Author: Lynda Schneekloth, Member Citizens to Save the Great Northern
If the Great Northern Grain Elevator is demolished it will NOT be because it is dangerous or structurally unsound. In fact, if demolished it will not be based on the condition of the building at all! Rather, it would be demolished on the legal grounds that the Commissioner of Permits and Inspection had acted ‘rationally’ on the information before him at the time he issued the Emergency Demolition.
The only information he had before him was from ADM, “Submission Concerning Emergency Demolition Order Due to Safety,” and a drone flight his office conducted but for which there is no information.
Since the Emergency Demolition ruling by the city, it is has been demonstrated that the grain elevator is not in danger of collapsing and the damaged brick wall is not the primary structural element of the building — information available to all. So if the Great Northern Grain Elevator is demolished, it will be because Jim Comerford will not simply say that the emergency declaration was a mistake because the ADM report before him requesting demolition was flawed. It is a biased presentation of information (the company has wanted to demolish the grain elevator for 30 years) and further, the report has actual errors of facts about the structure of the building. It used a maintenance issue (flying metal) as a reason to demolish although this is a maintenance problem, requiring repair by the owner, ADM.
It was unfortunate that the Commissioner did not seek additional information on this city’s Landmark building as these limitations would have been obvious to structural engineers and preservation professionals. The errors of the report were not even allowed in the Supreme Court legal proceedings; instead, the only question was: Did Comerford make a rational decision with the information he had? The information about whether the condition of the building warranted demolition or repair was not permitted at the hearing.
A question. Why would ADM submit an inadequate report to the City of Buffalo? ADM is one of the largest corporations in the world and has access to competent professionals. No one knows. Nor do we know why they refused to work with the many elected bipartisan officials from Common Council to Mayor Brown to NYS legislators Senator Sean Ryan and Assemblyman Jon Rivera to Congressional Representatives Chris Jacobs and Brian Higgins. Nor do we know why they would not work with Local 36G on their idea of a Union Hall, nor why have they turned down developer, Douglas Jemal, who offered to buy the building from them.
Perhaps one could speculate that they are going to invest in their Buffalo operation and need the space. But if that were the case, they could easily say so. Alternatively, perhaps they plan to leave Buffalo and want a ‘cleared site’ to sell. This is a possibility as within the last four years, ADM has closed and is selling three old plants in Chicago, Kansas, and Minneapolis where operations are more than covered by a new state-of-the-art mill built in Mendota, Illinois.
“Mendota is one of many important growth investments we’re making in ADM Milling” stated C. Cudding president of ADM’s carbohydrate solutions business.
If they are selling, they should consider that Kelly Island now accommodates both industry and entertainment and could support a mixed use complex, including housing. In this scenario, the Great Northern would make an enormous contribution and could be the anchor of the proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrating the importance of grain transshipment on the rise of the global economy in the last 19th and early 20th centuries. Buffalo’s extant collection of grain elevators meets the difficult UNESCO criteria for nomination as an outstanding example of an architectural, typological, and technological infrastructure of the story of grain.
Tearing down the Great Northern Grain Elevator would be an indelible black eye for Buffalo, the city that promotes itself on its intact fabric and architectural uniqueness. This building is not a danger to the community, but it appears that the process for issuing emergency demolition orders is a danger to Buffalo citizens and its buildings. It needs repair. In the meantime, perhaps Mr. Comerford could simply say he spoke in error and withdraw the Emergency Demolition order. Surely our system of government permits self-correction.
Lead image: Sean Ryan at the podium. The community rallies behind the Great Northern.