Legacy Cities 2018

Buffalo’s Young Preservationists and Preservation Buffalo Niagara are co-hosting a conference to discuss preservation’s role in revitalizing Legacy Cities. Sometimes called Right-sizing or Rust Belt Cities, Legacy Cities formed the basis of our country’s growth early in the 20th Century, but have since experienced severe population decline, segregation, and poverty. These cities are located mainly in the Northeastern and Midwestern states, and often have significant historic structures and neighborhoods that have either fallen into disrepair or have been abandoned. Financially depressed cities view demolition as the only answer to these problems.

Surely there must be other options for our cities. What role can preservation play? What role should preservation play in making important decisions regarding our cities’ futures? How do we ensure that preservation is fair in telling the story of everyone in our community? And perhaps most importantly- what kind of city do we want for our future?

The first Legacy Cities conference was held in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014. Co-hosted by the Cleveland Restoration Society, the conference highlighted the challenges of applying historic preservation to under-served neighborhoods, most of which were heavily affected by the mortgage crisis of the past decade. Despite having previously invested more money on demolition, Cleveland showed how their Cultural Gardens and Grenville neighborhoods were able to benefit once the city took advantage of historic preservation benefits.

The second conference was held in Detroit, Michigan in 2016. Co-sponsored by the Legacy City Partnership, the conference’s theme of preservation was on the dichotomy in Detroit planning policies; how poverty is located next to wealth, how some schools flourish while others struggle, and how abandoned buildings and struggling communities are subject to debates between demolition and preservation. While investments are often centered on the downtown area, the conference highlighted Detroit’s Grandmont, Rosedale and Corktown neighborhoods as examples of combating blight and poverty by encouraging preservation opportunities.

The third conference will be held here in Buffalo July 11-14 under the moniker, “Buffalo ReGenerated.” Conference attendees will attend tours, special events, and panel sessions designed to spark discussion as we answer the question, “What type of city do we want?”

Conference tracks will be organized around the following themes: Preservation for Whom?; Neighborhood Health and Environmental Preservation; and Thinking Outside the Box. Each track and session has been carefully selected to provide insights for attendees to bring back to their own communities.

We hope you will be regenerated and reinvigorated, ready to lead our Legacy Cities into the 21st Century as positive, equitable, beautiful, and sustainable urban oases. If you would like to register for the event, or learn more about sponsorship opportunities, call our office at 716-852-3300, or visit the official website, http://www.bfloregenerated.com.

Tax Credit Spotlight: Rehab on Ashland Avenue

“It had always been a dream of mine when I bought the house,” said Christine B. of her Ashland Avenue home, “to turn it back into its single-family glory.” Built in 1894, the 2 ½-story front gable frame Queen Anne house had already been remuddled into two units when Christine bought the property 2007. Over the years she and her husband Ryan had pieced together an idea of how their house likely originally laid out by matching weird wall and door placements to things they saw in friends’ houses in the neighborhood.
Fast forward a couple more years and now expecting their second child, Christine and Ryan needed more space. They had started to do some smaller work to renovate the upstairs, but when they found out about the NYS Historic Homeownership Rehabilitation Tax Credit they decided to make a full commitment to returning the property to a single-family home.

“We consulted with PBN to learn the application process and what project expenditures qualified,” said Christine, “and then we met with our architect to see if we really could put it back or if too much had been lost.” Thankfully through proper research and planning, the project was a go and work on the downstairs of the house started in October 2017.

While they basically gutted the first floor, they were able to save a fair amount of the molding, flooring, and some original walls (which were still there but had been covered over with drywall in the previous remuddling). A major part of the project was realigning the stairs to match their historic footprint and restoring the cut-up original foyer. And the most surprising aspect of the project was when removing drywall in what was originally the dining room, they found six almost mint condition original stained-glass windows.
As far as navigating the tax credit project, Christine said it was a fairly smooth process, “We did have a back and forth with SHPO about some things, but as long as we kept them updated with our changes or issues that developed, there weren’t any major roadblocks.” She added that it all seemed intimidating at the start but that “once you go through the process and get the hang of documenting and explaining the work, it went by fairly easy.”

Buffalo’s “Demolition by Neglect” Problem and What We Can Do About It

The National Trust for Historic Preservation describes Demolition by Neglect as a situation in which a property owner intentionally allows a historic property to suffer severe deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair. Some property owners use this type of long term neglect to purposefully create a dangerous enough situation that they are then able to circumvent existing preservation protections for the building, while other property owners may be agnostic to the demolition of the building but are simply waiting for a big pay day on the property. In either case, it creates a particularly frustrating situation for preservationists and community members alike as time and energy have to be spent trying to convince those with the means to do so to care for their properties in a responsible and lawful manner.
It is important to distinguish active Demolition by Neglect from abandoned properties, properties where owners have made good faith efforts to sell but were unsuccessful and then subsequently walked away from their responsibilities to the property, or from properties which, while currently vacant, are properly mothballed for a future use. While these cases have their own challenges, Demolition by Neglect is becoming an increasingly common issue in Buffalo as the real estate market has been heating up in recent years and more people are looking to profit off of this suddenly “hot” investment area.

Circumventing Preservation Law

Daryll Carr has owned 110 South Park Avenue in the heart of the Cobblestone Historic District for years and, despite a decade of housing court dates, mandated repair schedules, and threats of fines, has continued to allow his building to deteriorate to the point where bricks have come loose from the façade. His goal? Demolishing the modestly sized historic Mugridge Steam Bakery building for a wildly over-scaled proposed skyscraper or to sell this valuable Arena-adjacent land as a “shovel ready” site. Since the building is located in a local historic district and the Preservation Board won’t approve his demolition plans, his only hope is to create a situation so dangerous that a Judge or the Fire Marshall will order an Emergency Demolition of the property. The situation at the corner of Whitney Place and Carolina Street is similar – several offers have gone in on this unique and lovely property located in the heart of the West Village Historic District, even as the building suffers from severe roof and structural deterioration, but the owner won’t consider them and isn’t responding to numerous violations notices from the City’s Inspections department.

Waiting for the Big Pay Day

Other owners don’t necessarily seem to have big future plans for their properties – just a sense that they deserve a big pay day. Such is the case at 238 Carlton Street, where the suburban owners purchased a badly deteriorated building and despite having no work done to repair or even shore up the building, have offered it for sale at nearly three times what they paid for it. They’ve explained that they feel the property’s location in the Fruit Belt immediately adjacent to the Medical Campus makes it a valuable investment for which they’d like to get a high rate of return. Despite repeated offers at substantially lower amounts that reflect that immediate structural and stabilization work that needs to be done, these owners continue to put their own profit motives ahead of having a safe and occupied building in the center of one of Buffalo’s most historic and most vulnerable neighborhoods. At 169 East Ferry, the owners have not necessarily had the means to make investments in their historic building, but have also turned down purchase offers going back at least a decade, which when coupled with their own lack of maintenance and repair to the building, has resulted in the current situation where a private sector developer just backed out of a sale because the building is so far deteriorated he was skeptical that it even could be saved at this point. The City has written the building for housing court and it will be considered for an emergency demolition in June.

What Can be Done?

PBN and many neighborhood groups such as the Allentown Association work closely with the City’s Inspections Department to identify these properties and try to get them taken care of without being taken down. However, there are limited tools available to help us combat this issue. PBN would like to see the City of Buffalo enact a Demolition by Neglect statute, which would give more power to the City and to Housing Court to intervene in cases of Demolition by Neglect. Cities such as Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and others, have created a special law designed to identify and deal with these most intractable of cases by levying heavier fines, allowing cities more latitude to make emergency repairs versus undertaking emergency demolitions, and even in some cases seizing ownership of the building itself. Introducing this type of legislation in Buffalo would help us deal more pro-actively with the buildings above, and many others throughout the City.
Our architectural heritage is an important part of building a revitalized and sustainable City moving forward. We must ensure that the City has all of the tools it needs available to help us safeguard these important assets for future generations.

Preservation in Progress Winter 2018

Scajaquada Downgrade/Route 198

On January 8th, NYS DOT Region 5 Director, Frank Cirillo, announced that the DOT will “hit the ‘reset’ button and begin a fresh dialogue with stakeholders.” This is a huge victory for the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, our fellow members of the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition, and the thousands of people who voiced their opposition to the project. PBN looks forward to participating in future conversations to create a new plan that prioritizes the park user’s experience and works to restore the landscape to Frederick Law Olmsted’s original intent.


On February 6th the Common Council approved the Local Landmark Application for 1740 Bailey Avenue making it the first Local Landmark of 2018! Thank you to the Buffalo Preservation Board for submitting the nomination and to the continued advocacy work by Buffalo’s Young Preservationists and the Preservation League of NYS. Securing landmark status is an important step towards supporting rehabilitation of the property.

The Fruit Belt

238 Carlton Street moves closer to Local Landmark status after the Preservation Board approved the application at their February 8th meeting. PBN has been working with Commissioner Comerford and the Dept. of Permits and Inspection Services to avoid the demolition of this c.1876 Italianate mixed-use building and to work with the owner to find a productive future for the building. Council President Pridgen has also pledged his support for the landmarking of 238 Carlton Street and preservation efforts throughout the Fruit Belt Neighborhood. The preservation of 238 Carlton Street also affects the Fruit Belt Cultural Resource Survey which is nearing completion by project consultant Preservation Studios. Once completed, the first-ever full scale survey of the historic neighborhood will offer recommendations for future preservation efforts.

Sycamore Street

Disaster struck on January 10th when 68 Sycamore Street suffered another fire resulting in a total loss of the building. Built c.1843 by Joseph Staub, the property had been vacant since c.2015 when it suffered a fire that caused substantial interior damage. In May 2017 landmark status was secured for 68 & 72 Sycamore. In June, they were purchased by Rocco Termini and PBN has been working with Termini on plans for the rehabilitation of the buildings. The loss of 68 Sycamore is heartbreaking but we are continuing to work on finding a fruitful future for the still standing 72 Sycamore Street.

University District Survey

After successfully securing a 2017 Preserve New York grant, the University District Community Development Association, Inc. (UDCDA) is undertaking a reconnaissance-level survey focusing on the Summit Park, Kensington Heights, and Kensington Park neighborhoods. Project consultant kta preservation specialists will be surveying these neighborhoods which were originally developed between 1900 and 1940, in large part because of the expansion of streetcar service and the University at Buffalo. The goal of the survey will be to determine whether any of the neighborhoods under review would be eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Getzville Historic District

The Amherst Historic Preservation Commission is looking to establish an historic district in the hamlet of Getzville. What would be the first local historic district in the town, the district centers around the land purchased by Jacob and Franklin Getz at what is now known as Dodge Road and Campbell Blvd and focuses on the buildings which were essential to the business core of the hamlet in the years 1850-1870, including the original train station at 175 Campbell, an early hotel, store, tavern, and post office at 260 Campbell, and the cider and grist mill, cooperage, and a weigh station known as 1-7 Center Street. PBN spoke in support of the district at the February 5th Town Board Meeting and the Town Board is set to vote on the measure their March meeting.

East Aurora

The East Aurora Historic Preservation Commission is exploring the possibility of a new local Historic District for the neighborhood of East Main Street. The Commission hosted a information meeting with homeowners and residents to learn about the benefits of local designation. Receiving an overall positive response and interested in moving forward, the Commission is looking towards the next step of holding a public hearing.