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Trico: Rocco's Got a Dollar in His Pocket

Here's a rendering by Architectural Resources of a redevelopment plan for the Trico building put forth by the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Note that the old brewery storehouse and the section of factory along Goodell Street would be preserved. The latter depends on a developer taking on the project, independent of BNMC, which is not interested in playing a role.
Rocco Termini's got a dollar and a dream.

On Tuesday evening, the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture hosted a meeting about the future of the Trico building at Promised Land Baptist Church, at High and Mulberry streets in the Fruit Belt. Among the speakers was developer Rocco Termini, who in recent years has become one of the city’s preeminent restorers and re-users of historic properties.

Termini said that during a meeting last week, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus’s executive director, Matt Enstice, told him that BNMC would sell the Trico building for $1 to anyone who thought they could come up with a feasible plan to reuse it. How that would work is unclear: BNMC doesn’t own the building. A city agency called the Buffalo Brownfield Restoration Corporation, a subsidiary of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, owns it. BNMC is the designated developer.

In any case, Termini seemed to believe that Enstice was bluffing—that Enstice was arguing that no developer could make the finances work for preservation of the iconic downtown factory.

“I’m here tonight to tell you that I’m going to call his bluff,” Termini said to the 50 people who attended the meeting, a crowd that included Common Council members Darius Pridgen and Dave Franczyk. He reached into his pocket and produced a bill. “I have a dollar in my pocket.”

Termini said that he’d need control of the property for two years, in which time he’d create a plan and find financing. He said that the demolition that BNMC is pursuing would likely take two years to be approved anyway, given the requisite paperwork and probable lawsuits, so why not give him the same amount of time to save the building?

Pridgen, in whose district the Trico building sits, said that his interest in the issue extended to the Fruit Belt generally, a predominantly African-American neighborhood diminished by urban renewal and economic decline, and facing either further diminishment or the possibility of rejuvenation as a result of the medical corridor’s growth. Pridgen said he would seek public hearings on all property sales in the Fruit Belt, so that residents would understand clearly the purposes of those lining up to ride the coattails of planned investments in the medical corridor, the souther boundary of which is which is the Trico complex.

“I don’t like deals where those in the know, know, and the people who live here have no idea,” Pridgen said. “I have preached in this pulpit,” he added, indicating Promised Land’s compact, historic chapel. “This is my neighborhood.”

Tim Tielman, executive director for the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture, was the last of several speakers. Tielman described what he called “a 50-year war on the city” by urban renewal’s policies and the state authorities and legislation that it has spawned, and used archival photographs to illustrate the decades-long march of demolition north along the Elm-Oak corridor, heading toward the Trico building. He listed some possibilities for adaptive reuse of buildings like Trico: art spaces, as exemplified by the Dia Beacon and MassMoCA; office space, as in the Larkin Building, which has attracted more workers to that neighborhood than were employed in the area when the Larkin Soap Company was operating; and grocery stores, such as Loblaws those has developed in Toronto and Montreal.

Reinforced concrete buildings like Trico are appealing for reuse because they are sturdy and have huge, flexible floorplates. “Factories,” said Tielman, “are the original big boxes.”

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