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The Cost of Saving Every Single Brick

by on October 8, 2009

Aged buildings look nice. Everyone prefers the warmth and character that radiates from old-timey brick facades, especially when compared to soulless concrete monstrosities. Take the Summit Building at 918-920 Main Street, which is a four-story red-bricked gem dating from 1891. For historical reference, the president at the time of its opening was merely serving as a placeholder until a former Buffalo mayor could be voted back into power.

But the Summit is in danger of physically falling after falling upon hard times. The Buffalo News detailed a new plan to avert its collapse:

The four-story Summit Building, at 918-920 Main, also known as the Bosche Building, will be braced with steel using funds awarded to the city in September to demolish blighted structures and redevelop several historic properties.

It initially sounds great that the Summit Building falls in the latter category. But who’s paying, and how much in “funds” will this be?

The cost to stabilize the building is estimated between $300,000 and $500,000, (commissioner of economic development, permits and inspections Brian) Reilly said, which will come from $14.3 million the city is to receive in state money under the Restore New York program.

As usual, communal money is funding the reinforcement. So, how did this building get to the point where collapse was imminent? As the real estate maxim says, it’s all about location. Sadly, the building’s condition reflects this area’s precarious status. In a vibrant city flush with cash, some eager businessman would have snapped up the property long ago. On the other hand, there’s Buffalo, where the city is forced to take ownership of a building that should make developers salivate:

“918 [Main] is the last of eight abandoned structures [on the block] that the city acquired through foreclosure. It was the most problematic due to legal and physical challenges,” (Reilly) said.

Apparently, nobody thought to question why there were “eight abandoned structures” on the block for the city to scoop up in the first place.

Governmental meddling put us in this mess. Their solution? More governmental meddling. Neither the state nor city will ever comprehend why a worthwhile structure in an interesting neighborhood spent so much time crumbling. As a hint, the lengthy vacancy might be connected to how money is taken out of the economy to fund schemes such as, oh, “Restore New York.” It’s a depressing cycle, especially when people who win elections are apparently oblivious to its existence.

Local government’s goal shouldn’t be to preserve every building simply that was constructed in the 19th century and looks neat. It sounds worthwhile, but the result is that City Hall owns and decides the fate of far too many structures. They obviously can’t be trusted to be the judge of what should stand, as opinions change based upon who’s in charge:

The city hasn’t always supported trying to save the building, and in 2004 an agency within the Masiello administration unsuccessfully sought demolition approval from the Buffalo Preservation Board.

Besides, the best way to ensure such pleasant buildings remain both intact and occupied is to create a financial environment where people are eager to buy any structure or land parcel downtown. If that were the case, Buffalonians might currently be working or shopping within the Summit Building’s walls. Instead, they pass by a teetering hull literally being supported by the state.

Next time, The Buffalo News can try to track down a quote from someone opposed to spending our money on properties that should rightly be owned by individuals or companies. Unfortunately, we shouldn’t expect much from a piece authored by Mark Sommer. Regardless, the most effective counterstrategy is to vote for candidates who have the sense and restraint to let the people restore this city on our own. The private sector is guaranteed to do a better job than Byron Brown or David Paterson.

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