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More 311 Genesee: Neighborhood in Waiting

In cooperation with WCP and Rachacha

Since we broke the story of the potentially imminent demolition of this 19th century commercial building on Buffalo’s near east side, BRO writer Rachacha has dug around to find out a little more on the subject.  He reports from the August 13th preservation board meeting:

 “They were very flummoxed about what’s happening with 311 Genesee (the building subject to emergency demolition). Harvey [Garret, of West Side Community Collaborative and Buffalo ReUse] found out that the owner of 311 Genesee owns a cluster of properties on that block, on both sides of Genesee (including a large building opposite).  Much was made of the fact that the building had an emergency demo permit granted in January [by City without the board’s knowledge or input], and clearly there was no emergency, and also the fact that someone authorized bypassing the preservation board. That’s only supposed to be done in the case of emergency demolition.  In fact, someone mentioned that in another case, the judge ordered the preservation board to be notified, saying, “What do you mean you can’t notify them?  The building’s standing, isn’t it?”  

Tim [Tielman, of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo] noted that if it was such an emergency, why hadn’t the City put up any orange fencing to protect the public?  He also said that the “Hansen system” that City real estate uses seems to have a check mark that allows circumvention of preservation board review.  The board chair, Paul McDonnell, said that 311 Genesee “seems to be an effort to circumvent preservation board review.”

One board member noted the strong potential viability of the properties, saying that the buildings in that area aren’t just a collection of deteriorating buildings whose owners are long gone, and suggested that common ownership of several of the buildings in the area could especially suggest strong potential for redevelopment there. The board voted to draft a letter to the administration asking for an explanation of why this demo isn’t before the board, and also explicitly suggesting review of this property before demolition.”

I have included here an updated slide show of the 311 Genesee neighborhood with pictures supplied by West Coast Perspective. They are a ragtag lot of structures. But even in a degraded state with so much of the urban context removed, their great potential is clear.  It seems so absurd to me that there is not plan to save these valuable and irreplaceable buildings.  Less than a mile away, the city is planning what amounts to a contrived, historically themed canal side village in order to provide background and context to the re-watered Erie Canal slip.  Ironically, preservationists fought, rightly, to unearth and re-water the original Erie Canal structure, rather than build a replication of it.  

Here on Genesee Street we have the real thing in these buildings, and yet we see no value in them.  As I noted in the first post, this is not far from downtown and very close to several other ongoing and future historic building renovation projects. I understand the challenges involved in keeping these buildings. Many people see buildings in decrepit condition like this and only see crime.  This neighborhood is associated with poverty, and this formerly vibrant commercial strip has been split off from the main part of downtown by roads designed for easy suburban commutes.  However, These buildings are the very thing that Buffalo has that many places don’t. Suburbanizing the city is not the path to renaissance. We should not be in such a rush to make Buffalo into a second rate Cheektowaga.  Instead of investing in a new round of sparsely sited plastic-coated suburban style houses, why not invest in restoring this strip of buildings?  Let’s start by stopping any demolitions unless there is a real danger.

(A word about the music accompanying the slide show–the song seemed appropriate to this subject and is a great version of the famous Erie Canal song as played by Dan Zanes and Friends. Dan Zanes was with the 80’s group the Del Fuegos.  Recently he has been concentrating on folk-oriented children’s (family) music.  If you are a parent, get your kid hooked on Dan Zanes and Friends.  It will save your sanity.)

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