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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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?