Nov 27, 2012

Historic Tax Credit Ready: Emerson Place Row Houses For Sale

Row houses could be found by the dozen in cities across American in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although many have been cleared from the urban landscape, a handful remain intact in Buffalo, primarily on the east side. This set of row houses on Emerson Place was constructed in 1893 by Benjamin B. Rice (the architect is unknown). They are a great, intact example and should be held in high regard in the local preservation community.


It was not long ago that these buildings were threatened with demolition in the later years of urban renewal. Thankfully, the right people got together in 1981 and they were declared a local landmark. Then in 1985 the buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They were saved from the wrecking ball, rehabilitated, and re-inhabited. The set at 17 to 21 Emerson Place were not so lucky and were eventually demolished. The row houses on Woodlawn Avenue just around the block were the victims of arson and subsequent demolition just a few years ago.


Unfortunately, that’s about the last time this east side treasure saw investment. The row houses could use a sprucing up and they just may be getting it if the right buyer is lined up.

The entire set is being offered for sale for just over $195,000 via Realty USA, which is a bargain considering the potential return on investment. Since the buildings are already listed on the National Register, the future owner/developer of the property could pursue historic tax credits and give these buildings the rehabilitation they deserve. The tax credits would substantially offset the cost of retaining and repairing original features and finishes, repairing or replacement in-kind of the wood windows, and the interior rehabilitation.


The following comes from the National Register of Historic Places nomination from 1985.

“The two seven-unit buildings were built in 1893 in an eclectic style incorporating Colonial Revival, Shingle Style, and Eastlake features. The two identical fourteen-bay buildings have flat roofs with projecting molded denticulated cornices, vertical board friezes, with sawtooth ends, and decorative shingle sheathing. Each building rests on a stone foundation. The facades are distinguished by seven two-story bow windows each of which originally contained five narrow, elongated sash with transoms. Between the bow windows on the second floor are boarded over one-over-one double hung sash; on the first floor are entrances, also boarded, with sidelights and transoms. The molded entrance surrounds feature an Eastlake style scroll plinth and detailing.


Sawtooth shingles form a flared skirt above the denticulated, vertical board stringcourse marking the second floor. The entrance porches retain their denticulated cornices and scroll supports although the original posts and wooden steps were replaced in the 1970s. The end elevations have boarded over two-story bow windows and one-over-one double hung sash.

The interior room arrangement of each unit generally consists of, from front to rear; living room, dining room, kitchen with side hall and entrance. The second floor has bedrooms and a bath. The only surviving interior features include some period hardware, woodwork, and stairways. The row is currently vacant and in a state of disrepair although it retains the majority of its original architectural details.


The row at #33-41 Emerson Place is architecturally and historically significant as one of a rare surviving group of speculative multi-unit frame residences designed to resemble rowhouses in the City of Buffalo. The row is one of only four intact groups of similar housing remaining in the Masten neighborhood of north central Buffalo, the only area in the city where frame multi-unit rows were built in any concentration.

The Emerson Place row is one of only two surviving rows (see #17-21 Emerson Place) that have been documented as being built by the Rice family, land dealers and developers largely responsible for the construction of rows in the Masten neighborhood from 1880 to 1910.

1985 from the National Register nomination
Built in 1893 by Benjamin B. Rice, the row is one of two (see #17-21 Emerson Place) remaining along the south side of the street, forming the most intact surviving period streetscape in the neighborhood. The row, which is composed of two seven-unit buildings, is architecturally significant as a fine example of eclectic design, featuring decorative shingle sheathing and two-story bow windows.

1985 from the National Register nomination
The Emerson Place row remains as one of the most intact examples of its type and period; it illustrates a distinctive architectural response to the issue of designing standardized urban housing and recalls an important aspect in the late nineteenth century residential growth and development of the Masten neighborhood.”

To see more current photos of the row houses on Emerson Place and additional photos from 1985 National Register nomination, check out the photos on Flickr here.

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Nov 20, 2012

Trico Reuse Study Released, Calls for Some Preservation

Things are beginning to look up for the historic Trico #1 Building on the corner of Washington and Goodell streets. The building is located in the heart of the ever-expanding medical campus and is situated between Allentown, Downtown, and the Fruit Belt neighborhoods. Earlier this year, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was ready to demolish the entire complex, refused free help for a reuse study, and was proposing a “temporary parking lot” before new construction was to take place.


Between March and today there have been many arguments, false starts, and much finger pointing, but the dust has finally settled. Developer and architect, Doug Swift, was charged with developing a reuse feasibility study for the building and the results mean some good things for Trico.

The plan calls for reusing almost half of the existing complex, adding some new builds, and some significant demolitions. The newest portions of the reinforced concrete daylight factory would be retained, while the remaining older portions would come down. The entire frontage along Goodell would remain, which is definitely the most iconic portion of the complex.


However, since there is so much demolition, the project would not be eligible for historic tax credits. Additionally, since the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places those demolitions may limit or eliminate any federal or state funds, not including the tax credits.


When the issue was first raised, the BNMC claimed the entire complex was structurally unsound, but given the type of construction it seemed unlikely. Sure enough, the reuse study proved that although the site is as contaminated as expected, all but one of the buildings are structurally sound. Building 1, the former icehouse for the Weyand Brewery, is possibly unsalvageable, but was not completely written off.

Rendering courtesy of the Buffalo News
I’m sure the discussions for the future of this iconic landmark are far from over, but it finally seems like we may be turning the corner in the discussions. Stay tuned for more details as the story develops.

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Nov 6, 2012

In-Rem Auction Round Up: Hamlin Park 2012 Results

The annual In-Rem foreclosure auction in the City of Buffalo took place last week and many homes and buildings in Buffalo found new owners among the bidders. I decided to take a closer look at the Hamlin Park Neighborhood to see how it fared compared to the rest of the city. The complete list for the city can be seen by clicking here.

188 Northland ($16,000)
188 Northland Avenue was a steal at $16,000
Two weeks prior to the auction, there were close to 95 properties within the Hamlin Park boundaries that were on the chopping block. That’s just over 6% of all the homes in the district, which doesn’t sound like a big deal. However, that amount was above average when compared to the average for the whole city of Buffalo, about 5%.

1559 Jefferson ($3,500)
1559 Jefferson sold for less than $4,000 and likely includes the back building
Thankfully, the majority of the properties were redeemed by their owners before auction, leaving only 26 properties and 3 vacant lots up for grabs (1.8%). It’s going to be interesting to see what these homes look like a year from now. My hope is that most of them will be owner occupied and well maintained, but we’ll have to wait and see.

For those who don’t know, Hamlin Park is a strong and dense east side neighborhood located directly behind Canisius College. The boundaries for the area are Main Street to the north, Humboldt Parkway to the east, East Ferry Street to the south and Jefferson Avenue to the west. Within these boundaries there are approximately 1550 properties that make up the district. Hamlin Park is currently a local historic district, but is up for consideration early next year as a National Register Historic District.

185 Florida ($11,000)
185 Florida sits on a nice double lot

A local historic district is great for a neighborhood, but does not offer the same kind of financial benefits in the form of tax credits that National Register historic district can offer. The designation generally helps to stabilize home values and is often done in response to a threat to the neighborhood. Hamlin Park was designated a local historic district in part because Canisius College was considering buying up properties for demolition in order to expand their campus footprint. 

However, local historic districts provide protection for homeowners that a National Register district does not. The local designation has more “teeth” than the national designation because material changes to buildings within that district must go before the Preservation Board for approval. That means if you restore your home to its original grandeur, you likely don’t have to worry about your neighbor putting on an unsightly addition or glassblocking all their windows or generally ruining property values with poor design changes.

A National Register historic district typically offers more incentives. Those who own a contributing historic home are eligible for historic tax credits (20% of the total project cost) in a similar way big developers use them for rehabbing large structures like the Hotel Lafayette.

In order to be eligible for the program the home must owner-occupied, contribute to the district, and be located in a Federal Census Tract that is at or below the state family median income level. That describes most of Hamlin Park. The project must have a qualifying rehabilitation costs that exceed $5,000, at least 5% must be spent on the exterior, and the work must be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

For example, let’s say I want in on the program and need the following: a new roof, a professional repaint of the exterior, repair of existing wood windows, restoration of deteriorated porch elements, and updated mechanical systems. All of that work would generally qualify. We’ll assume the total project cost is $30,000 and if all the work qualifies, I would be earning $6,000 in tax credits. The proposed work would be described on a pretty simple application that goes to SHPO for their use and review to qualify for the program.

46 Pleasant ($16,000)
46 Pleasant was one of the more unique properties in the auction
The credit is taken in the year in which SHPO approves the completed work. If the allowable credit exceeds an owner’s income tax for the year and the adjusted gross income is under $60,000, the excess will be treated as an overpayment of tax to be credited or refunded.

It’s a win-win no matter how you look at it. The neighborhood continues to get improvements while the historic character of the area is retained. Homeowners get some economic benefits for participating in the program and maintaining the historic appearance of their home.

24 Pleasant ($18,000)
24 Pleasant seems to be one of the best bargains in the neighborhood. Great condition for just $18k

Those who want to rehabilitate their homes, but not be “restricted” by the Standards, can do whatever they please and would only be subject to the local Preservation Board review, which is already the case. Just because you have a home in the district does not mean that you automatically have to participate, you can decide to opt in or out.

For current photos of the 29 properties in Hamlin Park that got new owners, check out this set on my Flickr page. It also includes the sale price of each home.


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Nov 4, 2012

Two to Save on William Street

I’ve been watching this duo for a few years and unfortunately they have not been getting any better. A quick check of Erie country property records reveals that both buildings are privately owned, not the city’s property as I originally suspected. 673 William is owned by Miracle Mission Baptist Church and 677 William is owned by Barbara B. Jones.


So far I have not been able to get any contact information for Miracle Mission, but I was able to track down Ms. Jones.  The Church has owned their building since 1999 and Ms. Jones has owned hers since 1997. It looks like the pair have been empty for the better part of a decade.  I imagine Miracle Mission did in fact use their property as a small storefront church given the smashed organ and makeshift stage.


This area of William Street is blocks from the downtown core and has lost a significant amount of the historic buildings. There is still some good stuff over here and imaging these two rehabbed and inhabited is not difficult.


677 William predates 673 and was built sometime between 1900 and 1925 as indicated by Sanborn maps. 677 William was built post-1925, but likely not too long afterward. I’ll do my best to get some further research on both and do an update post soon.


They both have their fair share of issues, especially 677, which has a partially collapsed first floor. A closer look reveals the likely culprit is a compromised roof and water infiltration that ultimately rotted the floor joists where they meet the wall. Regardless, the pair appear to be solid overall. Some basic roof repairs and securing the shell would go a long way in mothballing these gems until a new owner can be found.

For additional photos, check out my Flickr page here.

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