The skyline view entering downtown from the Kensington Expressway is in for a transformation. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is indeed planning to demolish all or a portion of the six-story former Trico building located at the corner of Goodell and Ellicott streets. While the worst-case scenario from a hardline preservationist point of view is complete removal, BNMC officials have agreed to continue to meet with the local preservation community to explore reuse of at least portions of the complex.
“We are committed to continue to work with the preservation roundtable to come up with a project that makes sense and both sides can live with,” says President & CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Matt Enstice.
BNMC initial plans called for saving only the oldest portion of the facility, a Medina sandstone structure which was used in the 1890s as an icehouse for the Christian Weyand Brewing Company (image below), and redeveloping the balance of property for expansion of the BNMC’s adjacent Innovation Center. The Innovation Center was developed by the BNMC in 2010 out of a portion of the former Trico facility and is currently used as office and research space.
Says Enstice, “The idea was that I would sit down, go talk to all of the preservationists that I knew and say look, I’m just giving you a heads-up, here’s what’s about to happen, do you have any thoughts?”
Preservationists asked BNMC to delay submitting plans for demolition to allow exploration of reuse options. BNMC was prepared to apply to the City to demolish the complex but was convinced to share the studies and reports and have further discussions about options other than complete demolition with the preservation community.
Officials from Preservation Buffalo Niagara, members of Campaign for Greater Buffalo and others with preservation, architectural, engineering and redevelopment experience met to look at the structural and environmental reports and toured the building. The effort was led by Harvey Garrett.
“What we started doing is giving every piece of data we had so the structural analysis, the environmentals that we had, the building floorplates, walkthroughs, you want access, you got access,” says Enstice. “Whatever you want, you can have, we gave all that information over trying to be as transparent as possible.”
The understanding was the information shared with the preservation roundtable wasn’t to be shared with the media. The idea was to eventually go to the media with a joint statement that detailed what the plan was- either it would have been an agreement to disagree or a grand vision for the property each party could live with.
The 600,000 square-foot building has been vacant since Trico moved its manufacturing and chemical electroplating operations to Mexico in 1999. In 2000, Erie, Pennsylvania developer, Stephen McGarvey purchased this facility, together with adjacent properties, including the former M. Wile factory, for redevelopment. McGarvey was able to complete redevelopment work on the M. Wile complex, which is now known as the UB Gateway building.
To become eligible for historic tax credits, McGarvey successfully placed the Trico building on the State Historic Registry in 2000 and the National Historic Registry in 2001. At about the same time, in anticipation of redevelopment of the facility, McGarvey also began alteration of key building components, including removal of the top layer of the roof on the building. Unfortunately, McGarvey’s funding sources dried up, and work on the Trico building ceased in 2001. In 2005, McGarvey passed away and in 2006, the development company owned by his estate filed for bankruptcy.
In late 2007, affiliates of University at Buffalo Foundation and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus purchased the Trico and M. Wile properties at a bankruptcy court auction for approximately $20 million. At the direction of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, title to the Trico building was conveyed to Buffalo Brownfield Restoration Corp. (BBRC), a quasi-public agency affiliated with the City. BNMC has retained development rights for this property and has been actively investigating redevelopment opportunities for the property.
Beginning with McGarvey’s abandonment of the building, and continuing through the period of his death, his estate’s bankruptcy filing, and the BNMC’s efforts to find a viable reuse, the building condition has deteriorated significantly. This deterioration has revealed significant environmental impairment at the building stemming from its historic use as an electroplating manufacturing facility.
Matters have only gotten worse. One piece of the Trico building, adjacent to the BNMC’s existing Innovation Center, is falling off and being held in place with a cable.
According to Terrence Gilbride, the attorney representing the BNMC in conjunction with this matter, “Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus has performed extensive engineering and environmental studies, has reviewed the numerous prior studies and inspection reports undertaken by prior owners of the property, including a comprehensive battery of reports prepared by Mr. McGarvey’s lender, and has spoken to a number of national and local developers, all in an effort to come up with a viable reuse for the facility.”
The preservation roundtable had been meeting with a sense of urgency. Architectural Resources came up with multiple concepts for reusing all or parts of the building. Those concept plans are expected to be released to the public in the next couple of weeks. While all sides weren’t happy with the proposals, the majority of the roundtable agreed on a concept plan that removed portions of the complex. A few members wanted no demolition. When word got out that saving the entire complex was unlikely and that any solution for the site would involve some demolition, all hell broke loose in some corners of the preservation community.
One of the primary issues with reusing the entire complex is the bulk of the building. Interior spaces on the 80,000 sq.ft. floors, far from windows, are harder to reuse and market to tenants. Contrast that to the Larkin at Exchange building that is mammoth, but long and narrow and most areas are 40 to 50 feet from a window. The Trico’s 600,000 sq.ft. of space scared off the local and out of town developers who looked at the property.
Under one plan that appeared to have support from many of the preservationists, the proposed demolitions would preserve 160,000 sq.ft. of the structure, a much more manageable and marketable size. New construction on the balance of the site, an expansion of the Innovation Center, would provide speculative lab space, designed and built with high ceilings and the infrastructure required by its intended end-users.
Enstice says the lab space created in the Trico Annex was an expensive reuse, nearly three times more costly than what new build lab/incubator space could be built for
“The building does not work for lab space,” says Enstice. “It doesn’t make sense for our next phase of growth.”
With lab space ruled out, residential, office and retail was explored. But the market demand for up to 600,000 sq.ft. of space, no matter the mix of uses, was deemed too big of a project for developers or the market to handle, particularly at the rents a developer could expect to obtain. A light well created in the building would reduce the amount of space but would not significantly change the square foot cost of a redevelopment project.
Reuse was estimated at $300/sq.ft., or $180 million. Putting lab space in the old building would cost $400/sq.ft.
New York State caps historic preservation tax credits for a redevelopment project at $5 million. Reuse utilizing the 20 percent federal tax credit, minus the costs needed to qualify for the credit, was still deemed too expensive of a project. Even if rehab costs were reduced to $100 million, Enstice says reuse doesn’t work.
“100 million dollars, for a building that has a lot of issues with it, doesn’t have the market.”
“Everyone has come to the Medical Campus and said you guys should just use it.” “Our answer is we’ve gone to all of our institutions, we’ve talked amongst ourselves, it’s too difficult of space for us to use.”
“What bank in this day and age is going to give us $100 million to redo that project there?”
Local developers, who are doing nearly all of the work in the city, have said reusing a smaller building of 200,000 is much more feasible of a project for them and the market to handle. National developers have more experience with a project of this magnitude, but haven’t been interested in the Buffalo market when they can make more money elsewhere. It’s the local developers that know the market and also have an emotional connection with the city and are willing to take on difficult, less lucrative projects not only to make money, but to better the community.
Also looming on the horizon is the future of One HSBC Center where 700,000 sq.ft. of space could be on the market in two years.
“700,000 sq.ft. of way better space than that, that’s going to be dirt cheap,” says Enstice. “So you got competition.”
Mothballing for future use including installation of a new roof has been estimated at $10 million. Demolition is about 1/3 of that.
The BNMC board considered, and dismissed, walking away from its option on the property and letting BBRC deal with the building.
BNMC anticipates any solution for the site will include some demolition but contrary to published reports, does not have a timetable for submitting for demolition permits. It will spend the next half year to eight months working with the roundtable studying various options for the property, determining how much to save and what to save. All of the ‘save’ options include the portion fronting Goodell Street and various lengths of building along Washington Street. Under most all scenarios considered so far, the Ice House would be reused. BNMC wants to build 200,000 sq.ft. of new lab space on the site.
Demolition work, if and when it starts, will start at the north end of the complex adjacent to the Innovation Center and proceed south. Work is expected to be painstakingly slow, perhaps up to ten months. If demo starts without a viable plan to save the southern portions of the complex, there would still be time to find a developer interested in a portion of the property.
Enstice is confident that a smaller, more manageable Trico building would be attractive to would-be developers.
“We are openly saying we are not going to be the developer of that, but we will work just as we did throughout this whole process, sharing information, working to recruit developers, and working to find capital to do it.”
If a developer is not found, it’s possible all of the complex will be demolished.
Enstice regrets not beginning the process two years ago, before the building’s deterioration picked up speed. He says he is committed to creating a plan that would save portions of the property that are most important, and that the majority of preservationists agree is reasonable.
Says Enstice, “We want to do this collective solution with the community, that’s what we’re moving towards.”
Preservation Buffalo Niagara has rescheduled a public educational meeting to discuss the Trico Plant. It will be held Thursday, March 22 in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. The meeting begins at 8 PM and will follow the Preservation Board’s public hearing regarding the proposal to make the Trico Plant a local historic landmark.
The proposed agenda includes:
• Martin Wachadlo, Architectural Historian, giving a short presentation on the history of the National Register designated building.
• Tom Yots, Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, discussing the option of a reuse study for the building and support of the regulatory process.
• Question & Answer period with Matt Enstice, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus; Tom Yots, Preservation Buffalo Niagara; and, Martin Wachadlo, Historian.
Representatives from the City of Buffalo, Buffalo Preservation Board and other local organizations have been invited to attend. The public is asked to use the S. Elmwood entrance to City Hall.