Buffalo Rising first reported about Ellicott Development's request to demolish
almost all of the houses currently standing on a small dead end street called St. Paul Mall which starts at Main Street just north of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. An earlier post also documented Ellicott Development's request to demolish the much larger Our Lady of Lourdes Rectory which is also on St. Paul facing Main Street. That proposal was floated while Ellicott founder Carl Paladino was still running for governor and was quickly retracted after the BRO story appeared. Ellicott has amassed a large group of properties in this area including the Lourdes church which Paladino says will not be demolished. The earlier BRO story states that there were several properties on St. Paul which were not owned by Ellicott. Reports are the the company now owns all the houses on the street.
St. Paul Mall is an interesting early attempt at redeveloping the city in a way other than the (then popular) 'clear cut and wait' type urban renewal which has negatively impacted much of downtown - it started in the 1950's. This intact east side street was renovated in whole (every house at one time). In a popular and somewhat bland 70's design style, the street was given a unified appearance with street-scape elements, color, and architectural detail. I am digging around looking for some press clippings from the time and will post more history if I ever find some. The street stayed intact for 3 decades but was not a resounding success mostly because there was never any follow through. It was an isolated neighborhood surrounded by disinvestment. When the city planners demolish neighborhoods they follow through and level everything. When they invest in historic neighborhoods they do it piecemeal, pretty much asking for failure. Even so it was a successful experiment in that this street still stands when almost everything around it is gone - at least for now.
Although Ellicott Development states that they have plans for the Lourdes church and the surrounding land they have not released any project details. According to the previous BRO story Ellicott wanted to demolish the 10 houses to save on their tax bill until the site is developed (or 15 plus the rectory if they do own the remaining houses).
From Buffalo rising:
According to William Paladino, Chief Executive Officer of Ellicott Development, the company does not have immediate plans for the properties.
"These houses are not the highest and best use of that site," says Paladino.
According to Paladino, the structures are not in good condition and knocking them down will reduce the company's tax bill. The Preservation Board was told taxes are approximately $610/year for each of the properties.
Ellicott Development bought the Our Lady of Lourdes convent and school from Prayer & Praise Fellowships Inc. in 2009 for $370,000. A year later, the circa-1898 church at 1115 Main Street was purchased for $40,000. It closed in 1993.
Paladino says that his company plans to eventually redevelop the Our Land of Lourdes complex and notes the "church is staying." He says his company has no specific plans for the property at this point and that it is "on the back burner" as Ellicott now has a "full plate" with a number of other projects underway or starting soon.
It is my understanding that the Preservation Board tabled the demolition request but as of last week the houses were being stripped of their siding revealing 100 year old sheathing exposed to the weather (the sheathing looks to be in excellent condition).
Based on Ellicott's recent statements on their plans for the street, this work is likely preparation for demolition. Does this mean that Ellicott is land banking this street? Are they getting rid of the burden of the buildings so that they can sit and hold the land indefinitely in the hope that they can turn a future profit. Certainly they are entitled to a profit on their investments but is it reasonable to ask the residents of the city of Buffalo to be held up waiting for this unidentified future that may or may not benefit them? Buying and holding with minimal to no investment in property has been a common business practice in Buffalo resulting in many rotting buildings and empty lots. This practice drains value form neighboring properties and reduces revenue to the city. Is buying land to clear and hold for unspecified future development a new form of this practice? In my opinion The City makes a grave mistake by allowing this kind practice. This street should not be demolished absent a real plan for higher and better use. Demolition for lower taxes? Really? Let's hope that is not the real reason Ellicott wants these buildings gone.
Images via Bernice Radle