Jun 19, 2012

Concerned Citizens, Preservationists, and Politicians Battle Over Peace Bridge. UPDATE: Judge Blocks Demolitions

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture is filing suit against the Public Bridge Authority (PBA) in New York State Supreme Court to prevent demolition of a row of historic houses on Busti Avenue. The PBA wants to demolish the row for an access road to a new Duty Free store it wants to build on the present site of the Episcopal Church Home, itself a designated City of Buffalo Landmark. A hearing on a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) will be heard Tuesday, June 19, 2012 before Justice Joseph Glownia (Part 6, 3rd floor, 92 Franklin St.)


Byron Brown made a public announcement about the situation stating that he wants a halt on the demolition until the PBA shows concrete plans for the site before they can proceed, but Congressman Brian Higgins believes that halting the demolition is standing in the way of progress. Yesterday Higgins called on WNY leaders, residents, and businesses to join him in the "fight against the inertia."  He cited how a new deal in Detroit, announced last week, to build an international bridge should serve as an example for Buffalo to follow suit and additional delays should not be tolerated.


"While Western New York is finding ways to block, other communities are finding ways to build," said Congressman Higgins.  "The complacency and resistance to change that has been pervasive in Buffalo for fifty years will continue to cost us if we don't act now." The project in Detroit will create about 12,000 jobs per year during the four year construction period and would generate 8000 permanent jobs upon completion. "Incessant squabbling only leads to inertia," said Higgins, "Be it the waterfront, the Peace Bridge or the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, it is time to fight against the fight and together fight for progress and all the good that comes with it."

Higgins' recent infrastructure bill has been projected to create 27 million jobs over the next 5 years and $400 billion in economic activity the first year alone. He asserted, "Public infrastructure is a public responsibility. In addition to historically low rates of borrowing, the "cost acceleration" of delaying road and bridge repair increases by 500% after only two years. Put simply, a $5 million bridge repair project will cost $25 million in 2014. The time to rebuild America is now, actually right now."


The Campaign and many others feel differently about the impact of the demolitions and the potential for harmful pollution to increase in the adjacent neighborhood with an expansion. The Campaign contends that the Public Bridge Authority has failed to file undertake the proper environmental review as required by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).  "The PBA claims it can demolish our historic landmarks and neighborhoods as it pleases, without regard to proper review and consent at the state and federal levels. They are wrong, said Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman, "and their actions are wrong."

Three of the houses being targeted are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, including the locally landmarked Samuel Wilkeson House. It is an excellent example of the Tuscan Villa style and was home to Colonel Samuel Henry Wilkeson (grandson of Judge Samuel Wilkeson, the most significant of Buffalo's founding fathers). The house at 771 Busti is the last physical link to the Wilkesons in Buffalo.

Campaign Assistant for Special Projects Dana Saylor says, "To lose this house, as well as the other significant structures in the Prospect Hill Historic District, would be a travesty. The Public Bridge Authority Directors fail to understand the importance of this district, and their actions show only a concern with perpetuating the PBA, rather than serving bridge users and the citizens of Buffalo and New York State."

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Jun 18, 2012

Artists Set Up Shop and Residence on East Side

Recently during one of my weekly walks around Buffalo, I stumbled upon something special on the east side. Two young, creative artists and friends who have set up shop off Broadway just outside of downtown were hard at work getting their woodworking shop in order. Nathaniel Hall and Eric Jude Mott were nice enough to take me on a tour of their building at 343 Hickory Street. They currently occupy the first floor primarily, but are working on making repairs and alterations to the second floor for a unique gallery and living space. They have been in the space since September of last year.
Mott and Hall in front of their Hickory Street Shop
Mott is not originally from Buffalo, but fell in love with the city shortly after his arrival. He enrolled in the furniture program at Buffalo State College where he met Nathaniel Hall. Before coming to Buffalo, Nathaniel had been designing and producing furniture and functional products for years. He has worked at the high end Lee Weitzman Furniture company in Chicago, he opened his own shop for a period, and worked as a carpenter in Las Vegas for a period of time.

After about a year at Buffalo State, the two were disappointed with program and decided that investing in $40,000 in shop equipment was a better investment than a $40,000 piece of paper, so they joined forces and set up shop. I caught up with the pair shortly after my visit to their shop and was fortunate enough to get a ton of info from them both. They settled on the east side primarily because of the incredible amount of great spaces with very affordable rates. The building they found could not have been more perfect, the rent is reasonable, they have a great relationship with the landlord who is allowing them to alter and define the space as they like, and they're only minutes outside of downtown. "The east side wasn't a conscious decision," explains Mott, "It wasn't until sometime after that we realized the importance of the east side."
Inlaid wood bracelets
The flexibility and expression of creativity in design keeps Hall going every day, "As an artist, what we dream can become reality," says Hall, "As much as I enjoy this idea I also enjoy the fact that in this world, bad design exists. I want to find a cure in most instances of this. In my work I desire to improve the quality of life for the interacting individual. I draw inspiration from daily encounters." Mott has a growing discontent for his surroundings and modern disposable living. "It's not just about creating, it's about developing an item that will sustain not because it was engineered to resist decomposition, but because that item contains evidence of patience, skill, and intent," he explains."

Although Mott and Hall share a workspace, they work independently of each other and have their own individual business names; Mott has Wolfe and Rabbit and Hall has RxMadera (prescription wood). Wolfe and Rabbit and RxMadera products are available online at Etsy and RxMadera will have a website operational very soon. Mott will be offering his products tonight at 515 Main Street for the 500 Block Party and later in the year on September 29 for the WNY Fiber Festival in Emery Park.

Neither of the artists have a specific audience that they are trying to cater to, just simply those who appreciate good, innovative design. "My wood eye ware is very custom and specialized. I take great pride when I say 100% hand made in the United States, Buffalo NY, "explains Mott, "I provide the epitome of Retro, a 21 century revision of fashion, function and form spanning four decades. A bold, confident and elegant statement for any individual proud to support hand crafted made right here in Buffalo New York."
Wood eye ware available with prescription lenses or as tinted sunglasses 
Hall's favorite medium to work is wood and he is often inspired by historic pieces. "When I'm creating pieces of furniture, I always investigate past designs. How can I improve them?" he asks, "What, if any, is a problem within the design? History is always present if reclaimed materials are used, as I see it. I recently made a custom countertop made of hemlock from a balloon style built house that was built in 1819.  Boards of this size and species today are almost unheard of, my estimation would make the age of that piece close to 300 years old. I milled the piece down, sawed it into smaller widths, added some details and glued the piece back together; that tree has been reborn."
Walking around their shop the duo have some really creative designs and it wouldn't take much to imagine some of the products like the wood eye ware to really take off. They both see the value in the east side, but recognize that it will still be quite some time before others catch on. "Space is abundant and cheap but the stigma that comes with even inviting people to the east side is often difficult for the unfamiliar to overcome," explained Hall, "I do believe Buffalonian's views of the east side will change, but only with time and exposure."
Be sure to check out their current products that are available online and support some great local artists. You can contact Nathaniel directly at Dawgnip99@yahoo or get in touch with Eric via wolfeandrabbit@gmail.com about their various offerings.

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Jun 12, 2012

Lackawanna Mayor and Bethlehem Steel Owners Invited to Public Hearing

The demolition is at a stand-still at the Bethlehem Steel Administration building in Lackawanna and tonight there will be a public hearing to discuss a multitude of different topics in regards to its future. The event is called, "A Public Hearing for Old North" where citizens and leaders come together for a discussion about the building's fate. Doors open at 6:30pm, with the hearing beginning at 7pm at the VFW John B. Weber Post at 2909 South Park in Lackawanna, 14218. A newly formed advocacy organization whose co-founders are Lackawanna residents, the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, is sponsoring the event.

Volunteer opportunities working with the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group are available and the following will be discussed at the meeting: How the creation of a "certified local government" in Lackawanna will open the way for a preservation ordinance, historic survey work, and access to preservation tax credits. The history of the building and those who have worked to save it for over twenty years. The current status of the demolition proceedings. Perspectives from the owners of the building, and the City of Lackawanna. A ReUse proposal and presentation of the National Register application. Lackawanna Common Council resolution requesting the Mayor to reconsider the current demolition plan. 

Invited panelists include Preservation Buffalo-Niagara, Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, Lackawanna Historical Society, Lackawanna city council president Henry Pirowski, Gateway Trade owners and the Mayor Szymanski of Lackawanna and Darren Cotton a local preservationist and reuse advocate.  All political representatives whose constituents reside in the area of Old North are asked to attend.  The Public will be invited to comment during the open session.  Chris Hawley is the evening's moderator.

The discussion surrounding the building has been receiving local and national attention like on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Blog and David Torke's coverage on fixBuffalo. A National Register nomination will be submitted later this month to further protect the building and allow the owners to pursue historic tax credits if the building is to be rehabilitated. Stay up to date and connected on the status of the building with the official Facebook page, Save the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building.

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Jun 9, 2012

Mayor Brown Steps Up to Oppose Busti Avenue Demolitions

Yesterday, Byron Brown came out publicly to oppose the pending demolitions on Busti Avenue by sending a letter to Governor Cuomo asking for his intervention to halt the demolitions. Below is the letter that Brown's office issued as it was written to Governor Cuomo.


Dear Governor Cuomo:

I am writing to request that you join me in appealing to the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (PBA) to delay the planned demolitions of properties on Busti Avenue in the City of Buffalo scheduled to occur later this month.

As you know, I partnered with your administration in forming a working group, which includes residents, community stakeholders, the District Councilmember, and members of our respective administrations to review the PBA's proposed expansion of the Peace Bridge Plaza. The PBA has also been invited to participate, however they have indicated that they will no longer attend working group meetings.

Although I believe some progress has been made through the working group process to this point, the community has raised a number of valid concerns and many unanswered questions remain. Most important, the PBA has yet to make public its current proposal, nor has it formally provided to it to the City of Buffalo or the community working group. Given the significant community concern related to the proposed plaza expansion project, I find the PBA's lack of transparency to be troubling.

As the proposed plans have yet to be made public, and the community working group continues to meet to discuss the proposal, I believe it would be premature to demolish the Busti Avenue properties. I also believe that the premature demolition of property will create unnecessary public conflict.

Therefore, I am respectfully requesting that you join me in calling upon the PBA to hold off the demolition of the Busti Avenue properties to allow the working group we have partnered in assembling to continue to meet and work through the issues raised through this process. I also request that you join me in appealing to the PBA to make its expansion plans public and fully participate in the working group process.

I am available to discuss this matter with you or your staff. Thank you for your consideration


Byron W. Brown

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