A handful of Lackawanna residents on Monday urged the City Council to pressure Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski into doing an adaptive reuse study on the long-vacant Bethlehem Steel administration building that is scheduled for demolition.
“It is what the city has been built on, and it needs to stick around,” said Danielle Huber, founder of the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, a new group that is fighting to preserve the ornate 1901 building.
The city has obtained a court order forcing the building’s current owner, Gateway Trade Center, to tear it down.
Preservationists rallied in the hours before demolition was set to begin on May 18. The work has been delayed since then, but it could restart shortly as the city continues to push for the demolition in court.
Buffalo’s East Side is in demolition overdrive.
On Goodyear Avenue alone, 99 houses and other buildings have been demolished since 2000. On Fillmore, it’s 96 houses; on Sycamore, 81; and on Bailey, 79. And they’re hardly alone: On 27 other East Side streets, 40 or more demolitions occurred during the same period.
“I used to live here,” said Lena Merecki, visiting a friend on Goodyear, where she grew up. “It is much more beat-up than it was. It seems like emptiness now.”
Matt Cummings has a similar feeling when he returns to his old Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood: “It’s a ghost town. They just move the crane right down the street.”
Mayor Byron W. Brown’s administration has been on a demolition spree, with a goal of knocking down 5,000 buildings in five years, including those owned by private individuals and city redevelopment agencies. Coming on the heels of the Masiello administration, which demolished thousands more, a lot of buildings have come tumbling down.
“Other than Detroit, I don’t know any city that does the magnitude of demolitions that Buffalo does,” said David Mazur, president of Empire Dismantlement on Grand Island. He has worked in the demolition field for more than 20 years in 16 states.
Neighbors and even critics don’t doubt the need for many, if not most, of the houses to come down. But as the impact of the demolition program takes hold — with some blocks on the East Side virtually wiped out and others with lots left vacant for more than a decade — there doesn’t seem to be a plan for rebuilding the inner city, they say.
There are also concerns that run-down properties end up on the demolition list despite being structurally sound.
A trashed and boarded-up house on Michigan Avenue, in the Cold Spring neighborhood and within view of City Honors School and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, is one example.
There’s a hole in the ceiling where thieves ripped out pipes for scrap. Radiators and door plates are missing. A hole juts through one of the walls, debris is everywhere, and a bathroom sink sits on the kitchen floor.
But the floors are level, water damage is minimal, and the hardwood stairwell — part of a dual staircase common to some early 20th century homes — seems solid.
“The damage certainly adds a significant amount to the cost of renovation. But the house, besides the damage done by the scrappers, is in excellent condition,” said Daniel Ash, a community activist working to revitalize the Cold Spring neighborhood.
“It’s a crime demolition would even be possible here,” added David Torke, another neighborhood activist.
Torke says he occasionally gets copies of the city’s proposed demolition list and visits some of the houses. “At least 20” over the years were salvageable, he said.
Leonid Chatkhan, who has bought more than 100 houses as rental properties, agrees that the city is sometimes too quick to demolish.
Chatkhan in early April persuaded Housing Court Judge Patrick M. Carney to halt an emergency demolition on Butler Avenue over the city’s objections.
A back-porch addition to the vacant Hamlin Park house, located in a local preservation district, collapsed. Chatkhan, who bought the property at auction months earlier, had the rear of the house repaired in two days.
“The original foundation is solid like a rock,” Chatkhan said.