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Crews begin demolishing historic grain elevator By HAROLD McNEIL, Buffalo News, 5/28/2006
A demolition crew began taking down the historic H-O Oats grain elevator Saturday as a small group looked on in protest. State Supreme Court Justice Joseph G. Makowski on Friday refused to block the demolition of the 75-year-old grain elevator at Perry and East Market streets, paving the way for development of the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown's Cobblestone District. That didn't stop about a dozen protesters from gathering across the street about half a block away Saturday. Though mindful their actions were largely futile, organizers hoped to draw attention to the grain elevator's architectural and historic significance. "We don't want [this] to happen again," said Timothy Tielman, executive director of Campaign for a Greater Buffalo, a preservation group. "We want our elected officials, from Mayor [Byron W.] Brown on downward, to think about our architectural history." Tielman faulted the mayor for not using his powers to deny the Seneca Gaming Corp. the necessary permits to block off parts of Market and Fulton streets to accommodate the demolition. A fixture for motorists on the nearby I-190, the grain elevator also has become a symbol for local preservationists in their battle to save buildings. It is the only inland grain elevator in the city. The Meyer Malting grain elevator, 1318 Niagara St., also is being demolished this week. In addition to being an important part of the city's early economic history, Tielman said Buffalo's grain elevators are internationally renowned for their unadorned, utilitarian design, which he said has been documented in a photographic collection by the Historic American Engineering Record and the Historic American Building Survey, both units of the National Parks Service. Asked why the decision was made to begin demolition over the Memorial Day weekend, Philip Pantano, a Seneca Gaming spokesman, insisted it was not to avoid public attention. "We didn't start any earlier because we wanted to talk to residents who live in that area first. We did that [Friday evening], and there was no indication that they were opposed to what we are doing," Pantano said. The demolition is expected to take six to eight weeks. Even though the Senecas previously said they would consider incorporating the grain elevator into the design of the casino, Pantano said subsequent engineering studies revealed that it would be too costly because of the narrowness of the individual silos in the grain elevator. "It would have cost in the tens of millions of dollars to make it code compliant," he said. "There were also some structural issues having to do with visible cracks and portions of the concrete missing near the roof." ErieCounty, meanwhile, was granted a show-cause order by Makowski Friday, allowing the county to continue fighting the project in court. The 9-acre site on which the casino will be built is now sovereign Seneca territory. "All of the work going on is compliant with all of the federal regulations, and all of the necessary permits and licenses have been granted," Pantano said. "Now we're just focusing on the progress of this $125 million economic development project."
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Picture of H-O Oats; Feb. 2005
Historic City Grain Elevator to be Raised
Demolition of the historic H-O Oats grain elevator and mill will begin December 8, 2005. The site in the Cobblestone District will be part of a new casino. The site, which includes the defunct mill and silos, is bordered by Perry and Fulton streets, and Marvin Street on the east.
A wrecking ball is scheduled to smash into the building at , one day before the Dec. 9 deadline to meet the terms of a gambling compact with the state. Gov. George E. Pataki is expected to be there for the ceremonial groundbreaking.
Preservationists, who are furious over the demolition, claim the nation is ignoring federal, state and city preservation laws and showing a lack of respect for Buffalo's history.
The H-O Oats complex was one of 16 grain elevators in Buffalo made eligible three years ago by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. "H-O Oats is a magnificent landmark," said Tim Tielman of Campaign for Greater Buffalo, which is filing a court injunction with other organizations to block the potential sale of the nearby Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad terminal for conversion to a casino.
"We're losing the type of industrial architecture that is valued so much that people elsewhere are resorting to building fake industrial loft space."
H-O Oats came to New YorkState in 1893, and the brick-and-concrete mill opened in 1912, one of several mills in Buffalo. The familiar towering concrete silos, painted silver with "H-O Oats" inscribed in black, were added in 1931. It has long been a landmark to travelers driving along the Niagara Thruway.
Oat production at the grain elevator ended in 1983, and a fire in 1987 destroyed a portion of the facility. The building once had three distinct kinds of silos - wood, steel and the surviving concrete, according to Lorraine Pierro, president of the Industrial Heritage Committee. Its unique history was one reason the Department of the Interior compiled a Historic American Engineering Record on Buffalo's grain elevators in the 1990s, according to Pierro, who expressed regret at the Seneca's decision.
Geoff Butler, who lives across the street from the grain elevator in the Lofts at Elk Terminal, expressed anger at the pending demolition and the lack of any public input. "I think it's a damn shame. A big reason you move down here is because the neighborhood is like living in a historical museum. I would have reconsidered moving here if I had known there was going to be casino parking," Butler said.
View from the front door of 79 Fulton Street.
A judge Friday refused to block today's scheduled demolition of the historic H-O Oats grain elevators, a decision that helps pave the way for the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown's Cobblestone District. Instead of blocking the demolition - which could begin as early as this morning - State Supreme Court Justice Joseph G. Makowski chided ErieCounty government for a belated attempt to halt the ongoing work. Makowski rejected the county's request for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked the demolition pending further court proceedings on health and public safety issues. However, Makowski did grant the county's request for a show-cause order allowing it to continue fighting the project in court. Next Friday, he will hear arguments by an anti-gambling coalition opposed to the casino project and by the county on its bid to both sue the city over the project and intervene in the coalition's lawsuit. But in issuing his ruling allowing today's demolition, Makowski openly questioned the county's likelihood of success in stopping further site work on the $125 million casino project. Makowski two years ago blocked a proposed Seneca Nation casino project in Cheektowaga because the nation had not yet been granted title to the property and remained subject to state environmental laws. On Friday, he noted that the Buffalo site already is owned by the Senecas. Shortly after Makowski ruled, Rajat R. Shah, vice president for corporate development of Seneca Erie Gaming, said the nation has ensured that demolition of the 130- to 150-foot silos "will comply with all applicable federal regulations." Shah said Seneca officials and their environmental consultants met Friday with some area residents to discuss the demolition work. "Every precaution is being taken to address any potential public safety concerns and to ensure the safety of the demolition workers and the people who live and work in the vicinity," he said in a written statement. Erie County Attorney Laurence K. Rubin called the inability to stop the demolition "a temporary setback." He said the county has had an environmental firm monitoring the nine-acre site bordered by Michigan and SouthPark avenues and Marvin and Perry streets. "I hope nothing bad happens, but our concern remains public safety and health issues," said Rubin, noting that health concerns prompted the county on May 15 to issue a cease and desist order to Empire Dismantlement Corp., the Town of Tonawanda company doing the demolition. "Hopefully, the over 600 persons living near the demolition area won't be breathing asbestos dust or other demolition-caused pollutants, and no cars will be damaged by the demolition work over the weekend," Rubin added. Michael B. Powers, one of the private attorneys the City of Buffalo hired to defend it in the casino cases, insisted all environmental concerns already have been dealt with and said the county was late in trying to block the project. Noting that County Executive Joel A. Giambra had been a supporter of a Seneca casino in Buffalo when the project seemed destined for Cheektowaga, Powers - who convinced Makowski to block the Cheektowaga venture - said the judge Friday "got everything right." Jerry Williams, a partner in Empire Dismantlement, declined comment on when the demolition will begin.