Owners of the vacant and derelict 65 Grant Street building were in housing court today defending their stewardship of the quickly deteriorating structure. They have been in court repeatedly for code violations dating back almost 10 years. The City of Buffalo has never forced their hand, allowing the building to rot with impunity to the point it has become dangerous. A recent fire and collapsing parapet have rendered the sidewalk in front of the building unusable. Most of all the problems with the building could have been mitigated or eliminated with simple routine maintenance. Instead, incompetent management aided by a complicit city government have created an emergency situation that may result in the loss of a valuable historic asset.
Following is a summary from today’s court hearing.
Housing Court Judge Carney held forth for about half an hour and heard from a number of residents and officials. Reportedly, he seemed to be fully aware of community concerns but not necessarily attuned to them.
Inspections and Fire officials recommend demolition. This is par for the course. Old building, needs investment, broken windows, leaks, poison bricks, exploding stones, asbestos; of course the only possible remedy is demolition, right? There are a long list of buildings these low thinkers would have relieved us of over the years if not for more intelligence prevailing—Martin House, Trico, Webb Building, Graystone Hotel, ECC City Campus, Sheas Buffalo Theater, the Guaranty Building, the Theater District, Statler Hotel, to name a few. In spite of reported estimates pegging fire damage at only $150,000 and affecting only one end of the building, emergency demolition at an estimated cost of $150,000 is being promoted as the best solution. The demo cost could be charged back to the owner but the city often bares this cost on its own.
The Court walked through the building yesterday, with representatives from PUSH, one or more developers, architects and the owner’s attorney. Judge Carney assessed the building as “first floor in bad shape, with water damage; second floor surprisingly good; roof and back wall in bad condition.” Carney, donning his 1960s/1970s style urban renewal robes, stated without any evidence presented, that he thought, in the case of demolition, “a flat piece of land” would be valuable and would be developed. It is amazing, that in 2015 people are still touting the long debunked “tear it down and they will come” Bullshit (excuse my French). Sorry judge, but, Buffalo’s rebirth is coming from its historic building stock, not from its vast tracts of empty land. Have you been awake for the last 10 years? For every vacant parcel developed in the city I will show him 20 renovations! I suggest that the judge concentrate on the law, by holding building owners accountable for their actions (or more accurately their inaction) and leave the urban design and development policy to others.
The judge ruled that the building must be sold within the next two weeks or he will order demolition. He went on to warn that any purchaser would be forced by him to immediately remediate safety issues with the barriers in the street saying, “Whoever purchases this building, I will be on top of you about the safety issues”. I wonder why he did not order the current owners to take care of the safety issues.
Councilman David Rivera spoke to the past history, seven years in his case, of numerous promises from Mrs. Paik, the owner, but never any actual progress toward repairs or sale. There have been purchase offers in the recent past but potential buyers describe frustrating moving goalpost style negotiations with the Paiks. The Paik’s attorney said that currently there are “at least four” possible buyers. The judge is reconveneing the case on July 9, morning session, and wants to see “contracts and checks” from buyers/developers. Otherwise, demolition. He demanded that “By July 9th there must be a plan to purchase in front of me that is real—a contract, development plan, timeline, check exchanged or in hand—or I will order the demo.” So after years and years and years and years of dithering the City is acting like a tough guy and giving potential developers a two-week window to work a complete deal? It is ridiculous on its face!
Rumor is that the neighboring Key Bank would like the building turned into a parking lot and drive up window. Buffalo will never grow based on parking lots and drive up windows. The north end of Grant is seeing remarkable new life as long absent investment flows into the wonderful stock of historic buildings lining the street. I can guaranty that would not be the case if the street was turned into “a flat piece of land”. Call your councilman and call the mayor. Say no to more empty space. Say no to more waste of Buffalo’s valuable historic architectural heritage. Say no to a court that gives delinquent ownership a free pass for years on end.
Thanks to Stephanie Cole Adams and Kevin Hayes for their report from the court proceedings and their continued work in trying to save this building from the stupidity of “flat piece of land” thinking.
Images are by Stephanie Cole Adams and Kevin Hayes