Category Archives: Preservation

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.

Terminal-Lightroom

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.

Preservation is the way – thoughts following #presconf

It was a great week for Buffalo.  The National Trust preservation conference has wrapped, and I’m admittedly still coming down from the “conference high” (the condition where you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid for a week and reality has yet to set in again) but that doesn’t change the fact that this conference will have a lasting effect on the image of Buffalo.

Here’s how I see it – yes, Buffalo has its problems.  But we’re not the only city that has problems.  We have great people, but we’re not the only city that has great people.  So what really distinguishes Buffalo?  What makes Buffalo Buffalo?  Location.  And History.  In one word – Place.  Our history is instantiated by the buildings we create and the monuments we construct.  Our location is defined not only by geography, but proximity to other population centers.

So what makes Buffalo Buffalo?  We’re located on one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country.  We’re on a heavily trafficked international border and a short enough distance from the largest city in Canada.  And because Buffalo was a major city in the early years of the United States, we have a lot of history and a lot of notable buildings that were created while that history was happening.  Our default action should be to save those buildings whenever possible.

Why?  These buildings are part of the city’s identity.  The more we lose, the less unique we become.  Buffalo needs every advantage it can get to regain it’s place as an burgeoning economic center, and having a strong identity is a major advantage.  Our social, commercial, and industrial heritage should be part of that, because it’s already here, and it is “For Real”.  We don’t need to fabricate an identity, we already have one.  We’re international, we have great natural resources, and we have history.  All we have to do is leverage what we have and build on it.

That’s not saying that there aren’t other problems that need to be fixed, or that preservation alone is going to save Buffalo.  But why not start there?  Historic rehabilitation creates coveted construction and highly skilled craftsman jobs.  Those are actual green jobs, because you’re not sending entire buildings to the landfill and replacing them with the disposable crap that many buildings are made from today.  And this type of preservation is tested, proven, quantifiable economic development.

What we need now is to convince our elected officials that this is the way of our future.  Preservation projects, especially the large-scale ones, require the cooperation of city, county, state, and federal representatives.  In our fractured political climate, this may be the biggest challenge, even moreso than finding the money to complete the projects.  Without their help in setting and dictating the vision, every new project is open for debate and petty bickering, and valuable time is lost.

In one conference session last week being given by a German man responsible for helping to establish Europe’s Industrial Heritage route, “People in Europe no longer question whether preservation is worthwhile, it’s already been proven and is accepted.  The demand to live in places with rich heritage sites exceeds the supply.”  We have the supply here in Buffalo and it’s our responsibility to not squander that.  In other places in the world, things like this are being built:

And the people there aren’t even laughing at the idea. They’re embracing it.  A lot of people came to town last week that see the potential that Buffalo has that a lot of people here refuse to acknowledge.  That’s a Place that they’d like to come back to, and a Place that we should be proud to call home.

Is government the Statler solution?

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything of substance here. I blame that on the fact that I’ve been doing more of substance since being elected Treasurer of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation. As I’ve spent the last few months gaining a deeper understanding of the many facets of the project, I’ve also been keeping an eye on the Statler saga. It’s a sad story for a storied building, but it’s fate will be one to watch as other Preservation projects, like ours, are probably more tied to it’s future than we’d like to admit.

One of the most frequently cited negatives of the Central Terminal project is that we’re located too far away from the downtown core. Yet with the Statler we have a historic building of the same age as the Terminal in the most prime location in the center of downtown. Yet, we have some people arguing it has a negative market value? That seems extraordinarily unlikely seeing that there were at least two bidders for it in the last auction, and the prior owner paid a couple million for it. There are hundreds of buildings in the city that you actually couldn’t give away which would fit the “worthless” moniker much better.

Of course, you have the people parroting for it’s demolition, but demolition is expensive for a structure like this. First, the building undoubtedly has asbestos that would need to be removed first. Asbestos removal is one of the costly items to deal with when rehabbing an old building. Second is the question of what do you replace a demolished building with? Buffalo isn’t in need of any more parking lots or shovel-ready sites. So if you don’t have a project waiting in the wings for this lot, and if you’re going to be stuck with an expensive taxpayer-funded demolition, what do you do? Exactly what is being done with the Statler – you seal it up and wait until the right developer comes along.

I think we can go one step better, actually. More needs to be done to preserve these key buildings that give Buffalo it’s unique feel and tie in it’s historical roots. Most business tax breaks are frequently criticized as being overly generous to a small number of companies, and many people are unsettled with the concept of handing over taxpayer dollars to businesses. The other “solution” has been instead to throw millions of dollars into brand-new development somewhere where there’s a clean slate, but that only distracts attention away from the problems at the city’s core.

Most people agree that infrastructure maintenance is a role of government. So, why not treat these buildings as infrastructure and take the money being thrown away for silver-bullet development and given away to companies that can afford to operate without the various tax breaks and subsidies and instead create a fund that will be directed towards preserving and preparing these key structures for the future? Focus on the areas that are expensive and problematic which deter the private developers – remove lead paint and asbestos, prevent water damage by sealing up roofs and windows, keep drains flowing and basements dry, and prevent scavengers from getting inside and stripping elements for scrap. Rather than letting the building sit dormant and slowly decay, make the investment to keep it usable for the future and more attractive to a developer who can focus on redeveloping it for current-day uses.

Everyone agrees that vacant, boarded up buildings have a negative impression on their area, so making sure there is a few of them as possible is an improvement to the entire community. A reinvestment plan like this makes the area more attractive to businesses, and will ultimately lower the cost of doing business by making buildings cheaper to rehab, thus lowering rent. It’s an investment in the city itself, which is what our tax dollars should be going towards.

It’s laughable to hear people say that the Statler it’s past it’s time. The Statler is nowhere near unsalvageable – it still had tenants in right up until it’s close. The Central Terminal has been largely vacant for 30 years. The Statler is a general-purpose building that can be easily adapted to a variety of purposes, unlike the Central Terminal’s purpose-built function which requires more imagination to adapt. And yes, the Statler is within spitting distance of the City Hall, not segregated a few miles away. I’ve read some comments from people saying a group like the CTRC should take over the Statler because we’ve done a commendable job with the Terminal, but volunteers are not what the Statler needs. If our group could get the Central Terminal back to the condition the Statler is in, that would be a success in itself. It’s the next phase of restoration that’s difficult and expensive and can’t be done simply by having dedicated people that love the project. Fixing the problems of the past to prepare for the future is where government can step in and do something tangible to help. Investing in your own property is something individuals and businesses alike can understand and regularly do, so we should be able to extend that philosophy to the public level.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Terminal

Earlier this week the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation announced changes to the Board of Directors, and I was part of them. I was elected to the Board, and as Treasurer. Mark Lewandowski, former VP and Treasurer, was elected President. Tony Bylewski was elected Vice-Chair. Sara Etten and Jeff Ingersoll, both former Board Members, were re-elected. The moves were made to ensure the continued stability of the group, which following Mike’s passing was down to only five Board Members.

It’s a bittersweet moment for me. I had previously applied for a Board position back in 2006, but was beat out by none other than Mark himself and Kate Resetarits, whose term ended earlier this year. Regardless of not getting on the Board, I continued working with the group, creating and fulfilling the roles of Media Relations Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator, and helping out with rebuilding the website. Last year, Mike moved into the President’s role after Russell’s departure, and Mark took on the VP position while still acting as Treasurer. It was clear earlier this year that Mark was quite overextended, and I offered to Mike and Mark to step in as Assistant Treasurer (Assistant to the Treasurer?). Since both were former Treasurers, I would have plenty of mentoring. Both thought it was a great idea and that I’d be able to pick up the role without any problem.

Then, things abruptly changed. Before I had time to get very far into the new job, Mike died. Mark was the logical choice to step up to become President, but that meant he could no longer legally hold the role of Treasurer. None of the other existing Board Members were particularly interested in the job, so I was asked to join the Board.

I’m already accustomed to keeping extensively detailed personal financial records, so the main challenge of taking on this role is learning QuickBooks. That’s where my IT background comes into play, and where Jeff’s experience as former Treasurer and owner of his own business will help.

So, how have things changed for me? Well, I’ve made more trips to the bank in the last two weeks for the CTRC than I have in a year in handling our personal finances. My [useful] email volume has probably doubled as I bounce a lot of questions and thoughts off the other Board Members. And, much to Amanda’s chagrin, I’ve certainly been spending more time at the Terminal lately and not with her.

The good news is that the CTRC is moving full steam ahead, now beginning work on a master plan for redevelopment ourselves, no longer waiting around for a developer to step up to the plate and take on the project. The loss of Mike, tragic as it was, did not derail our efforts in the slightest bit. Instead, we took it as a reminder that we need to get this project finished. As I said to Mark Sommer when he interviewed us for the Buffalo News article (he misattributed the quote to Tony, but no hard feelings, Mark 😉 ) we’ve always felt we had a responsibility to keep the Terminal around. Now, we also have the responsibility to finish this project for those who put so much effort into it and aren’t going to see it completed.

I’m happy to be an even bigger part of that effort.