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Demo Sought for Remaining Shoreline Apartments

A controversial demolition proposal is returning to the Preservation Board September 21.   Norstar Development USA is seeking to demolish the remaining portions of the Shoreline Apartment complex.  The north end of the development was demolished to construct the affordable Niagara Square Apartments, eight new buildings with 48 units at the corner of Carolina and Niagara streets.

The Shoreline complex at 270 Niagara Street sits in the shadow of City Hall. It contained 472 units on 9.5 acres and was designed by modernist architect Paul M. Rudolph and completed between 1970 and 1974 under the Mitchell-Lama program. Demolition work on the north end of the complex was completed in 2015.

Unlike the Rudolph buildings, the new buildings along Niagara, Carolina and Seventh streets are being built close to the street with parking internal to the complex.  Stieglitz Snyder Architecture designed the project.

Demolition plans for the remainder of the complex was originally presented at the City of Buffalo’s Historic Preservation Board’s July 7, 2016 meeting and was denied without prejudice.  At that meeting, Norstar presented their preliminary mitigation measures and was asked to return to the Board after the measures had been further refined in conjunction with the New York State Historic Preservation Office.  An outdoor sculpture utilizing a preserved portion of a courtyard and a three-sided kiosk honoring Rudolph are proposed.

Buildings at the following addresses would be demolished: 130 Niagara Street, 140 Niagara Street, 150 Niagara Street, 160 Niagara Street, 170 Niagara Street, 180 Niagara Street, 190 Niagara Street, 200 Niagara Street, 210 Niagara Street, 220 Niagara Street, 230 Niagara Street, 240 Niagara Street, 105 7th Street, 85 7th Street, 65 7th Street and 45 7th Street.

From the Board package:

Since it was constructed, the project has faced significant physical problems related to its design. The issues have included water intrusion from the windows and patio doors, deficient crawl spaces with limited access space to maintain the project’s aging water and sewer lines, limited accessibility for persons with physical disabilities, an absence of natural light and poor air circulation, hidden and unobservable spaces conducive to criminal activity (i.e. drug trafficking, assaults, burglaries), an overall institutional character, and apartment units that are energy inefficient and functionally obsolete. There has also been a widely held perception in the surrounding community that the. property has a blighting influence on the surrounding emerging Niagara Street corridor.

The remaining 16 buildings that make up the Waterfront Apartments complex are grossly deteriorated and are obsolete based on modern living standards. Additionally, the overall complex poses significant health and safety concerns for current residents.

Norstar evaluated options on how to best redevelop the aging, deteriorated complex through an Alternative Analysis Report prepared in 2014. The Alternative Analysis Report included an evaluation of the following options for the Waterfront  Apartments site:

  • Rehabilitation of the buildings within their existing envelopes
  • Sale to  a third party and conversion to market rate housing with existing tenant relocation
  • Demolition of existing buildings and redevelopment of the area

As detailed in the Alternative Analysis Report, Norstar preserved a significant portion of the original complex located at the corner of Carolina Street and 7th Street (Shoreline Apartments). However, in order to make the units functional and safe for residents, the original buildings lost many of the physical attributes consistent with Paul M. Rudolph’s original design. Shoreline Apartments units continue to pose issues for current low-income tenants and the owner. Additionally, the conversion of the project to market rate housing would result in the current outstanding multimillion dollar mortgage on the property having to be repaid to New York State – a strategy that is financially infeasible. Of the options evaluated, the only viable option to preserve these affordable housing units is through the demolition of the existing deteriorated buildings and the construction high-quality, well-designed new buildings.

Similar to the first phase of redevelopment, the second phase of the project will use a variety of building types to bring back a residential look and feel to the community that is more in line with the original neighborhood and the current surrounding environment. Building size and setbacks will mirror the existing neighborhood through appropriate scale and complementary materials. The second phase of development also proposes the construction of a new public street. The new public street will extend Georgia Street through the project site from where it currently ends at the intersection of Georgia Street and Niagara Street to 7th Street. The extension of Georgia Street will help to restore the original grid street pattern of the neighborhood that was eliminated in order to create the superblock on which the Waterfront Apartments complex was building.

The second phase of redevelopment will include two low-rise apartment buildings at the intersection of Niagara Street and the newly constructed Georgia Street extension.  Each apartment building will include commercial space at the corner of Niagara Street and the new Georgia Street extension. It is our hope the retail/ commercial space will provide beneficial amenities to residents and surrounding neighbors – helping to recreate the cohesive, mixed-use neighborhood that once existed before the current complex was built.

The second phase will also include 16 smaller, semi-detached townhome buildings along Niagara Street and 7th Street. All buildings at the complex will be wood frame construction. Exterior materials will include brick and cementitious siding to be consistent with the surrounding neighborhood. Currently, the plans call for the apartment buildings and townhomes with frontage on Niagara Street to  be predominately clad in brick.  A mixture of fiber cement siding and brick is proposed for the townhomes with frontage along 7th Street.

Proposed Mitigative Measures:

As presented at the Historic Preservation Board July 7, 2016 meeting, Norstar began the historic review consultation process for the second phase of development with the New York State Historic Preservation Office (“SHPO”) in December 2015. On March 11, 2016, SHPO responded to our initial consultation and advised us to begin establishing meaningful mitigation measures to offset the loss of the remaining 16 buildings at the original Waterfront Apartments complex. 

The proposed mitigation measures for the second phase of redevelopment include:

• A sculpture that utilizes the existing exterior ribbed concrete of the complex will be erected as a permanent installation in the courtyard of Building 9 (one of the low-rise apartment buildings at the new project). Through controlled demolition, portions of the existing ribbed concrete facade will be saved and will be reconstructed. The sculpture will celebrate Rudolph’s original design. An etched image of Rudolph’s original design of his Waterfront Village will also be incorporated into the sculpture. The sculpture will be supported by landscaping and lighting.

• An outdoor three-sided kiosk will be erected along Niagara Street next to Building 9. The kiosk will have three sides and will include images and information on the history of Niagara Street, Paul Rudolph and Waterfront Village and Niagara Street as it is today. The kiosk will complement the sculpture and will also be visible to the public from Niagara Street.

The measures outlined above, augmented by previous HABS level documentation of the complex and Norstar’s previous retention/ rehabilitation of the smaller Waterfront (Shoreline) complex on 7th Street, were deemed an appropriate level of mitigation by SHPO.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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