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What to Do With Trico Plant #1

Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus's phased demolition plan for Trico Plant #1, which surfaced two weeks ago, has sent both sides of the preservation debate to battle stations.

In January, the executive director of the Buffalo Niagara medical Campus, Matt Enstice, began showing some activists in the preservation community a plan for the future of the site currently occupied by the mammoth, abandoned Trico Plant #1, a structure listed on the national and state historic registers. According to the plan Enstice showed them, all but the original structure that was part of the Christian Weyand Brewery—the building that John Oishei bought for his new factory and then built around—would be demolished. That building would be refurbished, perhaps as loft apartments modeled on the Artspace development a few blocks north on Main Street. Half the site, bordering Washington Street, would become temporary surface parking, pending a development plan and money to implement it. The entire site, he said, would eventually be built up, along with every other developable site on the campus.

Last week, Preservation Buffalo Niagara, one of the groups with whom BNMC had been meeting to discuss this plan, reacted to the disclosure of a phased demolition plan for the Trico building—which proposed that demolition would begin in a month—with a statement condemning that plan and calling for reuse of the structure:

We understand that an agreement for a phased demolition of the building has been executed and may soon be implemented. It is also our understanding that no plans have been made for the immediate reuse of the site. We are disappointed that this decision has been made without the availability of a reuse study determining the feasibility of a historic preservation rehab of the building.

Last Friday, PBN scheduled a public hearing on the issue for this Tuesday—then, Monday morning, cancelled that hearing. Enstice had argued that BNMC needed to have a voice at the meeting, and prevailed on PBN to delay.

The arguments about preservation, and about process, will play out quickly and complicatedly in the next few weeks. Tim Tielman and the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture—a preservation group with which Enstice did not meet during his January rounds—is prepared to sue to keep the building from coming down, and has issued a letter to Mayor Byron Brown making that intention clear. There is little question that the building can be salvaged; its concrete beam structure is nearly indestructible. The question, from the developer’s point of view, is the expense imposed by environmental issues—and expense that affects the cost of demolition, too—and practicality. Preservationists will argue, no doubt, that the previous owners of the building—the firm of the late developer Steve McGarvey and his local partner, Ciminelli Development—presumably had a plan to reuse the structure, and not only that it is irreplaceable but that there is too much risk that it will not be replaced—that the site will languish empty, another vacant lot in a city full of them.

To the degree that it can remain civil, intelligent, and informed, this could be a defining argument for both sides. BNMC is expected to release a statement on its plans tomorrow morning. Check out AV Daily to learn more.

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