Paladino eyes site for Rite-Aid, parking
By Tim Tielman
Commissioner James Comerford of the Buffalo Department of Inspections and Licenses is displaying a fondness for issuing potentially controversial demolition permits on Friday afternoons—thereby facilitating demolitions on weekends, when fewer people and media are out and about—that is bringing to mind the days of the Masiello-era commissioner Ray McGurn. McGurn issued the infamous Friday afternoon demo order on the historic Harbor Inn, owned by developer and speculator Carl Paladino.
That demo led to a new city law requiring demo applications to be reviewed by the Preservation Board, lest an important, but not yet designated, building “fall through the cracks.” Now another building Paladino had long wanted demolished, the Riverside Men’s Shop has fallen. The Art Moderne gem—the face of Riverside to generations of Buffalonians—was the victim of a hit issued by Comerford despite the knowledge that the Preservation Board, as it is charged to do in the public interest, was working on a landmark nomination form. Add Riverside Man’s Shop to the Wheeler Elevator (its 125-foot-tall marine tower infamously felled into the Buffalo River in December, during a baseless demo) and St. Mary’s on the Hill church (an "emergency," that the city, if anything, was responsible for, through improper mitigation) and it is dissappointingly evident that the Brown Administration, far from taking an enlightened approach to preservation matters, often falls back on the Inspection department's ingrained way of doing things—public, ordinances, spirit-of-the-law be damned.
The building had been bought by Paladino friend Charles Faso (Paladino owns three properties near the corner and it is generally known wants to develop a Rite -Aid). Faso testified before the Preservation Board in February 2011 that he bought it, sight unseen, at public auction for $30,000. County records indicate a private sale. To his dismay, Faso said, the basement was flooded and the building so damaged he didn’t want to renovate. Inspection by Preservation Board members revealed no evidence of flooding in any the three buildings that comprised the shop (the Art Moderne section being the newest), with the only damage a roof leak and crumbled parapet in the farthest extremity of the oldest building, without danger to the public.
Nonetheless, Comerford, in a letter dated Friday May 6th, 2011, authorized the “immediate release of a demolition permit” for the building, based on a visit he made the day before with a building inspector from his office and the demolition contractor retained by the owner. No attempt was made to contact the Preservation Board to participate in the inspection, no opportunity was given to challenge the assertions made in the authorizations (which included the chestnut about mold present, but did not indicate if the species—there are 400,000, fewer than 80 of which cause any human reaction at all, and only a few of which are considered toxic), nor was the Preservation Board given due notice of an impending demo order, as required. Instead, a copy of the order was sent via interoffice mail and not received by the Preservation Board until the next week, after the demolition of the Art Moderne building was completed.
As is typical with many politicized demos, there was great hurry to inflict irredeemable damage, after which the building and equipment sat idle for weeks. In this case, the iconic, structurally sound part of the complex was destroyed, while the dilapidated building with the damaged parapet was left standing.