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Trico Landmark: Pridgen Again Asks For More Time, and Gets It

A BNMC proposal to demolish part of Trico and preserve the part that runs along Goodell Street - a proposal that many preservationists believe would not qualify for the state historic preservation tax credits need to make the project feasible.

First, an acknowledgment of an error: In the previous issue I reported that last year’s recommendation by Buffalo’s Preservation Board to designate the vacant Trico Plant #1 a local landmark—an item held in limbo in the Common Council’s Legislation Committee—had been received and filed, effectively chucked in the trash.

I was wrong. The recommendation has merely been tabled; it continues to lie fallow on the Legislation Committee’s agenda. But, as Fillmore District Councilman David Franczyk pointed out at Tuesday’s Legislation Committee meeting, the distinction is negligible: Under the city charter, the committee had only 30 days after last April’s public hearing to act on the board’s first recommendation. So by the end of May, the recommendation was effectively dead anyway. “It’s a pocket veto,” Franczyk said Tuesday, as councilmembers, preservationists in the audience, and a city attorney discussed the status of that recommendation.

The second-to-last item on Tuesday’s marathon agenda was a new recommendation by the Preservation Board to landmark Trico, which is owned by the Buffalo Brownfield Restoration Corporation, a subsidiary of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, a city agency. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is under contract with BBRC as the site’s designated developer, giving BNMC control of the building’s future. BNMC has planned at various times to demolish the structure completely or in part, to make room for parking in the short term and an expansion of its Innovation Center in the longer term. Preservationists and at least one interested developer, Rocco Termini, have argued that the building is structurally sound and historic, and should be reused rather than demolished.

Ellicott District Councilman Darius Pridgen chairs the Legislation Committee. Last April, recognizing that the membership of his committee was poised to vote in favor of the local landmark designation, pleaded with preservationist Tim Tielman, who sits on the Preservation Board and led the charge to landmark the structure, for a delay: He told Tielman he wanted time to educate himself on the issue by talking to representatives of BNMC and other interested parties. He asked that Tielman agree to have the matter tabled for two weeks, until the Legislation Committee met again. He said that he’d use the time to do some research. Tielman agreed but the recommendation never left the table.

This Tuesday, confronted with the new landmark recommendation from the Preservation Board, Pridgen again asked for more time. Last week, at Pridgen’s behest, the Council voted to form an advisory committee made up of Fruit Belt residents to consult on development of the medical corridor, which borders the mostly residential, mostly African-American neighborhood. Pridgen asked Tielman once again to give him a few weeks, this time to consult this new committee, so he could get their input on landmarking Trico. He promised that this time, absolutely, the board’s landmark recommendation would be released from committee for a vote by the entire Council. Once again, Tielman agreed.

It could be argued that the Fruit Belt has been heard from. Last April, in one weekend, a group of young preservationists fanned out across the neighborhood and collected 196 signatures of Fruit Belt and McCarley Gardens residents—all of them prime voters—in support of landmarking Trico Plant #1. (Bernice Radle and Dana Saylor of Buffalo’s Young Preservationists produced that petition on Tuesday for Pridgen, who responded, “I have to talk to them.”) It could also be argued that Tuesday’s public hearing presented an opportunity for Fruit Belt residents, and anyone else, to be heard: The meeting was covered in advance by both Artvoice and the Buffalo News. But no one from the Fruit Belt came to speak, nor was there a representative from BNMC.

All but one of the speakers at the public hearing spoke in favor of the landmark designation. (The gentleman opposed said he thought the building was too ugly to be considered historic.) Preservation Board chairman Paul McDonnell reminded the Council that the board had determined that Trico met seven of the nine criteria used to determine eligibility for landmark status. Landmark status, he said, would give the community greater control of the building’s future use. Deborah Lynn Williams told the Council that the only question before them was whether Trico was eligible for landmark status; they were not voting on a development plan, nor where they committing a developer to any particular course of action. Tielman told the Council that no one ever regrets saving a historic building; we only regret allowing them to be erased. He also told the Council that state historic preservation tax credits, without which any reuse of the building might not be feasible, might hinge on it being designated a local landmark. Failure to approve such a designation in a case were it was so clearly warranted, he said, “threatened the integrity of our city ordinance and the agreement between the city and the state” regarding the preservation of historically significant buildings.

Tielman is right about historic preservation tax credits: It’s not clear that the state would approve those tax credits for a plan that calls for the demolition of most of the complex. Representatives of New York’s State Historic Preservation Office, when they have toured the building, have seemed to suggest that they consider the structure sound and salveagable, and that they favor adaptive reuse without significant demolition. Without those tax credits, the consensus seems to be that the cost becomes prohibitive.

The most recent proposal offered by BNMC entailed demolition of all but an L-shaped portion of the complex that runs along Goodell Street. That portion would be made available to proposals from outside developers; BNMC would not reuse that space themselves but would make the call on the best plan.

So what happens next? Pridgen has promised that the recommendation to landmark the building will not founder in his committee as it has for a year already. BNMC’s term as designated developer expires in November; until then, they control the site. If either BBRC or BNMC choose not to renew that contract, the field opens.

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