May 23, 2012

Demolition of Bethlehem Steel Administration Building Halted

The Bethlehem Steel Administration building got a temporary reprieve from demolition yesterday as preservationists have been publically advocating for the reuse of the historic structure. During the City Hall meeting in Lackawanna this past Tuesday, concerned citizens and preservationists were stonewalled during the meeting. The demolition of the building was not on the official agenda and as a result the group was told anyone who spoke out of turn would be held in contempt.
Image courtesy of David Torke,
Romaine Lillis, a longtime resident and member of the Lackawanna Historical Society, decided to speak about the demolition at the meeting regardless of the threat. Although Lillis was promptly shut down she was able to make her point, “That building should remain for us. It should be an icon for this city, stop this nonsense.” Lackawanna has does not have a Preservation Board or even a preservation ordinance for that matter, which complicates trying to halt the demolition of historic buildings.

The issue of the demolition was not on the agenda because it needed to be submitted the prior week by Wednesday. News of the demolition came to light last Thursday and the City was unwilling to make an exception for the meeting. Further complicating the issue was the fact that the City only meets every two weeks and demo equipment was already on site ready to go.

Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski wasn’t present during the meeting, but had the following to offer yesterday. “I am tired of hearing about our glorious past. I think preservation societies are only trying to preserve what once was as opposed to moving our region in a positive direction.” Apparently Szymanski has “no use for the building or for those who want to preserve it” because it has been “unsafe, unused, and unwanted for thirty years.” While the building has been unused for nearly three decades, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of code enforcement during that time to ensure deterioration didn’t occur; it didn’t get in this condition overnight.

There have been countless projects throughout Western New York that have utilized historic tax credits for rehabilitation work. Buildings like the Hotel Lafayette and the soon to be redeveloped Tishman building to name a few. The Lafayette was left for dead not long ago and now will become a downtown destination. The Administration building is one the last ornate and beautiful buildings on Western New York’s waterfront and could become a destination drawing people to our shared asset.

Demolition of the building is becoming less feasible for the owners, Gateway Trade Center, who were counting on half a million dollars in Restore NY funds, which cannot be used for demolition. The money was slated for an adaptive study or the rehabilitation of the property. Regardless of this, the City of Lackawanna is putting pressure on Gateway to proceed with the demolition.

The meeting this week at City Hall also brought to light what may go on the site after demolition; a warehouse. A letter from 2009 states, “the demolition of this building will allow us to have the opportunity to build a state of the art warehouse or manufacturing facility, where a vacant building once stood.” The letter was addressed to former mayor, Mayor Polanski and came from the project manager of Gateway Trade Center, Patricia Schreiber.

It seems this beaux-arts beauty of “our glorious past” would likely be sent to the landfill in favor of a warehouse. The hope being that we can finally move “our region in a positive direction.” Now that demolition has been temporarily halted there is an opportunity to begin developing an adaptive reuse study to determine if rehabilitation is feasible.

Once again, a very special thanks to David Torke of fixBuffalo for his images and hard work in trying to save this iconic structure. For addition photos and a copy of the letter mentioned above, check out his Flickr page, fixBuffalo

Views of Buffalo Flickr     -     fixBuffalo     -     The Atlantic Cities     -     The Urbanophile

No comments:

Post a Comment