Erie Freight House: 8 Months Down

Remember the Erie Freight House? Let’s take a look at what’s been happening with this crumbling structure along Ohio Street. 

November 23, 2011: Erie Freight House Nominated for Landmark Status

“The Erie Freight House is an extremely significant building on the Buffalo River, a rare survivor of Buffalo’s early industrial heritage that is incredibly important to our city.”

March 20, 2012: Erie Freight House Purchased – Future Use Unknown

Last fall when word got out that demolition was being considered, an effort to landmark the building was launched, pushed by Breeser, Preservation Buffalo Niagara and others.  

The circa-1868 Erie Freight House is a two-story heavy timber frame structure of @ 110 feet wide and 550 feet long, sited on the edge of the Buffalo River. The exterior of the Erie Freight House is a rusted metal siding that likely covers the structure’s original clapboard.  A 20-foot wharf ran the length of the building along the Buffalo River but was removed in 1959.  

The new owners spoke out against the designation saying the landmark status would hinder reuse options for a property that is collapsing and is likely to require significant changes to change its use from industrial.  In January the Buffalo City Council approved the property as a local landmark.

Breeser and the development group discussed working together and had a handshake agreement that Breeser would purchase the LLC after the property was purchased.  As the scheduled closing date approached, Breeser backed off.  The development group decided to proceed with closing.

In coming weeks the new owners will clean-up the property, pick out the collapsed parts of the building, and shore up what’s left.  

“It’s a danger now, it’s falling in on itself,” says Sam Savarino, President and CEO of Savarino Companies.

October 3, 2012: Residential Project Proposed for Niagara River / Ohio Street


The historic Erie Freight House could be demolished and replaced with a residential development.  Property owner 441 Ohio Street LLC consisting of FFZ Holdings of Buffalo and Savarino Companies, have determined the condemned building cannot be feasibly restored and have reported this to the City of Buffalo.  In its place, the development team is proposing a four-story, 48 unit residential project with public access to the Buffalo River.

October 4, 2012: PBN Responds to Proposed Erie Freight House Demolition

The circa 1868 Erie Freight House located at 9 Ohio Street is considered to be the only extant freight warehouse building in the city associated with the Erie Canal and historic railway companies along the Buffalo River. Freight houses are a building type that once dominated the banks of the Buffalo River, and the Erie Freight House is the last surviving example.

October 16, 2012: Erie Freight House – An Alternative View

Think it can’t be done? Search Google images for “Renovated Freight Houses” and you’ll see “about 978,000” images of adaptive reuses of freight houses all around the country. It’s done all the time.

October 19, 2012: Freight House Owners to Apply for Demolition Permit

[Savarino] is also fully expecting to be sued which will delay any demolition for months despite, by virtue of the condemnation, the City has already determined that the building is a threat to life and safety. 

October 23, 2012: Seeking a Rational Discourse on the Erie Freight House

Preservationists don’t want to stop investment in South Buffalo, they just want investment that doesn’t sacrifice one of the last remaining parts of our history. The Freight House is the last of it’s kind. It’s true, “The Last of the Erie Canal Freight Houses,” isn’t the sexiest of titles, but this building represents a pivotal period in Buffalo’s history, and is embedded in one of the most important areas in the city. 

The preservation community would rather see this area go the way of Toronto’s Distillery District, where history and modernity go hand-in-hand. A new community growing within Buffalo’s oldest industrial area, highlighting our past in a way that promotes our future.

June 17, 2013: Plans Submitted for “Freight House Landing” Along Buffalo River

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper (BNR) is part of the project team and their influence is evident. Green roof gardens and permeable asphalt pavement and walks effectively reduce the footprint of the building to collect and cleanse stormwater before it enters the river. There are also floating docks for tenants as well as a passive kayak/boat launch area and on site storage for small watercraft. Some of the existing piers from the former wharf will remain in place for the benefit of river fauna. The landscaping, which will be designed by BNR, will feature local indigenous species. Exterior building walls will be designed to allow for plant growth on them…

…Savarino’s Planning submission indicates that they have engaged preservation specialist Kerry Traynor of KTA Preservation Specialties and Preservation to catalog/photo archive the structure, conduct research and record the features and history of the property. Kerry Traynor authored the Landmark application for the property on behalf of Preservation Buffalo Niagara. KTA will oversee deconstruction of the building and the salvage of any usable remnants of the structure. KTA, along with Preservation Buffalo Niagara, will provide recommendations for reuse of the building’s elements that respect the property’s history and allow them to be suitably repurposed for a second life.

In just eight months, the Savarino project to build apartments on the grounds of the Erie Freight House has gone from Preservationist outrage to perfectly reasonable sign of progress. The difference? Putting the potential and real obstructionists on the project payroll. Traynor isn’t just a “preservation specialist” with a private company, she’s a professor at UB. To what degree does getting a project approved with preservationist imprimatur involve hiring the right people? If Savarino suddenly has a clear path to demolishing the Erie Freight House, where is the line separating preservationism and racketeering


  • David A. Steele

    When are you going to publish proof of the preservation racketeering?

      • David A. Steele

        If that constitutes proof then I contend that stars cause the sky to turn black. As proof I show you the fact that every time the sky is black there are stars. You accuse people of extortion in a major local publication and cite the above as proof? really?

        • When that building comes down with nary a peep from preservationists and no lawsuit to block it, absolutely. Unless this completely opaque and arbitrary process is codified and made uniform, all this amounts to is blatant, obvious racketeering.

          And this is only the most visible example. I know of several more, less visible examples of this. All you have to do is put the right people on your payroll, and poof – all your problems go away.

          Maybe BNMC just hasn’t hired the right people yet.

  • Tony Maggiotto Jr

    For clarity …. the date should read JUNE 2013.

  • Allan, I can’t figure out if your column is supposed to be a platform for issues you feel strongly about or a sleazy tabloid used to attack anybody who doesn’t fall in line with your view on how things ought to be, and those associated with them (as faint and distant as that association may be).

    If it is intended to be the former, I’d suggest crafting your message in a way that doesn’t include poorly informed personal attacks on someone’s character, or other pointless spite. You aren’t going to win over many outside your own circle with nonsense like the article above.

    • 1. It’s Alan.

      2. I write about whatever I want, for no particular purpose.

      3. Your criticism of me is wholly unpersuasive. We’re not here to debate whether I’m a jerk who needles people you like. Again – my central thesis is that all anyone needs to do to quietly demolish something (without having, e.g., preservationists bringing lawsuits or chaining themselves to the building) is hire one of them as a “consultant”. I’ve now presented several examples of this, and no one has presented a valid counterargument.

      As I point out below, when that freight house is demolished with nary a peep from preservationists, and no lawsuit to block it, my point will be proven.

      Unless this completely opaque and arbitrary process is codified and made uniform, all this amounts to is blatant, obvious racketeering. But God forbid anyone codify the list of buildings to be preserved at all costs, and God forbid the city actually codify the process whereby a preservation “consultant” need be retained prior to obtaining a demo permit.

      And this is only the most visible example. I know of several more, less visible examples of this. All you have to do is put the right people on your payroll, and poof – all your problems go away.

      Your concern-trolling about how many people I’m going to convince or whether I am “sleazy”, “poorly informed”, and full of “spite” merely proves my point. Truth hurts.

  • Michael Raleigh

    I think you raise some valid questions. You should pose them to preservationists to see what they say.

  • Derek J. Punaro

    It seems to me that in this particular case, there may not be room for much more objection from the preservation community at large because SHPO has already declared there not being enough of the building left to qualify it for tax credits. Preservation/restoration/adaptive reuse projects today are almost completely dependent on historic tax credits being available. Savarino could take that information now and move forward in whatever way he wishes and not document or save any of the building. A lawsuit would likely need to be supported by SHPO saying tax credits would be available for the structure’s redevelopment, otherwise it would be an extremely weak case. The fact that he hired anyone to document and advise on the remains of the historic structure in a positive thing for preservation, in this case the only pro-preservation option left. It would be nice to see PBN issue a final statement on the matter in support of this (assuming they agree with my semi-informed opinion) to close the loop on this matter.

    You can’t have it both ways though – if you want the preservation community to be reasonable on issues of redevelopment, this is one such instance where there’s no value in being labelled an “obstructionist.” This structure has been lost to time, so you pick up the pieces (literally) and move on. You’re not likely to see the same outcome with Trico as the conditions are not the same, regardless of what individuals or companies BNMC may hire to back them. But the majority of the preservation community are not persons-available-for-hire or working for a preservation-related company, so the idea that there is some way to silence a large group of individuals by paying money to one person seems kind of absurd. Might there be loud individuals who can be quieted with a paycheck? In any industry. But it’s wrong to paint the entire preservation community with such a large brush.

  • Derek J. Punaro

    Ask and ye shall receive… from PBN’s newsletter:

    “Evaluation, Repurposing and Interpretation Plan for the Erie Freight House


    Preservation Buffalo Niagara & Savarino Companies

    Executive Summary

    The circa 1868 Erie Freight House (Building) is considered to be a significant historic resource of Western New York’s industrial past. The Building is the last surviving example of a freightwarehouse building in the City of Buffalo associated with the Erie Canal and the historic railway companies along the Buffalo River.

    For decades the Building has slowly fallen into disrepair while serving as a warehouse and later a manufacturing facility. After years of neglect by the previous owner, the Building suffered partial collapse on two separate occasions and was eventually condemned by the City of Buffalo in late 2011.

    Fearful of a rush to demolish the building without an informed public dialogue, Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN) nominated the Building to be designated as a local historic landmark, which was subsequently approved by the Preservation Board and the Buffalo Common Council.

    The current Building owner, 441 Ohio Street, LLC (Owner), has concluded, after several months of study, that in situ rehabilitation and reuse of the Building is not feasible. In August of 2012, the Owner announced preliminary redevelopment plans for the site which included removal of the existing Building and construction of a five-story residential building.

    Given the historic significance of the Building, PBN, representing the interests of the community, has requested a role in both evaluating the structural integrity of the Building’s historic components and facilitating the use of those components for the potential reconstruction of a portion of the Building at another appropriate and suitable location.

    It is the intent of PBN and Savarino Companies (Savarino), working on behalf of the Owner, to produce and publish a plan to evaluate, repurpose and interpret the historic components of the Building. The plan will address:

    Evaluation of the Building’s structural condition.

    Identification of the historic structural components that may, in whole or in part, be salvaged and eventually reconstructed at a later date at a different site.

    Development of any required additional preliminary architectural drawings and other related documents necessary for the reconstruction of a portion of the Building.

    An outline of a procedure to catalog and store identified salvageable historic components.

    A commitment to a good faith effort by both parties to identify and secure a suitable site for the reconstructed portion of the Building.

    A commitment to a good faith effort by both parties to formulate a plan and secure funding for the reconstruction of a portion of the Building once a suitable site is secured.

    Assisting PBN and Savarino in the creation and implementation of this plan will be a mutually agreed upon independent, 3rd party engineer, the Buffalo Preservation Board (Board), interested members of the public mutually agreeable to all parties as well as any third party consultants hired on behalf of Savarino or the Owner.

    It is the intent of PBN and Savarino to prepare and execute this formal agreement, which will be consistent with terms set forth above and within, and to include this plan as a component of any application from the Owner to the Board for any required public approvals for the disposition of the property or the Building. PBN and Savarino will work with the Board to obtain any such approval(s).”

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