And that would be a damn shame.