With demand for authentic loft living at an all-time high, and developers announcing projects monthly, one of downtownis landmarks languishes. The five-story, 45,000 sq.ft. J.A. Webb Building, built in 1878, has been sitting vacant at 92 Pearl Street since 1988. The irony? It is owned by own of Buffalois most prolific developers.
Carl Paladino, owner of Ellicott Development and 1.5 million sq.ft. of downtown commercial space, has owned the Webb Building since late 1993. In 1997, Paladino requested permission from the Buffalo Preservation Board to demolish the building and use the site for parking. At the time, the Board was sent an unsigned letter alleging that windows had been deliberately removed from the building in an attempt to cause structural damage and thereby strengthening a case for demolition. The Board rejected the demolition plan despite Paladinois plea that it could not be saved.
At the time, Paladino promised the Preservation Board to keep the building intact while they try to find gap money to do a residential or office rehabilitation. He claims to have sealed the roof, boarded it and kept the building safe. Evidently gap money hasnit been found and despite a surging residential market downtown, where Paladino says there is a “pent-up demand for quality downtown housing,” the numbers still do not pencil out for Paladino to undertake a renovation project on lower Pearl Street.
While Paladino should be commended for taking on the University Club and L.L. Berger building renovations, expanding the Pleu Building on Delaware Avenue, and being a great steward of the Ellicott Square and other landmark commercial buildings, he has built up a lengthy list of announced projects that havenit gotten off the ground. Paladino has been promising an ’eminent start’ on his proposed 11-story McGuire Office Building at 50 Court Street for two years now. A similar situation exists in Niagara Falls where he has long proposed a renovation of the United Office Building into apartments. Work came to an abrupt halt at his planned renovation conversion of the Greystone Hotel on Johnson Park after a worker was hurt gutting the building. Paladino also has substantial holdings in the Cobblestone District including the H&O Oats and Coffee Rich warehouses where he was promising residential conversion but now has dealt most of the property to the Seneca Nation for an alternate casino site. Only recently has he announced a renovation project for the Courtyard Mall and Baker Shoe Buildings in the 400 block of Main Street, both vacant and owned by Paladino since 1995 and 2002 respectively.
Despite substantial holdings that would keep most developers occupied for years to come, the City recently designed Ellicott Development as preferred developer of five vacant acres in Waterfront Village. He plans a follow-up to the eight townhouses that he built and sold at Lakefront Commons in 2004. 121 units of condos, townhouses and apartments are planned for the lot adjacent to Admiralis Walk, some priced north of $500,000.
As the Paladino real estate portfolio expands, and he brings other projects to the market to meet a steady interest in downtown living, the Webb Building silently waits for new life.