The Public Bridge Authority took down eight homes along Busti Avenue yesterday after a restraining order
blocking the demos was lifted by Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy late Friday. The homes between Vermont Avenue and Rhode Island Street were removed to accommodate an expanded bridge plaza that will expedite pass-through truck traffic and allow for a larger Duty Free Shop. This is what passes for progress in Buffalo.
Three of the houses demo'd were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, including the locally landmarked Samuel Wilkeson House (below). It was an excellent example of the Tuscan Villa style and was home to Colonel Samuel Henry Wilkeson (grandson of Judge Samuel Wilkeson, the most significant of Buffalo's founding fathers). The house at 771 Busti was the last physical link to the Wilkesons in Buffalo.
From the Niagara Gateway Columbus Park Association:
We're very disappointed that Judge McCarthy's decision came on a Friday giving us no opportunity to take additional action.
Just last week the Governor's own appointed SAGE Commission recommended that more studies about merging the Public Bridge Authority and the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission are needed.
Why the rush to demolish Busti Row the day after the court's ruling? Discussions with the DOT are underway to remove the Sky Way and portions of the Robert Moses Expressway. Why would the Governor's top economic development appointee Sam Hoyt ignore the trends to remove transportation mistakes to begin another without public input?
Obviously, the intentions of the PBA are not what's best for the community, historic preservation or the city of Buffalo but solely self-serving. It's a thin veil over what they really intend to do - expand the plaza across Busti avenue then acquire and demolish the Episcopal Church Home to build a new Duty Free Store. Segmenting their plans one step at a time is a legal maneuver to evade environmental regulations.
The WNY community should be extremely alarmed and outraged that an international entity under no obligation to serve Buffalo's interests is allowed to buy any historic property in our city, let it go to seed, and then destroy it, virtually without limitation.
The larger issue is what has the PBA actually won? Gutting a community's heritage is a hollow victory that benefits no one but the authority. It does however demonstrate how disconnected they are from what other developers are eagerly doing to revitalize historic city properties. Developments that create good paying jobs and promote sustainable economic growth for Buffalo.
The Public Bridge Authority continues to operate as a 20th century Robert Moses prototype that forces Buffalo to relive past transportation mistakes for the next 100 years. Elected officials should be working together to remove transportation barriers that impede the growth of livable waterfront communities because that's really what city residents want.
Above photo by Becky Harbison