Apr 29, 2013

Deaconess Hospital Complex Comes Down, Deaconess Heights to Rise in its Place

The Deaconess Hospital complex at 1001 Humboldt Parkway (google map) is completely down and crews are working to remove the remainder of the debris. Once the site has been completely cleared a new housing development will begin construction on the site. Kaleida Health paid for the demolition of the 268,000 square foot hospital complex in order to pave the way for the Community Action Organization of Erie County (CAO) to create a new housing development, Deaconess Heights.

Deaconess Hospital Complex,  November 2012
Deaconess Heights has been designed in an attempt to be sympathetic to the nature of its urban surroundings. New homes will have setbacks similar to existing homes in the neighborhood, parking lots will be regulated to the rear, and large porches will help foster neighbor relationships. Their design also takes cues from older home styles with gable roofs, bay windows, and other fenestration patterns that one would typically find throughout the area. The homes will all face the street on which they are sited and large courtyards, community gardens, and playgrounds will be framed by the homes to the rear. It will be developed in phases over the next two years with a target date of Spring 2015 for full completion.

Deaconess Hospital Complex,  March 2013
“The CAO is working with a development group that includes McGuire Development, R & P Oakhill Construction, and Hodgson-Russ Attorneys-at-Law” said L. Nathan Hare, executive director. “The CAO is well underway in its pursuit of tax-credit financing, affordable housing and other grant resources needed to make the ultimate mortgage financing of the project affordable.”

Proposed site plan. Humboldt Parkway is to the right
The CAO worked closely with UB students in the School of Architecture and Planning to develop a design that would be most appropriate within the dense neighborhood. They recommended that all new development should maintain the sense of place and face the street. Two-way traffic was also encouraged to continue and infrastructure improvements should encourage walkability and bicycling. The large open porches were also a UB recommendation as they create a sense of “eyes on the street,” a concept made popular by urban planning writer, Jane Jacobs in her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Proposed Home Types/Styles
The overall plan is to build 90 to 100 housing units on the site. Additionally, the CAO may build their new headquarters, a resident’s community service center, youth services classrooms, and a Head Start Academy. The hospital building was just too large for the CAO’s needs and combined with the asbestos contamination, there wasn’t a viable option for them to reuse it.

Deaconess (c.1932)
Original Deaconess Hospital before the Humboldt Parkway building, c.1932
Same view as above,  November 2012
The CAO is also involved in the adjacent community in an attempt to foster good relationships and elevate the quality of the area for all residents. They have begun implementing a Home Improvement Resource Program (HIRP), which helps homeowners access energy efficiency and home improvement resources. “The overall goal of the CAO is to transform the Greater Martin Luther King, Jr. Park area into a community people are trying to move into, rather than trying to move from,” said Hare, “We’re hoping to improve 25% of the homes in that area in the next two years and through this strategy we can help improve the home values, there by creating a market for these homes with this development and improvements.” The target area for this initiative is illustrated in the map below.

The CAO already has a good track record in the neighborhood as they recently transformed the shuttered St. Martin Complex into a community with new housing and the reuse of three historic buildings on the site. If all goes according to plan, there should be some movement by November of this year. For additional photos of the Deaconess Hospital demolition click here for my Flickr page and for more photos of the adjacent neighborhood click here.

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Apr 26, 2013

Construction Watch: Hotel Graystone on Track for New Residents this Summer

Rehabilitation of the Hotel Graystone at 24 Johnson Park is well underway and should be wrapped up and ready for residents this summer. The inside of the Graystone is buzzing with activity as workers create the 42 market-rate apartments, restoring original features, including over 320 original windows. In addition to the apartments, commercial space will be available in the basement.

The Graystone was built between 1894 and 1897 and was originally planned to extend all the way to Delaware Avenue. Unfortunately, the plans never materialized because the owner ran into financial problems leaving the building only partially completed. A new owner took over in 1896 and quickly completed the building. The western two thirds of the building are reinforced concrete, while the eastern one-third is steel and brick construction, done to expedite construction when the new owner took over.

The opening in the ceiling is the future location of a spiral staircase to the bedrooms above
Ellicott Development Company purchased the property in 2002 and work has been on and off since due to a number of complications, like the partial roof collapse several years ago. The Graystone was vacated over 20 years ago; at its height it served visitors of the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 and once housed 63 apartment units.


The rehabilitation proved challenging because all the walls in the reinforced concrete portion of the building are load bearing and could not be significantly altered. The brick and steel section of the building offered more leeway as walls could be more easily moved and modified.


A centered classic entrance provides access to the building and the interior corridor has terrazzo floors and remnants of scaglioa on the walls in a similar fashion to the Hotel Lafayette. Two light alleys do a great job at bringing natural down to the darkest parts of the building. Units that have walls abutting the light alley feature the original windows that will continue to provide natural light into new bedrooms. The apartments will be a mix of one and two bedroom units with unique design features in each.


Terrazzo floors continue from the corridor into some of the units and will be restored. Additionally, many units feature original hardwood flooring that will also be refinished and exposed. As previously mentioned, there was a need to get creative with the unit layout due to the load bearing construction. Six of the units are two floors with the living space and kitchen on the first floor and bedrooms on the floor above, accessed via a new spiral staircase. Other features being retained and restored include the detailed metal staircases, ceiling windows in the first floor corridor, and the mosaic tile floor in what is believed to be a former lounge area.


The Graystone is on the National Register of Historic Places and the rehabilitation is utilizing historic tax credits. Recently, the ECIDA also granted Ellicott Development $212,900 in sales and mortgage tax abatements. For additional photos of the rehabilitation work in progress, check out my Flickr page by clicking here.

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Apr 17, 2013

FREE: Mid-19th Century Commercial Building, Needs Some Love

This handsome commercial building at 363 Genesee Street (google map) has a lot of its original integrity, but it has certainly seen better days. The next few weeks are crucial to determining if it will join others in the landfill or if it will be saved and rehabilitated. 


J. Gerlach likely constructed it in the late 1860s since he was purchasing plots on Genesee near Hickory in the mid 1850s, including the parcel on which this building is located. The Gerlach family members first appear at the address in 1868 and given the historic development of the area, that year seems appropriate for its construction. I have not researched its early uses or occupants, but most recently it was a print shop for Ernst Landes. His partner, Donald Kroger, took ownership of the building in 1956 and he later sold it to the current owners in 1984. The current owners are elderly and unfortunately have been unable to maintain the property in recent years due to medical complications.


The building is being dragged into housing court in an attempt to force demolition, but there is an opportunity here for someone who would be up to the task. I have been in contact with the owners and their attorney for a few months now and the owners are willing to give the building away for FREE to anyone who wants it and plans to rehabilitate it.


Original elements remain on the exterior and interior of the building in fair condition. The exterior retains the original cast iron storefront columns, recessed entrance, and arch top sash windows. An elegant curving staircase provides access to all the floors and features finely turned banisters. The first floor is commercial storefront space and the original display shelves remain under the brick infill that was added in the 1980s.


The upper floors are flats and surprisingly have not been divided or altered over the years. Typically with a building of this age the apartments were often remodeled beyond recognition and chopped up as a rooming house. This building somehow managed to escape that period unscathed and a lot of original elements remain in the upper floors. Window casings, doors and door moldings and some nice chair rail remain intact, which greatly adds to the original character and feel of the building.


While all of those original elements are great, the building has some large and immediate needs. The roof has deteriorated in the front and the rear causing some soft spots in the front and some collapse in the rear portion. The center of the building is fairly solid and the deterioration in the front could likely be fixed. I went through the building with a contractor who estimated the building would need somewhere between $50k to $100k for masonry repairs and roof repair. 
This is the worst of the damage to the rear of the building

The image above and below shows the extent of the floor collapse in the rear portion of the building and while it may frighten off a potential owner, it also provides a great opportunity. Rather than restore the floors, you could to install a horizontal beam supported by two columns at each floor and the missing section could remain open as an interior atrium. A simple railing at each floor would ensure someone would not just walk off. I've seen it done in a few of the projects I've been involved with in the past and they make quite a statement.

If you have an interest in this historic building please get in touch with me as soon as possible at mike.j.puma@gmail.com. Although it does require some serious investment, the fact that the owners are willing to give it away to anyone who wants it certainly helps. For additional photos on the interior and exterior check out my Flickr page by clicking here.  
This is the view of downtown from the front of the building and quite a vista for someone to enjoy if a new owner can be found who is up to the task

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Apr 4, 2013

City Hall is Making it Easier to Buy City Owned Properties

As the population of Buffalo continues to shrink we are often left with an increasing catalogue of vacant homes, many of which become the property of the City of Buffalo. Ownership falls to the city for a wide variety of different reasons like failure to pay taxes or a property being struck to the city due to increased complaints because of the negligence of the property owner. The process for acquiring a city owned property is usually lengthy and complicated, but things are beginning to change for the better at City Hall.
This handsome double is located in Hamlin Park and city-owned. A separate post will follow for it shortly
Traditionally, the process for buying a city owned home includes demonstrating the buyer has a minimum of $5000 for purchase and rehab, a review of the property, and an appraisal paid for by the purchaser. If the home is only worth a few thousand dollars, the cost of the appraisal (~ $300 to $500) becomes a large percentage of buyer’s investment in the house purchase and often deters people from entering into the program.

After that initial process the application goes through the land use planning committee for review. The committee meets the first and third Wednesday of every month so if the application is not received in time it could mean an additional two-week delay. They evaluate all aspects of the application including a check that the buyer is clear of all code violations, up to date on their taxes, and not a home flipper. This whole process from the initial interest in the home to the land use approval typically takes two months.  

The Lyth Cottage was purchased from the city in 2011 and is nearing the end of its rehabilitation

In order to cut down on time and costs for a potential buyer, the Department of Real Estate has recently introduced a new system for marketing a city owned property. The Multiple Listing System (MLS) reduces the time of the purchase review by about two months. Additionally, it establishes the fair market value for each property rather than having an interested buyer pay for an appraisal.

The MLS is operated by the WNY Real Estate Information Service, which is associated with the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors. The City of Buffalo had to become a broker with approval from the Department of State in order to enter into the Association and have the ability to join the Real Estate Information Service. The homes on the MLS site can be purchased by using any licensed realtor rather than going through the city process.

“I believe the quality of life in the City of Buffalo can be impacted through real estate,” said Christie Nelson, the Director of Real Estate, “Home ownership creates a sense of pride that can lift up a community.” Christie was nice enough to spend about an hour with me explaining this whole process and how the new system can make it easier for buyers to reinvest in the city.

This house on East Utica was unfortunately lost recently after a buyer could not be found

A question that has often gone unanswered is why the city cannot just sell a property to a qualified buyer for $1 and avoid this whole process. People often mistakenly point the finger at city hall and claim it is just government stonewalling the little guy. The real reason lies within in the city charter and NYS municipal law which forbids “gifting” real property to an individual, i.e. not paying fair market value. This presents a limitation for the real estate department since there are many capable buyers out there, but most are unwilling to deal with traditional lengthy purchase process.

“Mayor Byron Brown's appointment of Christie Nelson as the new Director of Real Estate is the sort of appointment that both grass roots community activists and private investors are supporting.” said David Torke of fixBuffalo, “This is an important step forward for the City and for people who want to invest responsibly in the City's growing inventory of distressed property.” Torke has helped facilitate the sale of several city-owned properties to new owners, many moving from the suburbs into the city. 

Although the city currently has a handful of properties listed in the MLS more will likely be added and expanded in the near future. Getting as many city owned properties on this list will allow for an expedited purchase process and get these neglected homes into the right hands for rehabilitation. The introduction of the MLS is certainly keeping with the department’s goal of “making Buffalo’s neighborhoods better for the next generation” and “creating economic, housing, and quality of life opportunities in Buffalo’s neighborhoods.” 


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