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Demo Proposed for Two of Three Buildings of Cooperage Complex

Ellicott Development is seeking Preservation Board approval to demolish portions of The Cooperage complex at 55-59 Chicago Street to redevelop the site for a mix of new uses.

From the developer’s application:

The property is comprised of three main structures that are interconnected; the Mill Building (ca. 1870), the Forge Building (ca. 1910-12) and the Pattern Building (1913). While we have plans to save and fully restore the Pattern Building, which is in the best shape of the three structures, we need to demolish the Mill and Forge Buildings. The Mill Building has suffered nearly complete collapse of the 4th floor and roof and the eastern exterior wall has fully collapsed. The internal wood structure has been exposed to the elements for many years because of the crumbling exterior and is beyond any reasonable level of rehabilitation. The Forge Building has also suffered irreversible damage. The entire 3-story structure is currently held up by pipe scaffolding erected by the previous owner. The internal structure can no longer support itself. Upon removal of the scaffolding the building will collapse.

Our conclusion with respect to the condition of the Mill and Forge Buildings is echoed by the Preservation League of NYS who has been involved in the project with the previous owner since 2008. An engineer and preservation architect working on behalf of the Preservation League of NYS recently assessed the two buildings and determined that they are both in an extreme state of deterioration and cannot be saved. While this is a difficult realization for the Preservation League of NYS, they do support these findings.

We are currently working with a prospective and well-established restaurant tenant to anchor the Pattern Building along with a portion of new construction in place of the Mill and Forge Buildings. Other anticipated uses at the property include retail and residential. We anticipate submitting plans to the City of Buffalo Planning Board within the next 30-45 days.

A letter from Virginia G. Searl of Bero Architecture dated September 27, 2016 concluded that “while the Mill and Forge [buildings] are interesting and significant their condition is extreme and unsafe. It is unlikely that the structure of either building is sufficiently stable to allow the erection of shoring required for repair reconstruction efforts. It is my opinion that these two structures are not candidates for salvage and rehabilitation.”

Jensen Engineering concurred in a September 27, 2016 letter that “strongly” recommended both be demolished.

The Preservation Board meets June 15 at 3 PM, City Hall Room 901.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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  • Alex

    Clinton Brown let this crumble. Amazing how “preservation minded” people/companies/architects act when its their own property.

    Demo has been inevitable for years while it deteriorated.

  • Andy Wulf

    Exactly. Ellicott has a poor preservation track record overall (admittedly with some exceptions: the Gresytone Apartments; the Fairmont Creamery) but this one pretty plainly isn’t their fault.

    • OldFirstWard

      The deterioration isn’t their fault, but the demolition would be. Ellicott Development has the financial means and most likely in house employees available to make the necessary repairs. Even if it required capping the mill building at three stories in the rear portion of the building.

      • Louis Tully

        I think you’d agree that maybe they ought to spend a little more to save this building to make up for the Harbor Inn.

  • Michael DiPasquale

    Sorry, I don’t believe anything Ellicott says. Once you lose your reputation, as Carl Paladino has (and by extension the company he and his son own), you can’t get it back.
    I will never forgive him for the racist comments and emails he forwarded about President Obama, followed by his love of Trump.
    And, in all my years working in the construction industry, I have never seen a building that “has to be” demolished.

    • me too

    • greenca

      I am not defending Paladino. No building has to be demolished if money wasn’t an object. In the real world, money is an object.

    • Emily Lowrey

      The Preservation League of NYS, and any person who has viewed this building from the back at Father Conway Park, can see the extreme state of deterioration it is in. That’s on Clinton Brown, who knows full well that he let the building get to this point by neglect. He certainly didn’t forget he owned it because I’ve been calling him about him for some time, and I’m sure I’m not the only First Ward resident who called him and 311. In fact, the Preservation League offered to purchase it some time ago, when it could have still been saved entirely, to cover Mr. Brown’s tax liens from when he stiffed contractors. He wouldn’t sell it. I agree that Paladino’s comments and character should be questioned, but in my mind, Clinton Brown’s greed – holding on to a building he could not afford to restore or renovate – is the sole reason for the demos. And he doesn’t deserve a pass on this just because he’s Clinton Brown. And mind you, he’s the one who sold to Ellicott. They don’t deserve the blame on this one.

      • Bruce Beyer

        I believe that before anybody does anything there ought to be soil contamination studies done.

  • OldFirstWard

    So herein lies the dilemma. We have a badly deteriorated building courtesy of Clinton Brown who received a $200,000 bridge loan to stabilize this building, which he claimed he did, and clearly did not. Fast forward and Ellicott Development is frantically purchasing any available lots in the vicinity to park in its land bank for “future developments.” Finally, they purchase the Cooperage buildings knowing full well that demolition will be the primary option. The Old First Ward and riverfront has already lost the H.O. Oats complex, Erie Freight House, Harbor Inn, and Wheeler Elevator all played with the extreme deterioration and cannot be saved card. Must we allow the demolition of yet another historical industrial era building to the wealthiest developer in WNY?

    Not that we have seen White Brothers Livery Stable building on Jersey St. receive subsidized stabilization and survive after near collapse. The Granite Works survived a fire in the corner building and severe dilapidation to rise from the ashes as a beautiful complex of buildings. Some buildings have become truncated, at least a couple on Main St. have had upper floor reductions. There are always possibilities for preservation. It is the more difficult route, demolition is always the easy way out.

  • Bill Banas

    Just wanted to point out that the building pictured here was not deemed “too far gone.”

    • Max Chester

      Just wanted to point out that comparing ancient landmarks in historically significant European towns with what amounts to industrial waste in a Rust-Belt city which lost its economic relevance a couple of generations ago is incredibly absurd. A 1500 A.D. Guild Hall or cathedral is equal to a Buffalo brick box from 1870? That is a desperate grasp at straws.

    • Farras09

      I’m assuming rebuilding an entire town and historical landmarks is probably being led by a different motivation than a private real estate company buying one piece of property in a city. I’m sure they COULD restore the building but why would they want to do so if it is going to be more costly?

      • Bill Banas

        They’ll restore the building because they want to maximize their profits. A restored building will add significant value to not only the property itself, but to the neighborhood as a whole.

        • Farras09

          I’m assuming that isn’t the case given they didn’t go that route. Its not a black and white situation in that restoring is always better or worse for a company’s bottom line. I am assuming they did an analysis and determined that this was the better route to maximize profits.

          It may be that Ellicott Development is more comfortable as a whole knocking down buildings rather than rehabbing them but then this building shouldn’t have been sold to them in the first place.

      • Bill Banas

        Moreover, to demolish or to rehab is mostly a function of habit or usual practice. From the recent article in the Buffalo News about the Perry Projects:

        ‘Sinatra, one of the local developers supporting Higgins’ plan, agreed with the congressman that renovation is generally less costly.

        “I would have to look into it, but on paper, it is cheaper to do rehab than knock down and build new,” Sinatra said.’

  • Bill Banas
  • Bill Banas

    And rebuilt, exactly the way it was before it was virtually destroyed.

  • Bill Banas

    And this happened not to just one building, but to an entire city. This is after the destruction:

  • Bill Banas
  • Bill Banas

    And actually, this happened *not* in just one city, it happened in *many* cities after both WWI and WWII.

    So, don’t tell me that a building is “too structurally unsound” to save. That’s BS, especially for a company with pockets as deep as Ellicott Development.

    (BTW, the city pictured in my previous posts is Ypres, with its iconic Cloth Hall after WWI. But it could have easily been one of countless buildings in dozens of cities.)

    • greenca

      This is a specious argument you’re making. Comparing the Cooperage in Buffalo to the Cloth Hall in more than a stretch. Of course the Cooperage could be rebuilt if money was no object. In the real world, money is an object.

      • Bill Banas

        If you take the time to digest my words, you’ll understand that my point was that they restored not just a few iconic buildings, but also the many, many humble ones. Actually, the entire city. And this happened in many cities. And this culture continues to this day in places like Ghent, Brussels, Bruges, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Munich, Warsaw… I could go on.

        For an example closer to home, look up what Mayor Riley did in Charleston, SC. He changed the mindset there, demonstrating that demolition didn’t have to be the automatic option, and that it wasn’t the cheapest.

      • Bill Banas

        Here is a picture in Ghent, Belgium from a few years ago. Rehabilitation is the automatic response. Because they do it a lot, they’ve become efficient at it. In the vast majority of the USA, we demolish buildings a lot, so we’ve become quite good at that.

      • Bill Banas

        And I’ll repeat my earlier post:

        Buildings are restored because people, companies, and communities want to maximize the returns on their investments. A restored building will almost always add significant value to not only the property itself, but to the neighborhood as a whole.

        To demolish or to rehab is mostly a function of habit or usual practice. From the recent article in the Buffalo News about the Perry Projects:

        ‘Sinatra, one of the local developers supporting Higgins’ plan, agreed with the congressman that renovation is generally less costly.
        “I would have to look into it, but on paper, it is cheaper to do rehab than knock down and build new,” Sinatra said.’

  • Ra Cha Cha

    Bill Banas makes a great point here (which, incidentally, also applies to the ice house section of the Trico Building). Another commenter points out, aptly, that Granite Works and the White Brothers Livery were stabilized and rehabbed.

    But remember: preservation isn’t just about knowledge of building science (and actual thing) and the physical process of restoring buildings. As the great Cornell preservation professor Michael Tomlan told me, preservation is also a social movement. It’s as much about people and activism as it is about buildings. Ypres was restored by the Belgians because it was a national symbol and they simply weren’t willing to be bereft of it. Granite works was spared the wrecking ball because, as Paul McDonnell tells the story, Tim Tielman was at a judge’s house at midnight getting an injunction signed. The Livery is in my neighborhood, and I know the neighborhood rose up in anger and, along with relatively new Councilman David Rivera, who stood in the street talking to City Hall on his cell phone, fought off (as I understand it) a determination by the City to demolish the building.

    So the question here is, who is going to act to stop this? The Old First Ward neighborhood? Perhaps, and that would be ideal. But I personally haven’t seen any signs of it. I’m also not personally aware of a situation where they have, as a group, stood against a demolition in the past. (I may be incorrect about one or both of those things, and if so I’d be glad to be corrected.)

    Is a preservation or preservation-minded entity going to take the lead on opposing this? Again, if so, I haven’t seen any signs of it. The obvious first step to opposing this would be to locally landmark the complex of buildings. It would be easy to do, as the complex is already a state/national landmark, so it’s simply copy-paste from that application to a local one. Ellicott Development is no stranger to demolitions, including the legendary one of the Harbor Inn at the same corner, so when it was announced they were acquiring the complex, did any preservation interest immediately get a local landmark application in the pipeline?

    The question is: will the neighborhood and/or the preservation community take a stand against demolishing the Cooperage? Or will folks simply hide behind an eyeballs-only (note: NOT an engineering report) report from a firm from Rochester, where they have a history of letting buildings be demolished unnecessarily? Or will the preservation community simply take a pass on this one, knowing that they can just point a finger of blame at Clint Brown?

    • OldFirstWard

      I wasn’t aware that there was no local landmark application on file for this complex. I assumed that a prerequisite for a National Listing is usually a local landmark designation.

      One thing we can give the Clinton Brown firm credit for is listing on the National Register. The application was completed and submitted in 2008 by his employee at the time, the brilliant and meticulous Jennifer Walkowski. Her work is incredibly well detailed and researched.

      I would not characterize a majority of Old First Ward residents as preservationist minded. Though there are individuals in the neighborhood who are staunch advocates. I think a lot has to do with the lack of development in past decades. People get excited about anything new being built and have little to no experience with the process of saving and preserving the structures and character of the area. Publicity and awareness may be starting to make those residents stop and reflect on the value and importance of preserving the historical character and integrity of the Old First Ward.

  • grovercleveland

    Nice to see this part of the city is getting some new development. Exciting stuff with the new buildings along Ohio St. etc.

  • Buffalo Resurrection

    While I don’t dispute any of the inspection results issued by either the developer or architect/engineer, I do remain amazed why it is presented like a revelation that a building, that has received little to no stabilization or protection from the elements in decades, needs to be demolished!
    No Kidding?
    Next you’ll be telling me that it snows in Buffalo too!!!

    • Bill Banas

      You can find an inspector or engineer to tell you what you want to hear, particularly if you’re paying them.

  • BuildBuffalo

    Knock it down

    • eagercolin

      I hear Google is looking to relocate to Buffalo, but only if it can build right where this building stands.

      • BuildBuffalo

        Buffalonians would block it and have Google go elsewhere

        • eagercolin

          No, they’d head to the site with hammers and take it down themselves. But many would oppose the kind of wanton destruction you suggest.

  • Bill Banas

    “People must be taught and made to realize the advantages of a beautiful city. They must understand that beauty in a city pays, not only in the added pleasure in existence given to its citizens, but in a purely financial way, that it is, in truth, a civic asset of very great value.” – Dr. Matthew D. Mann, Society for Beautifying Buffalo, 1909