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Demolition of Bethlehem Steel Administration Building Halted

This post originally appeared on Views of Buffalo

The Bethlehem Steel Administration building got a temporary
reprieve from demolition yesterday as preservationists have been publically advocating
for the reuse of the historic structure. During the City Hall meeting in Lackawanna
this past Tuesday, concerned citizens and preservationists were stonewalled during
the meeting. The demolition of the building was not on the official agenda and
as a result the group was told anyone who spoke out of turn would be held in

Romaine Lillis, a longtime resident and member of the Lackawanna
Historical Society, decided to speak about the demolition at the meeting regardless
of the threat. Although Lillis was promptly shut down she was able to make her
point, “That building should remain for us. It should be an icon for this city,
stop this nonsense.” Lackawanna has does not have a Preservation Board or even
a preservation ordinance for that matter, which complicates trying to halt the
demolition of historic buildings.
The issue of the demolition was not on the agenda because it
needed to be submitted the prior week by Wednesday. News of the demolition came
to light last Thursday and the City was unwilling to make an exception for the
meeting. Further complicating the issue was the fact that the City only meets
every two weeks and demo equipment was already on site ready to go.
Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski wasn’t present during the meeting,
but had the following to offer yesterday. “I am tired of hearing about our
glorious past. I think preservation societies are only trying to preserve what
once was as opposed to moving our region in a positive direction.” Apparently
Szymanski has “no use for the building or for those who want to preserve it”
because it has been “unsafe, unused, and unwanted for thirty years.” While the
building has been unused for nearly three decades, there doesn’t seem to be any
evidence of code enforcement during that time to ensure deterioration didn’t occur;
it didn’t get in this condition overnight.

There have been countless projects throughout Western New
York that have utilized historic tax credits for rehabilitation work. Buildings
like the Hotel Lafayette and the soon to be redeveloped Tishman building to
name a few. The Lafayette was left for dead not long ago and now will become a
downtown destination. The Administration building is one the last ornate and
beautiful buildings on Western New York’s waterfront and could become a
destination drawing people to our shared asset.

Demolition of the building is becoming less feasible for the
owners, Gateway Trade Center, who were counting on half a million dollars in
Restore NY funds, which cannot be used for demolition. The money was slated for
an adaptive study or the rehabilitation of the property. Regardless of this,
the City of Lackawanna is putting pressure on Gateway to proceed with the
The meeting this week at City Hall also brought to light
what may go on the site after demolition; a warehouse. A letter from 2009
states, “the demolition of this building will allow us to have the opportunity
to build a state of the art warehouse or manufacturing facility, where a vacant
building once stood.” The letter was addressed to former mayor, Mayor Polanski
and came from the project manager of Gateway Trade Center, Patricia Schreiber.

It seems this beaux-arts beauty of “our glorious past” would
likely be sent to the landfill in favor of a warehouse. The hope being that we
can finally move “our region in a positive direction.” Now that demolition has
been temporarily halted there is an opportunity to begin developing an adaptive
reuse study to determine if rehabilitation is feasible.

Once again, a very special thanks to David Torke of fixBuffalo for his images (entry image is from the Lackawanna Steel Museum web site) and hard work in trying to save this iconic structure. For addition photos and a copy of the letter mentioned above, check out his Flickr page, fixBuffalo

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  1. This is a sign from God. I’m going to say it one more time: Giambra Waterfront Indoor Theme Park! Let’s not screw this up! Amirite?

  2. How can a mayor with virtually no uncontaminated, clear land in his city embrace this kind of development and not reuse as a model. Doesn’t he understand that a previously undeveloped parcel in Lancaster or insert other town here will always win out against his town in the new and cheaper is better game?

  3. Here is an outline from the grant writer regarding the Restore NY Grant allocation to Lackawanna:
    City of Lackawanna – City of Lackawanna Redevelopment Plan
    Grant Total: $800,000
    The City of Lackawanna is requesting funding for a comprehensive revitalization project that will fulfill the goals of its citywide redevelopment plan. All actions are integral to the redevelopment of business and housing sites at the most visible locations within the City. Efforts to immediately improve commercial and residential property include: Asbestos abatement of the 96,100 square foot vacant Bethlehem Steel office building which will be evaluated for potential re-use. In addition, assistance to Catholic Health Systems for the Our Lady of Victory (OLV) Senior Complex will enable them to complete the final and most visible phase of construction, a new entrance and commercial space.
    If you read through the Restore NY grant application, the funds can be utilized for demolition. The crux is whether there may be an documents between Gateway and SHPO that involved consultation regarding the historic building and if there was an MOA that indicated that the funds would be utilized for a non-demolition scope of work.

  4. You gotta be effing kidding me. Geoff Szymanski is a TURD! And who spells their name Geoffrey, really??????
    “I am tired of hearing about our glorious past.” You elected this guy, Lackawanna??? Gee, I can’t figure out how you haven’t been able to climb out of your slump for the past 4 decades.

  5. RestoreNY funding could indeed be used for demolitions — and entirely too much of it was. But in general, you can’t use State funding to demolish buildings either on, or eligible for, the State and National Historic Registers.

  6. I’m confused about how the demolition was halted. Who halted it? The owner? The mayor? It doesn’t sound like anyone in power has any interest in saving this building, so then who halted the demolition and why?

  7. It looks as if Gateway wants to demolish the building to put up a warehouse. They’ve been lobbying to use some RestoreNY funding, about $500,000, to aid in taking the building down.
    Seems like the funding is in question, because the proper steps haven’t been followed.
    In what could be an economic low for the community, there doesn’t seem to be the money to mothball it, rehab it, or tear it down.
    Hopefully preservationists will have the forsight/energy to back a candidate that will defeat the current mayor next time he comes up for reelection. He won his last primary by only one vote.

  8. I say save it. Close up the windows, patch job the roof etc. Maybe one of the companies who is planning on locating across the way in the industrial park will want it? I wonder why the City can’t just take the building and sell it as they please? I’m sure that company no longer pays taxes on it?

  9. But weren’t they already aware of that before the demolition prep work began? I thought they knew they weren’t going to get additional funds for demolition but the mayor was pushing them to demolish it regardless of state funding.
    After reading the quotes made by the mayor, he sounds like someone that would head out there with a pickaxe and tear it down himself if nobody else will… like some sort of personal hatred for any building nicer than a tin shed.

  10. When I took a tour of this property with the property manager, she said they’ve been trying to give the building away for $1 to any interested party, so as to remove themselves from any issues of liability. Not sure if that offer is still on the table. She also said they’ve allowed other organizations to come in an remove (pillage?) architecturally significant portions of the interior (lights, banisters, etc.).

  11. There are a couple of documents on the site that show correspondence going back and forth on May 16, 2012.
    Completely my thinking here…but it looks as if they thought they might be able to sneak this through. The email from Elizabeth Martin was probably the first time Gateway, Empire Dismantlement, or the mayor had heard anyone say, ‘you can’t use this money for tearing down that building.’

  12. If they can actually save this thing make it the clubhouse for a links-style course. 36-holes built like Whistling Straits in Wisconsin (look it up). I’m pretty sure that a golf course was a Giambra idea at one time as well.
    This is an idea floated by another commenter, but I loved it. This may be too out of reach to save, but if they can, I think it would make for a glorious clubhouse. Just my .02

  13. Would seem that taking down the addition on the back, and mothballing the original structure would be a reasonable compromise. That addition to the back most likely protected the more architecturally significant portion of the building from 30 years of weather.

  14. This is great news!
    Shit, is that one dollar still on the table!? I’ll buy it, have some concerts/shows in it, and use the money to properly fix it up! That method worked for the Terminal!
    For real, who’s the poc for the building?

  15. hmmm, it’s not like your called Jim. The word Turd? Really? As to the slump it’s the same one our fair city has been in for 40 years and is just now ever so slowly climbing out of. Crocs to tight again?

  16. you’re
    Crocs? What does that even mean? You’re calling me a hippy? Is that the best you have? My hair cut is a high-and-tight and I was a military officer in a combat-arms branch and you’re calling me a hippy? Go ahead. At least my hippy ass is educated enough to spell.

  17. Buffalo News:
    … the City of Lackawanna is now taking the building’s owner, Gateway Trade Center to court again, on June 21 for not moving quickly enough to demolish the building.
    “The building had a stay of execution, so to speak,” said Joseph LaRaiso, Gateway’s executive vice president. “If the city backs off, we can back off, but they’re not from what I can understand.”
    LaRaiso said demolition could still begin before the June 21 court date. “We’re probably a week or two from restarting demolition,” LaRaiso said. “I don’t want to be found in contempt of court again.”

  18. What do you do when you have a private company that wants to legally tear down a building on their property and a Mayor who openly and overwhelmingly supports this knowing full well that most, if not all opposed live outside the 14218 zip code?
    How do you convince anyone with authority in the matter to save it, mothball or sell it? Any suggestions or realistic solutions? Is Gateway willing to sell right now? Or do the “need” that particular plot of land for their new warehouse?
    Technically, removing a vacant building for expansion of a tax paying business is good for the economy in Lackawanna. However this particular vacant building is worth saving. This is a really sticky situation.

  19. i know, ten people buy it for a dollar[10 cents each] then each chip in 100 k [= 1,000,000.00] then with that money and 10 peoples hard work and labor it can be saved ! but i dont know 9 more of me !!!!

  20. Agree with your conclusion, with slight modification. I’m not sure the company would knock it down if not for the court order telling them to do so.
    If pressure were to be applied, I think it’s focus would be on the mayor, not so much the owner of the property.

  21. What did they obstruct? An idea, a plan, change, movement. And other one refers to another building that could have been replaced so this area can look “new” and fresh.
    That building has set empty for years and no one said a thing about what should be done with it. Someone has a plan for it and all of a sudden, some skinny jeaned wearing hipsters, with their PBR tall boys and skateboards come along and say “You can’t knock that down we can use it!”
    Like my elderly grandmother when I was cleaning out her garage for the sale of her home. “Grandma, I am going to throw out this paint stirrer stick that says Pratt and Lambert on it.” “No, I can use that!”
    Good grief. If I had a bazooka, I’d drive out to Lake Erie, get on a boat, named the SS Jimmy Griffin and pull the trigger until it goes click.

  22. just a canal side idea. have they considered the idea of using water/land boats. like a lighter less industrious version of what they do in boston.
    of course the canals are not built for those kind of tanks. just a unique idea to incorporate to get people to see the city.

  23. I’d rather look at that empty, gorgeous building than something “new” and fresh. I don’t wear skinny jeans, own a skateboard, or consider myself a hipster and I’ve been on the obstructionist side.
    For the record, I give all beers a fair chance.

  24. Between this building and the whole Trico charade, I get the feeling people are confused as to the meaning of the word progress. Or perhaps just a misuse.
    I feel really bad if the supporters of demolition simply don’t see the beauty of this building as enough reason to save it, no matter what condition. It’s almost like the kid in Polar Express that can’t hear the ringing.

  25. I agree. At first I was like meh, it’s been vacant for 30 years and there’s no money to fix it. When I think about it though, the thing is probably the best and most beautiful monument to our industrial history. When I picture the thing fixed up and the front yard done to a t, it’s a no brainier. Save it.

  26. The facade of the building would be a cool gateway for something like a concert venue. Put Darien Lake out of business and bring the shows closer to the border and closer to the city.

  27. “Put Darien Lake out of business and bring the shows closer to the border and closer to the city.” Not necessary. An outdoor concert venue in the city could coexist with Darien Lake. Proposing putting Darien Lake out of business is narrow minded and unrealistic.

  28. Ever been to the Molson Ampitheater in Toronto? That location is money. Not to mention Darien’s ampitheater blows. I’m not even talking about comparing it to a place like SPAC. It’s just a bad place to see a show.

  29. A question, and it’s only out of curiosity –
    Are any of the anti-demo people using this extra delay that makes them so happy to try seriously organizing a non-profit group to make the $1 purchase offer in a serious way, and start serious plans to raise donated funds for a mothballing effort, and figuring out how much insurance would really be needed for a group like that to own the building at least a few years, and making lists of serious cleanup volunteers, etc?
    (The Central Terminal group might be able to offer good advice on all that.)
    Or is it still business as usual of continuing only with only talk, blogging, Facebooking, and sign carrying?
    (not that there’s anything wrong with those, of course)

  30. What great, uplifting development is replacing this grand old lady? I’m no Ur-Preservationist: I would knock down the Taj Mahal if something appropriately amazing and transformative was GUARANTEED to take its place. So all I ask is what do we lose this old gem for? A yard? There’s time enough to find ways to save the building. All that is needed is to simply bust up a bad deal between a neglectful property owner and a negligent Mayor.

  31. I read the Buff News article after my post here which had a little more insight. I agree the Mayor seems to be more of the agressor here. This building is been sitting in its current state for years and it makes me wonder why now is it such a concern for the Mayor? I can understand the owner wanting to demo it, it’s their property and perfectly legal (though I do not want them to), but why is the Mayor so hell bent on it?
    I think he’s being spiteful to the preservationists he openly despises that want to save it out of ignorance. Not all preservationists are blow hards who just tell others what to do with their money, some are spending tens of millions on buildings like this. Does he not realize that people like Termini, Croce and even Paladino are preservationists with deep pockets? If termini wanted to buy it and restore it would he feel the same way?
    Then there’s the small scale folks like me who have restored old homes. I’ve even done one in Lackawanna! The Mayor should tread lightly on what he says regarding preservation if he ever wants to see the same investment in his city as Buffalo is seeing right now.

  32. I didn’t make that original suggestion but I don’t disagree with the idea. I just think it can coexist with Darien Lake. Contaminated industrial sites can be remdiated.

  33. I share your point of you, and history of doing smaller rehabs.
    As ‘whatever’ points out below, sometimes there’s a bit too much opining, and not enough doing (on this site). It’s not enough to point out the architectural features of a building, and think someone like the mayor is going to have an epiphany.
    Real action either puts up the money, or persuades those individuals in the terms their used to thinking (votes for the mayor), profit/loss for a business.
    For now, this project is too big for me. Hopefully a similar sized project in the not too distant future would be possible for the group I’m currently working with.

  34. Same here, I posted on Artvoice Daily about this same subject, not all preservationists are just talk, many of us have a solid track record and have invested our time, energy and money into the effort. Most preservationists are not in the news or on television but are working quietly behind the scenes to improve our city and neighborhoods. The critics fail to see or refuse to acknowledge this fact.

  35. sony, as to what (if anything) will next be built on the site if demo happens, to them that doesn’t sound like relevant part of why they’re pushing for demo. I get it that it’s part of your concern.
    However, in a way that lack of wanting to replace it with something specific could be helpful to the other side who wants it saved longer – but I’d guess something beyond talk-protest would be needed to change the decision of Lackawanna’s city govt.
    That’s why if now some new or existing non-profit group would make a serious offer to own the building (similar to Central Terminal group) and try raising donated $ for mothballing, it’s at least possible that action could help convince Lackawanna officials to stop pushing for a fast demo.
    On the other hand, perhaps lack of any such action or public offer from protesting groups is saying something too.

  36. I fully agree. Someone needs to step up here and not just chain themselves to a tree but give Lackawanna a compelling reason to stop the demo. And that takes money. Wendt Foundation? Funny, all their old shills are here but where’s the leadership? You don’t even need the full amount to buy the site from the owner. Rent the damn site while plans and fundraising gel. They just want money from a non-performing asset. So put up.
    BTW, so long as this beleaguered Beaux Arts beauty still stands, I’ll defend its right to exist. My perogative. 🙂

  37. For as many times as I driven past the the place, I never really looked at it all that much until this planned demolition was announced. It seems to me that there might be something said about preserving the facade. It looks like the beaux arts part of it is not much more than a facade. That large, boxy addition on the rear seems to have consumed a large portion of the original building.
    Frankly, I do like this building and think it would be a shame to tear it down. I suppose it is likely to be a huge logistical and financial mess to ever be able to reuse it however. But that being said, what is the sudden rush to tear the thing down? It has been sitting there for 30 + years falling apart. What makes this thing now a serious enough of a problem that Lackawanna wants to bring the hammer down on Gateway, which in turn would force them to demolish the building? It’s not like the whole area isn’t full of decrepit vacant industrial buildings, why is this one being singled out while numerous other buildings in far worse shape and as dangerous, if not more, are being allowed to stand?

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