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ReUse: The Perfect Storm

It’s safe to say that Buffalo ReUse (BRU) is an entity that has seen its share of upheavals in recent weeks.
As a result, benefactors of BRU, the John R. Oishei Foundation, have taken some heat concerning the origins of a building at 635 South Park being offered to BRU through Oishei. Specifically, suspicions were raised among ReUse members about the relationship between Oishei and Daniel Black of Jamestown, NY, owner of the building.  These allegations grew from individuals in the membership who felt that any talk of moving BRU to Buffalo’s 1st Ward, rather than the portion of the East Side BRU has primarily dedicated itself to, is counter to BRU’s original mission.  
Add to this the fact that news of the building came on the heels of interim CEO Harvey Garrett’s firing of BRU’s founder, Michael Gainer on August 17th, and the result is a perfect storm that has created divisive public controversy on many separate issues within BRU.

The first thing Black has to say is that he met Oishei’s Paul Hogan 2 years ago at a community foundation meeting at the Chautauqua Institute, when Black sat on the board of the Chautauqua Community Foundation and Hogan gave a presentation about Oishei.  “I immediately introduced myself after the meeting, thinking that Hogan could find me the right non-profit to take ownership of the building because I’m not from Buffalo and I don’t have Buffalo connections,” Black said. “No one is trying to shove this building down anyone’s throat.”

He went on to say that he had already been working with the Buffalo Community Foundation, but as they hadn’t found him a recipient for the building, he thought Oishei might find the right fit.  Though Black said he couldn’t say for sure if BRU was the first organization introduced to him by Hogan, he said, “It was the first one that made sense.”  Saying he’s “not interested in engaging in turf battles,” Black said he immediately felt BRU was “an organization with a good, solid purpose.”
Black said he purchased the building in 1998 and that the United Way used it as a temporary facility while their new headquarters was being built.  Black also said the site has been home to a hardware store, a power and light company and Gibralter Steel, but never a foundry.  However, Beals, McCarthy & Rogers, who occupied the property at one time was a steelmaker/manufacturer according to the Steel Plant Museum in Lackawana, NY.

When asked if he had refused to allow a prior party who was interested in purchasing the building (for $1 million in the early 2000’s) bore on the property, Black said that was true.  He also said that he sued to release the contract from the potential buyer because “they locked up the property for too long.”
Black said that subsequent to his meeting Hogan, they spoke on the phone “maybe 6 times.” He also said that he met Hogan at the site early last spring, and that Garrett was at that meeting.  Black went through his business cards on the other end of the phone and came up with Hogan’s, and one from Garrett that he said was a generic ReUse card, with Garret’s personal information handwritten on it.  “I don’t remember [Garrett’s] role at the time,” Black said, “but I thought him to be a consultant, helping out, taking this to the next level.”
Asked if he would let any recipient of the building bore on the property prior to taking ownership to assess whether there was contamination, Black said no, but that so far, interest in the building hasn’t gone that far.  “They can do anything they want to after it’s theirs,” he said.  “We just want to see the building go into the right hands.  It’s going to last 1,000 years”
According to Bob Biniskiewicz of Pyramid Brokerage, Black had said at the time of the prior listing that he felt one might turn up ‘something anywhere they drill in Buffalo.'” Deeds show that the building passed from Black’s company, Blackstone Business Enterprises to Black in May of 2003, then from Black to R. J. Gullo Properties #1 Inc., in April of 2006, then from Gullo to Black in March of 2007.
Black ended his conversation saying, “With rumors of environmental disasters, life becomes political as opposed to practical.  The Lipkes [of Gibralter Steel] went there every day.  They only moved when they wanted more opulent, palatial headquarters like so many of their peers.”
Still, according to Black, the assessment of possible contaminants would only be allowed after the building was accepted.  To others, the likelihood of contaminants where there was a power plant, foundry and hardware store (prior to leaded paint restrictions), is high.
A local environmental attorney we spoke with feels that if there are contaminants, taking ownership of the building could be costly to any organization.  He also noted that when an organization has the wherewithal to take on such an endeavor, the results are a great benefit to the area, such as with the many brownfield sites and the new BlueCross BlueShield building in downtown Buffalo.  “There are incentives to take these projects on,” he said, “but I most often advise clients not to.”
Executive Director of the John. R. Oishei Foundation Robert Gioia, who has never met Black, by both their accounts, said that Oishei’s only interest in the possible procurement of the building for Buffalo ReUse comes from nothing more than “connecting well-intentioned individuals.  This is Buffalo; no one accepts something for nothing without knowing what they’re getting into.”  Gioia went on to say that Oishei’s due is to help all parties reach a reasonable decision.  He says that Oishei has not expended any money in the due diligence process, and that all of the final decisions will be board decisions.
“We’re trying to help a start-up with a lot to learn on governance issues,” Gioia said.  He also said he feels Oishei has spent too much time on the subject matter already, and that the board will decide about the building “through good governance.  We don’t want input into the decision.”
As for the placement of Garrett as CEO, Gioia said, “We suggested someone be brought in.  If I recall, Harvey was reluctant, but it was clear that the organization needed adult supervision – there were issues that needed guidance.  My recollection is that Harvey’s name came up, and Michael and everyone else agreed.  Some organizations and boards mature and are well managed, while others are…young.”
As for the possibility that the ReUse membership would move to overthrow the board, Gioia reiterated that he thought in would be a serious mistake, causing “damage to the organization’s viability and integrity. We would have to reevaluate our position,” he said “because the one key issue is governance.  We’ve been very patient, all well-intended.”
As for not making more specific statements about Gainer’s gaffs as CEO of Buffalo ReUse, Gioai said, “I’m not going to say anything about Michael; I have too much regard for him, but if this were the private sector it would have resulted in termination  Our hope is that all parties are able to hash this through, but we don’t play a roll in the process.”  He added that  ReUse is too important for our community and that the inspirational, passionate endeavor that Gainer started needs to be preserved.  “Wh
at’s best for the organization?” he asked.
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