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History Unbuilt Buffalo

Dan

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A few more unbuilt buildings, described in an article in the December 11, 1988.edition of the Buffalo Evening News. Sorry, no images.

Main-Seneca Corner: Right now, the battered old Bank of Buffalo building sits on this site. But Frank Ciminelli of Ciminelli Development Corp. has an option to buy the property, and he has preliminary plans for a modern office building there.

Get ready, then, for a battle between the preservationists, who want to save the Bank of Buffalo building as an architectural landmark, and the developers. That battle could go on for months or even longer, with Ciminelli fighting for Preservation Board and Common Council approval for his plans.

Local real estate sources predict that sooner or later -- probably later -- the developers will win.

And for two reasons. First, it would be nearly impossible to crowd a new office building on the tiny site behind the Bank of Buffalo building: Each floor would be so small that the building would scare away a lot of tenants. Second, if you tore that building down, the site would become large enough for a modern office building, and the best location available on Main Street. Like Court-Franklin, this site won't be vacant forever.

Court Street Tower: The developers of this project, Carl Paladino and Frank McGuire, might just as well call it the Location-Location-Location Building.

Local real estate experts say that, with the Fountain Plaza site about to be occupied, the corner of Court and Franklin streets will become the best available site in the city for a new office building. After all, it's the only available site on Court Street, which is downtown's second Main Street.

Paladino and McGuire apparently are looking at the federal government as the main tenant for their 13-story building. "We're looking to make proposals on a minimum of two federal tenancies," Paladino says.

And one of them is a big one. Paladino acknowledges that the building could become the home for the new downtown Post Office, which also might be built on the site of the Waterfront Racquet & Fitness Center.

Only one obstacle stands in Paladino's way. Clement Chen III, developer of the Buffalo Hilton, has proposed an 18-story building on the site, and he owns part of the land. But Chen has been battling the city, which has been trying to acquire the land by eminent domain.

Either way, one thing is certain: Something will be built at Court and Franklin, and soon. It's too good a site to stand vacant.

Marine Midland Center II: The Sequel. Some people think the current Marine Midland Center, the 38-story Lego structure on the south end of Main Street, is an architectural horror show. But Marine is worried that the sequel will be even worse.

Marine contends that a new nine-story building, proposed by center owner S. Jon Kreedman, would crowd its plaza. For that reason, the bank has exercised its lease provision allowing it to turn down plans for any new buildings on the site.

For three years now, Marine has stood in the way of this project, and there's no reason to believe that the bank is about to change its opinion.

That is, unless Marine and Kreedman can do some old-fashioned horse trading. "There's going to come a time when they want something approved," Kreedman says.

For the record, Kreedman describes the new building as a miniature Marine Midland tower, with the exact same style of facade. So if you like the original, you'll love the sequel.

City Center. That's the name Corporex Cos. of Cincinnati gave to its proposal for a 20-story office and retail complex at the site of the Courtyard Mall at 478 Main St.

Well, if that's the city center, then Buffalo's a doughnut.

Real estate sources downtown say they doubt the Corporex project will ever come off hold. "I believe that particular idea is dead, but it is the place where the next major retail project should go," said Robert F. Stuart, manager of Main Place Mall.

Paladino, who owns the adjacent Hen's & Kelly building, says he looked at the Courtyard Mall site himself, and decided it didn't make financial sense to pursue a project there.

"I think their (Corporex's) idea is down the drain," he says. "From my perspective, it defied me how they would be able to afford the land costs and the demolition costs" along with construction for such a big project.

Besides, why take on the added cost of demolition when you can build projects on vacant land? Ciminelli says Buffalo's commercial rents aren't high enough yet to justify doing that. He says they will be someday, but not now.

Francis Saele, vice president of Corporex, says his company still is interested in developing the Courtyard Mall site. But he adds: "It's on hold, pending the signing of an anchor. It's largely a market-driven project."

Translation: Corporex is going to wait and see what happens to Buffalo. Corporex would be happy to build Buffalo's City Center -- if the city's boomlet becomes a boom.

(For what it's worth, the original plans for Marine Midland Center called for a second tower, 20 stories tall.)

Regarding the unbuilt at Main and Pearl (see post #44), the article says:

That's not so for the second, 11-story tower planned for the (Fountain Plaza) site. Executives for Citicom Corp. of Toronto have said they'll hold off on building that structure until tenants are in place. With the Fountain Plaza project under way, Citicom also is holding off on its proposal for a 25-story building at Main and Swan streets.

The Main/Swan proposal likely died when the second Fountain Plaza tower was built.

Also, from the Buffalo Evening News, April 7, 1989.

A Philadelphia developer has approached City Hall about building a high-rise office building and an adjoining park on two blocks of land between Swan and North Division streets.

The proposal, which was revealed Thursday during a Common Council meeting, is the latest to include a valuable piece of land at Washington and Swan streets. The block now contains several small businesses, including Pat McGinty's restaurant.

Under the proposal, the developer, Oliver, Tyrone & Pulver Corp., would build an office building on part of Church Street Park between South and North Division streets. The proposal also calls for retail space and parkland on the adjacent Washington-Swan block.

By including the Washington-Swan block, the proposal conflicts with at least three other proposals: one for underground parking, another for above-ground parking and a third for an athletic field house proposed by Erie Community College.

That project, a 17 story office building called Ellicott Place, faced NIMBY opposition from some city officials. BEN, July 1, 1989. The project site included a little-used pocket park, and for some reason, civic leaders wanted to save it.

The loss of a small downtown park is emerging as a major issue in whether the Common Council approves a new high-rise office building.

Plans for the $55 million Ellicott Place project call for the construction of a 17-story office building on Church Street Park, a tree-lined plaza bounded by Washington, Ellicott, North Division and South Division streets.

Before approving the project, Council members want assurances from the developer that the park and fountain will be replaced by new open space and that the space will be at least as big as the park.

"I think that's going to be required as part of the deal," said Niagara Council Member Joel A. Giambra. "I also think the developer is conscious of the fact that there's going to be concern about that green space."

The developer's initial plans included a replacement park in the adjoining block between South Division and Swan Street, just north of Pilot Field. ...

Owned by the state Department of Transportation, the park was built about 20 years ago to provide green space near M&T Plaza and Main Place Mall.

Giambra said the developer is proposing building on the parkland in exchange for creating open space in the block between Ellicott Square and the Erie Community College City Campus. Some development, possibly stores and restaurants, also may be included on the site. ...

Unlike most downtown office projects, the developer would build its project on "speculation" or without a firm commitment from prospective tenants.

The developer relented, and proposed moving the project. You know the rest, because this thread isn't titled "Built Buffalo"

Faced with opposition about placing a high-rise office building on a downtown park, a Philadelphia developer today switched the site of the project to a largely vacant section of Main Street.

The plan to use the park area -- bounded by Washington, Ellicott, South Division and North Division streets -- had stirred organized criticism and was unlikely to get Common Council approval.

Mayor Griffin notified the Council that the Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp. has requested that the site be switched to 456-476 Main St., currently the location of the defunct Courtyard Mall and adjoining buildings.

The buildings would be demolished and replaced with a 350,000-square-foot office structure approximately 17 stories high with a $55 million price tag. Plans call for 20,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. ...

The site switch was made known at a meeting of the Council Committee on Economic Development and was generally well received. Majority Leader James W. Pitts called it "one of the best decisions that has been made" in downtown planning.

"It will take one of the dead zones in downtown and liven it up," Pitts said.

Laurence K. Rubin, Griffin's commissioner of community development, said he believes the only current occupants of the new site are a clothing store called Sizes Unlimited and a quick photo processing outlet.

Officials have been working behind the scenes for a new site since opposition to using the park area surfaced. Use of the park site "would not have gotten through this Council," North Council Member David P. Rutecki asserted today.

But Griffin's notice to the Council did not mention the opposition. Instead, he cited "technical difficulties" in getting state-owned land for the project. ...

Meanwhile, new opposition appeared that is not based on the site, but the project itself.

The Buildings Owners and Managers Association of Buffalo Inc. objected to a low-interest subsidy for a new office building when "there already exists a substantial supply of excellent downtown office space."
...

Unfortunately, I can't find drawings or renderings of any of these proposals. I'll keep looking.
 

Dan

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Here's an interesting one. Architectural Review, June 1909. Office building for General Electric. Architect: York & Sawyer. I don't know the location, but considering it's shape, it was probably planned for the corner of one of the radials.

EDIT: It's probably at the site of the Niagara Mohawk building, at the Genesee St / Washington St / Huron St corner. Niagara Mohawk is the successor company to Buffalo General Electric, which was unrelated to the real General Electric.

buffalo general electric building 1909.jpg
 

Dan

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And more on the never-built Adelphia Communications Tower. From the Buffalo News, September 16, 1999:

An office building that towers over the Buffalo Inner Harbor and includes retail and entertainment space is the centerpiece of a "sizzling" redevelopment plan that Adelphia Communications and its partners unveiled Wednesday.

"We plan to end up with a building that will be a landmark structure in Western New York," said Timothy J. Rigas, Adelphia executive vice president. ...

The Inner Harbor plan, as presented to the board of Downtown Development Inc., would represent an investment estimated at $160 million to $200 million in a waterfront area that is now either parking lots or occupied by the empty Memorial Auditorium. ...

"When you look at something of this size and magnitude, all of us have to be excited," Mayor Masiello said.
Highlights include:

Construction of a high-rise building ranging from 20 to 30 stories on the Webster Block that would include 456,000-square-feet of office space, a small hotel, apartments, retail space and a practice rink for the Sabres. The Webster block is bounded by the Metro Rail tracks on Main Street, Scott, Washington and Perry streets.

A strip of shops and restaurants, about 192,700 square feet, backed by low-rise apartment buildings with 136 units. This development would be mostly under the Skyway and near new slips being created by a separate, $27.1 million public investment in the Inner Harbor.

Redevelopment of the Aud into a six-level complex that would include retail, restaurants and a possible movie multiplex on the first two floors.

Development of a seven-story building on the parking lot east of the Marine Drive apartments that would include 65 apartments and a 1,158-space parking ramp.

Creation of a multimillion-dollar water attraction that would feature fountains and a water screen onto which images could be projected. Similar attractions are in operation at Sea World facilities around the country. ...

"We feel it's important we create a lot of sizzle in the Inner Harbor."

Part of that sizzle would be a 200-foot wide, 50-foot tall water wall that is the specialty of a French-American company, Aquatique. Weinberg said the sophisticated apparatus can handle harsh winter conditions. ...

One of the conceptual drawings of the proposed Adelphia project shows a monumental building rising more than 25 stories and located a stone's throw from the waterfront.

Its two- to three-story base would cover the entire Webster block immediately south of the old Memorial Auditorium and could include retail shops, ice skating rinks and a combination sports bar and television studio patterned after the ESPN Zone. ...

The Adelphia building would be linked by enclosed pedestrian overhead walkways to the Marine Midland Arena, and one concept calls for parking to be partly supplied by the 1,200-space parking garages linked to the arena.
Rigas said the television facilities would be available to national broadcasting companies such as the Fox Network when they are covering the Sabres or other events. With that in mind, he said the building will give an important psychological boost to Buffalo.

What happened? Buffalo Evening News, July 14, 2013.

Adelphia Communications tower
Announced: 1999
Location: site of the Donovan State Office Building, initially, and later the Webster Block.

Description: Fifteen-story, $150 million waterfront office tower for 1,500 employees of Adelphia Communications, then the country’s fourth-largest cable company. Originally included renovating the Aud as an entertainment complex and studios for Empire Sports Network.

Quote: “Adelphia’s partnership with the Cordish Company team will create a true ‘dream team’ for economic development, private-sector job creation and urban entertainment,” Mayor Anthony Masiello.

Signs of trouble: Cordish Co. dropped out in February 2002. Adelphia revealed billions in off-the-book loans, declared bankruptcy and saw several top executives charged with fraud.

Mortality report: Adelphia founder John J. Rigas remains in federal prison and Time Warner Cable bought up Adelphia’s local assets. Benderson is converting Donovan building into a hotel and offices, and Sabres owner Terry Pegula is building a complex on the Webster Block.

The site today? Well, something similar to the original Adelphia proposal actually got built. Harborcenter is a 20 story mixed use project with a 750 space parking ramp, two NHL regulation indoor ice rinks (one wth an 1,800 seat capacity, the other with 150 seats), s 5,000 square foot high performance off-ice training facility, RapidShot hockey training system, 205-room Mariott hotel, and ground level shops that include a flagship Tim Hortons. Not much of an office component like the original Adelphia proposal but still an asset to downtown.

harborcenter.JPG

^ Just to clarify, this is real, not a rendering.

Since this is Unbuilt Buffalo, though, here's a different proposal for the Webster Block site from Ellicott Development. It featured retail space, residential condos, a hotel, office space, and a 1,089 space parking garage.

webster_block.jpg
 

Dan

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In the late 1980s, Buffalo almost got its own World Trade Center near the Peace Bridge. The proposal, presented in 1988 by Peter and Robert Elia, a father-and-son development team, was for a $200,000,000 (2020 US$438,000,000) international trade center complex, dubbed the "American Center for Trade". The proposal called for a 300,000'² (28,000 m²) 20 story office tower, two smaller 150,000'² (14,000 m²) 15 story office towers, an apartment hotel, and a 150-truck open air inspection and processing facility.

BEN 11-22-1988:

"Elia introduced a new team of Toronto developers and architects who have drawn on the original concepts of Buffalo architect David T. Stieglitz to envision a complex near the intersection of Porter Avenue and the Niagara Thruway. The new plan abandons the idea of an underground truck processing facility and instead calls for the office complex to abut Porter Avenue in front of a huge, open-air truck yard shielded from view by a number of smaller buildings."

Can't find any renderings, unfortunately.
 

Dan

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From 2016: a little-known, and of course never built proposal for a 55 story, 656' (200 m) tall, 1,000,000 ft2 (93,000 m2) skyscraper called "Unity Tower". The proposed site was at the northeast corner of South Park Avenue and Illinois Street, across the street from the Key Bank Center arena. From the Buffalo News:

Carr said he has a plan to integrate most of the property into his Unity Tower at Cobblestone Place project. The futuristic design calls for a mix of condos, hotel suites, shops, a rooftop winter garden and panoramic restaurant, along with an addition to the Cobblestone Bar & Grill, all powered by wind-driven turbines, geothermal and solar energy.

The building was designed by Toronto-based LOH Architects & Associates.

unity tower 01.jpg

unity tower 02.jpg
 

Buffaboy

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And here we are today.

I'm only 24 but I can't imagine living to see all of these projects and highways get proposed and only a small percentage get built! This Carr guy is now proposing his 55 story tower that he knows will go nowhere unless by some miracle he gets financing from the Pegula family. He should certainly look at this thread to estimate his chances.
 

Doohickie

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We have similar thread in our local Fort Worth forum. There's a lot of stuff that was never built. Sometimes that was a good thing.
 

Dan

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The tradition starts in the early 1800s with serious Niagara Canal studies and serious proposals, Ararat, the Buffalo-Washington-New Orleans National Road (still a dream today, with the on-again-off-again US 219 expressway), and Rathbun’s Buffalo Exchange. Believe me, I've just scratched the surface. A deep-ish scratch, but still, there's a lot more unbuilt in the pipeline.

Buffalo Jewish Hospital? Check.

Lots of train stations and depots? Check.

Unbuilt Olmsted and other city parks? Check.

Pre-WWII plans for rapid transit? Believe it.

A real enclosed shopping mall in the Kensington neighborhood? Another mall near the north end of the Elm-Oak corridor? Uh huh.

A huge City Beautiful-style civic center north of downtown, at Main and High? Yuuuuup.

And a lot more.

As @Buffaboy kind of said, the odds of a realistic proposal from a capable developer or government agency actually getting to the turning dirt stage in WNY seem higher than for other peer cities. Buffalo is cursed with bad timing -- lots of realistic proposals from legit large developers a year or two before economic downtowns, lots of too-good-to-be-true proposals that never seem to make it during long stretches of good times, and lots of projects that take for-friggin-ever to leave the drawing board, if they ever see the light of day. It's also cursed with:

* Small and mid-sized developers whose comfort zone is limited to little one-story strip office buildings in the ‘burbs. Add up all the little 5,000 to 10,000 ft2 office buildings Paisan & Calzone Development and the like have done, and you’re looking at millions of square feet — dozens of Buffalo City Towers and Unity Towers. However, anything other than cut-and-paste spec incremental will be far outside of their comfort zone. Even the “big” locals like Uniland, Ciminelli, and Paladino/Ellicott have few projects with double digit floor counts.

* A potentially lower margin of return compared to other peer cities. Sure, a developer can get 15% ROI with a project in Buffalo, but they can get 16% in Columbus or Milwaukee.

* A mid-sized Rust Belt city reputation that doesn't exactly make for a prestigious portfolio. Ever see a Blaupunkt Buffalo car stereo? Exactly.

* Lack of certainty. The development review process might take years. What about brownfields? Will population continue to decline? The Great Recession bypassed Buffalo like a Costco site planning team, but what about future economic slowdowns or downturns?
 

Dan

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Let's talk about neighborhoods and planned communities that never happened. I'm going to move stuff from previous posts up a bit, and add a lot more, but first, an introduction.

The inspiration for this thread was a post from @jsk1983, about the late 1920s proposal for Audubon Village in Amherst. Audubon Village was the brainchild of Charles S. Burkhardt, who originally developed the Audubon Terrace subdivision in Amherst's Snyder neighborhood. Unfortunately, like so many proposals from the past that actually seemed to have a chance, Audubon Village was a victom of bad timing. Note the date of this article from The American City -- April 1929.

audubon village 01.jpg

audubon village 02.jpg

audubon village 03.jpg

audubon village 04.jpg

audubon village 05.jpg

Since its founding as a frontier outpost at the far western edge of the Holland Land Company's holdings, Buffalo has had something of an island economy. It was more of a place for outsiders to exploit, than a city that grew from within. From the 1820s to the 1960s, the amount of land subdivided for residential development far exceeded demand. The author of Premature Subdivision and its Consequences wrote:

In 1825, the first boat traversed the entire length of the canal from Buffalo to Albany .... The incentives to premature subdivision ... at once came into play, and urban lots began to grow in numbers even more rapidly than the popuIation.

Up until the Great Depression advent of subdivision regulations in the 1930s, speculators would buy a farm, and lay out a simple grid of streets with narrow lots. Some would build infrastructure improvements. Some would set up an improvement district. Some would just carve out dirt paths and let hype do the rest, much like the speculative desert developments of more recent decades. In many ways, Tonawanda was the prececessor to Pahrump and California City.

tonawanda speculation.jpg
Erie County Greater Motorway System aerial survey, June 1927

tnawanda subdivision.png
Premature Subdivision and its Consequences, Institute of Public Administration, Columbia University, 1938. North is to the right.

Speculative housing production, on the other hand, was unusual in the Buffalo area before the 1910s, and it really didn't become common until the 1920s. Up until then, those buying a new house would usually find a lot, buy it, and hire a carpenter to build a house from stock or custom plans.

delawanda.png
Buffalo Courier, 13 August 1916

There's a lot of evidence of land speculation in this 1898 Matthews-Northrup map of the Buffalo area. At the time, the urbanized area was mostly inside the limits of the New York Central belt line. There was some scattered settment in areas just beyond the Belt line and in South Buffalo, and small urbanizing clusters in satellite cities and villages like Williamsville and North Tonawanda. However, this map shows street grids extending far beyond the city limits. Many of these areas would never be developed, at least according to their original plans. It also shows lots of unbuilt streets, like the long planned but never built Niagara Falls Boulevard along the Colvin Avenue alignment.

I'd go over all the unbuilt developments one by one -- Tuxedo Park and Monahinga Park on Grand Island, Fairmount and Laing's Park in Tonawanda, a big grid of streets east of the proposed Niagara Falls Boulevard in North Tonawanda, everything in South Buffalo west of Hopkins Street, Stony Point Park in Lackawanna -- but there's just too many of them on this map. I think it would be more fun for the locals to pick them out instead.



Much of Buffalo's post-WWII suburban development actually took place in subdivisions that were platted decades earlier. The region still has miles of paper streets, and thousands of platted but undeveloped lots, that date back to the pre-Depression speculation era.

premature subdivision 01.png

premature subdivision 02.png

premature subdivision 03.png
 
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