Developer Sam Savarino is expected to apply for a demo permit for the Erie Freight House on Ohio Street this week if indeed Savarino needs to apply at all as the building has already been condemned. He is also fully expecting to be sued which will delay any demolition for months despite, by virtue of the condemnation, the City has already determined that the building is a threat to life and safety.
Demolition equipment has been moved to the site. "We had some particularly windy weather and we were afraid of a further collapse. Despite our efforts, people make their way into the building - neighborhood kids, thieves and some squatters from our observation," said Savarino.
"If more of this building collapses we will want to make sure that there is not anybody trapped inside. A lot of the floors are rotted away and the building is without light or power. If someone fell through we would probably need equipment to extricate them. At least two people where in the building when one our employees went inside to check on the building."
On October 11, 2012, Savarino sent a letter to the City of Buffalo regarding the status of the building. Here is that letter:
The circa-1868 Erie Freight House is a two-story heavy timber frame structure with 550 feet of Buffalo River frontage. The exterior of the Erie Freight House that used to be wood is now clad in rusted metal siding.
The Erie Freight House was not only in rough shape on the exterior, it was condemned because workers at Great Lakes Fibres workers tipped off inspectors about unsafe conditions inside the building. Sections of the building's roof, walls and floors have already collapsed. The City cited the previous owner, Great Lakes Paper Fibres, Corp., for 15 building and fire code violations in mid-2011.
Floor Collapsing into Crawl Space
Rotted Floor on Second Level
441 Ohio Street LLC, made up of Savarino and FFZ Holdings, agreed to purchase the property late last year after Great Lakes Fibers announced plans to move to Cheektowaga. The future owners did not have specific plans for the property and were open to reusing the building, in whole or in part, if it was all economically feasible to do so.
When word got out that the building was under contract, preservationists and others scrambled to secure landmark designation for the property fearing for the building's future. In less than two months the Common Council approved the designation on January 10, 2012 without support from the pending owners.
441 Ohio Street LLC purchased the property for $225,000 on March 12 from Great Lakes Paper Fibres. The City immediately pushed the new owners to fence off the building and immediately formulate a plan for the property. At the same time the City requested the owners promptly engage professionals to make an assessment of the property and to provide a preliminary determination on future use of the site.
Architectural firm Chaintreuil Jensen Stark studied all reasonable uses for the property including rehabilitation of the existing building. Tredo Engineers was engaged to provide an independent third party engineering analysis of the structural condition of the building. It was concluded by both CJS and Tredo that the structure is unsafe and unsound and the historical integrity of the building has been compromised by prior renovations. Reusing the building was not deemed to be economically feasible.
Savarino has been considering a revised residential plan for the site. The original proposal
called a four-story, 48 unit residential buidling with public access to the Buffalo River to be built upon the remaining foundations of the former warehouse.
Savarino has tasked Stark and Tredo to consider a revised site plan with two four-story buildings adjacent to a section of the original Freight House timber framing that would be left in place and restored. Instead of 48 two-bedroom units, the new plan offers 64 units, an equal number of one and two-bedroom units within the same the same floor area and height originally envisioned.
The intent, according to Savarino, is to leave as many trusses as they can in situ to serve as a substantive relic of the former freight house building. The area underneath the trusses/framework would serve as open area for building tenants. An adjacent wharf would provide public access to the water. Interpretive signage would be added that would match signage used elsewhere in the district.
Sam Savarino fully expects a lawsuit will be filed to block the demolition.
"We will continue to investigate whether or not it is feasible to restore and incorporate some of the remnants of the Erie Freight House as part of our redevelopment plan," said Savarino. "We will not demolish the structure without engaging in further dialogue about saving what can feasibly be saved from the remains of the structure. At the same time we want to state unequivocally that we will not allow ourselves to be cowed by those who want to hector public officials, ventilate spurious and unworkable plans
and otherwise strive to use the landmark designation as a tool to wrest control of the property so that they can redevelop it for their own gain. It would not be fair to us nor would it be fair to the community to succumb to these tactics. It would only delay the reckoning with the public safety concerns and hinder redevelopment of the property. "
"The building is in danger of further collapse. It was condemned by the City before we contracted for its purchase and before its being designated as a local landmark. The building's potential as a threat to public safety is not mere rhetoric. It is a matter of record based upon several visits from City inspectors going back to last year; furthermore we engaged an architect and a structural engineer to assess the condition of the remains of the structure. Both concluded the building was historically compromised by prior renovations, that it was not feasible to restore of the structure, that the building was not structurally sound and that it was indeed a danger to public safety. Even an independent opinion from Preservation Buffalo Niagara did not take issue with these structural assessments."