Saving Trico & the Leadership Vacuum

It’s only been a few short weeks, but I’m already absolutely sick & tired of hearing about, talking about, or thinking about the decaying, unusued Trico factory. Empty now for a decade, it stands as an overgrown, brown headstone honoring the memory of industries lost to the cheap labor and lax environmental regulations of Mexico’s borderlands. Trico assembles wipers in Matamoros. Trico is dead. Oishei so loved Buffalo that they moved the wiper business – which employed people and created local wealth and economic activity – and set up a foundation. 

Battle lines have been drawn, and the forces of “preservation” have selected an old building as a “must-save”, and will go to every length to prevent even the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus from demolishing and replacing the dormant Buffalo factory building. This despite the fact that BNMC is driven by innovation and knowledge, and employing people in something other than piddling service jobs or anachronistic assembly positions. This despite the fact that much of what BNMC has built in recent years has been architecturally as innovative as the work done within the buildings. 

Sure, I could point out that the work that BNMC and its people do is today’s version of building wiper blades, but that doesn’t matter. Trico must be saved! I could point out that the cavernous Trico building’s design could just as easily be described as an eyesore as it can be held up as an example of a factory design that was innovative 100 years ago, but that doesn’t matter. Trico must be saved! Even hypothetically – if a company was saying it wanted to move to Buffalo and create a zillion jobs at $50,000 per year, but wanted to be downtown on a large plot of land and build something designed by Frank Gehry on the site of the mothballed Trico site, and it wouldn’t matter. Trico must be saved!

This despite the fact that Trico has been sitting there for a century, and it is so significant and historical and historically significant that there exists nothing on the books that would legally prohibit its demolition. 

There is no winning in this argument. Only headaches. Buffalo’s activist class have temporarily united to combat anything but Trico’s adaptive reuse. Even Rocco Termini – whose entire business model is based on (a) being friendly with Byron Brown; and (b) using subsidies to render adaptive reuse economically feasible shamelessly says he has a dollar in his pocket to buy Trico and then save it – using government subsidies to do so. 

There seems to be a belief that because Trico can be adapted and reused, it must be adapted and reused. I don’t think that’s true, but it doesn’t matter. Trico must be saved!

Usually, when populations and stakeholders have some sort of disagreement, political leaders will step in and show some leadership on the issue. Not here. Anyone know where Byron Brown stands on this controversy? With whom will he side – with jobs and innovation, or with the defenders of a “daylight factory”, which was innovative in its use of windows?

Buffalo Rising’s April Fool’s joke involved Trico “saving itself”, and flying away because the city is so mean to it. I wish it were true. I wish we could ship our unused industrial detritus elsewhere, but we can’t.  We can either turn it into the “Trico lofts”, or tear it down. But a vocal and well-organized minority has decided that Trico is important and must be saved – not because it’s in any way attractive, but because of its “good bones”. Because of a leadership vacuum in City Hall and no one much caring, BNMC will be bullied into submission. There will be no peace until the state subsidizes cut-rate rental apartments, maybe offices, and vacant street-level retail space in that massive building.  Or perhaps BNMC will decide to put its 21st century people in a century-old factory. 

In inadvertently picking a fight over historic preservation, the BNMC – the future of Buffalo – never had a chance. 


  • If BNMC had a plan in place for something other than a parking lot, I don’t think there’d be the groundswell of opposition to blowing up the big old building. The fact is, they came out of nowhere with the demo order and were just going to leave YET ANOTHER empty space!

    We have enough empty space in Buffalo. If someone can sue to prevent another vacant lot, I’m okay with that.

    • Actually, they didn’t “come out of nowhere with the demo order”. As part of a long, ongoing discussion BNMC was having with the preservation people, the latter asked BNMC what its demolition plan would look like. BNMC produced the phased-demolition graphic, and the preservationists released it as if it was a fait accompli.

      Also, to say that BNMC just wants “yet another empty space” is politely known as a “canard”, impolitely known as “bullshit”. 

      • Blow it up.

      •  There was no ‘long, ongoing discussion’.  In fact, the process (esp. lack of a reuse study) is exactly what PBN and others are complaining about.  BNMC didn’t begin any discussion until mid January 2012, and the community heard about the April demo plan at the beginning of March.  Compare this to what Kaleida has done at the Gates Circle Hospital:  1) reuse plan by an outside expert, 2) 12m+ public process, all resulting in an open reuse RFP.

        A study is important because until there is a study,  no one really has any basis to decide about reuse feasibility. The Kaleida study by the Urban Land Institute found that they would save $4M by reuse.  Many of us are skeptical that BNMC really knows how feasible reuse would be.  It is possible they want to do demo because that appears easier and quicker to manage, or because it allows for a building that aesthetically matches their other new builds – and not because it is economically unfeasible to save Trico.  But, BNMC bought TRICO knowing that the then listed historic landmark was going to be subject to public scrutiny.  This headache was priced in, and now they owe it to the community to do their due diligence, including a study. 

    •  What groundswell? Maybe a BR groundswell, but comments in the news were running 8-1 in favor of demolition.

  • Let’s say there wasn’t a “leadership vacuum” in city hall, but instead you had a pro-preservation mayor whose efforts were to save as many buildings as possible and strengthen laws related to preservation.  So the same situation comes along, but this time you also have the mayor voicing his support to save Trico.  Is your argument then that the mayor is simply an idiot who is driving Buffalo into the ground, or do you just say, “Well, that’s why Mayor Preservation was elected – that’s what the people want”?

    • I think that Buffalo has a certain population that demands preservation at all costs, and a certain population that generally doesn’t really care. Interestingly, as vocal as the preservation-always crowd is, God only knows whether they represent a majority of opinion or not. At least if you had some activity from elected officials, one could make the argument that those people are accountable to someone. Tim Tielman answers to no one. Matt Enstice answers to the public & private constituent entities making up the BNMC. Byron Brown is answerable to the people.  I would hate to think that we would elect a “pro-preservation” mayor who would merely parrot the reflexive preserve-everything viewpoint of most Save Trico people.  I think projects – when they involve some sort of public money or entity – deserve to be reviewed on the merits on a case-by-case basis. Let’s don’t pretend we do that here.

  • It’s not the building, but the fabric.

    In Buffalo, there has been a 60-plus year history of demolishing old buildings that fit into the urban fabric — pedestrian-scaled, and built to the sidewalk — and either replacing them with buildings that are more appropriate in a suburban context, or just never replaced.   Many times, when a building was demolished, plans to replace it with another urban-scaled structure never materialized, and we got the usual low profile, deeply set back “it’s better than nothing” option, or worse, a parking lot.

    The Trico factory isn’t an attractive structure, but it’s an urban structure.  I think many fear the worst; it will be replaced with yet another building physically and psychologically disconnected from the urban environment that surrounds it.   History tells us the replacement for Trico will likely be something much less substantial, set back far from the sidewalk, with the usual large surface parking lot.  Or, as the case all too often has been, another vacant lot, because funding was cut or plans changed. 

    Buffalo may have a proud architectural legacy, but it’s only the rare time when a new building fits better into the city’s urban fabric than the structure it replaced; when a new building is something that could be considered worthy of preservation efforts by future generations.  Trico ain’t pretty, but for Buffalo, it’s one of the few remaining examples of the kind of structure that, in other cities, have been preserved en masse in now-vibrant “warehouse districts.”  It fits, and what replaces it could be worse.

  • Remember the Aud? No one wanted to save that. Where were the preservation fanatics on that one?  If Buffalonians are SO preservationist why are buildings getting knocked down constantly.  I believe that the preservationists have chosen their battle, and it is TRICO.  The one Building downtown that can be reused for something other than some subsodised housing project and become a part of Buffalo’s future while saving a part of its history.  Why didn’t they fight for the Aud, because it wasn’t feasible to save like TRICO is.

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