The Campaign for Greater Buffalo released concepts of what the landmark Great Northern elevator could look like restored. In this late-day perspective, the elevator serves as a beacon on the City Ship Canal, with the city name proclaimed in three-story high letters visible from miles overland and on Lake Erie. It also proposes to restored the filled-in canal boat slip on the north side of the elevator, which recently suffered damage during a prolonged windstorm.
The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture, the City of Buffalo, and Archer Daniels Midland Milling (ADM) are heading back to court after a court-directed mediation was concluded Thursday and referred back to State Supreme Court Justice Emilio Colaiacovo. The Campaign filed suit against the City and ADM on Friday, December 17 to block an emergency demolition order issued by the city late that day. The Campaign was granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) by State Supreme Court Justice Dennis Ward on December 19th. The case was assigned to Justice Emilio Colaiacovo, who heard arguments in the case on Monday December 27.
The Campaign is fighting to compel the City and ADM to act to preserve the 1897 elevator, while ADM, which has owned the elevator since 1993 and has not so much as replaced missing and damaged gutters and downspouts, wants to demolish the elevator. A section of brick cladding on the north side of the elevator tumbled down during a December 11 storm with historic wind gusts, precipitating the City's emergency demolition order.
This is the third time ADM has attempted to demolish the elevator, citing engineering reports it commissioned that detailed maintenance-related problems which it then failed to correct. Meanwhile, the Brown Administration in 16 years had never inspected the building, even after ADM presented Permits and Inspections Commissioner James Comerford with its data in recent years. There is no getting around the fact that Mayor Brown can direct Buffalo Permits & Inspections Commissioner James Comerford to rescind his order based on error and misrepresentations by ADM. He'd rather have someone else make the decision. Credit will be taken if the judge decides to save the Great Northern, blame will be spun onto the judge otherwise.
Judge Colaiacovo vowed that should the matter be referred back to him he would issue a decision in short order. He has called for an evidentiary hearing on Monday to gather information to help decide whether Comerford acted arbitrarily and capriciously in ordering the emergency demolition of the building.
The Campaign also released renderings of what the Great Northern could look like if repaired and restored. It needn't cost ADM or any other owner to much to restore because of the various tax credits available. Ninety-four percent of such csts could be effectively reimbursed, according to an affidavit prepared by developer Rocco Termini.
These illustrations presume the current owner, ADM, or another private party repairs and adapts the building after being ordered to do so by court or by the city after a decision favoring preservation. Developer Rocco Termini provided the following scenario if ADM were compelled by the city and court to repair the building.
Pick a number, say $20,000,000. That is up-front, out of pocket by ADM. It can claim 20% federal historic tax credit, 20% NYS historic tax credit, and 24% Brownfield tax credit, for a total of almost 2/3 of cost, or $12,800,000. Those are spread over the first five years. In the fifth year, ADM could donate the building to a non-profit (ADM could create its own non-profit expressly for this project) and claim another 30% tax credit. (ADM reports its most recent net income as over $16 billion) In all, 94% of clean-up, fix-up, and restoration, or $18,800,000.
While this may be interpreted as "taxpayer money" in an indirect sense, these are programs set up to encourage the recycling of sustainable older buildings. The public gets a preserved historic landmark, a clean site, a new recreation and employment hub, and much more tax revenue, directly and through spin-offs.
"The Great Northern has a huge ground floor—almost an acre—on the City Ship Canal that could conceivably house dozens of small enterprises and offices," said Campaign president and architect Paul McDonnell. "Not only is there a 400-foot wharf on the canal, there is also a filled-in canal boat slip that we'd like to see re-watered. Add that to the 4-story workhouse at the top, and you can begin to imagine the potential. We'd definitely like to see the word "BUFFALO" on it in letters three stories high. That would be the city's calling card."
The beauty is in the box
The ground floor of the Great Northern is almost one acre in size and accessible through a regularly spaced set of doors around the entire perimeter. The doors were designed to give onto a 400-foot long, 22-foot wide wharf on the City Ship Canal, a 400-foot long (as originally designed) wagon shed along Ganson Street, and its own canal boat slip. Adapting the ground floor alone could accommodate dozens of businesses. Maintaining the historic integrity of the brick box is important in facilitating historic investment tax credits and brownfield credits that could cover two-thirds of the costs of cleanup, repairs, and renovations. That brings other opportunities to leverage the unique structure.
The immense volume of the Great Northern's brick box could accommodate, with interior modifications, any use that requires large sheltered windowless spaces—museums, galleries, theaters, waterparks, markets, retail—that would complement whatever ground-floor and workhouse (the 4-story cupola that tops the building) uses can be dreamed up. Buffalo is fortunate to have it. Rotterdam just spent over $200,000,000 to build a space similar in size to the great Northern to shelter a food hall and market.
The Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, London. The Great Northern is wider and taller.
The Tate museum in England has practically made raw industrial brick its international brand, with the Tate Modern housed in another former power station and the Tate Liverpool housed in an immense brick warehouse on the Albert Dock in Liverpool. The center of the Tate Modern, its immense Turbine Hall, has been visited by 20,000,000 people since it opened in 2002. The Great Northern is both wider and taller.
As a grain elevator, the Great Northern is unique in the world and an irreplaceable part of what makes Buffalo's collection of grain elevators a cultural landscape of national distinctiveness. If anything gives Buffalo a sense of place, it is the elevators.
As a building the Great Northern also stands in rare company in global architecture. Distinguished Professor of Art History Francis Kowsky has said of the Great Northern that experts "around the world see the Great Northern grain elevator as an incomparable asset. No other shed style grain elevator of this magnitude exists anywhere on earth. As a monument of the early industrial era, it ranks with the Stanley Dock tobacco warehouse in Liverpool and the Battersea Power Station in London... The Great Northern, however, excels both of them for the sheer magnitude of its brick walls, surely among the largest expanse of brick surfaces on any structure in existence. Its monumental enclosed volume is a tribute to the skill and daring of a former generation of Buffalo brick craftsmen." Both Battersea (a Grade II British Landmark) and the Stanley Dock (a World Heritage Unesco Site) have been saved and repurposed and helped revive entire districts.
The immense volume of the Great Northern's brick box could accommodate, with interior modifications, any use that requires large sheltered spaces—museums, galleries, theaters, waterparks, retail—that would complement whatever ground-floor and workhouse (the 4-story cupola that tops the building) uses can be dreamed up. As a brick building, The Great Northern has evoked favorable comparisons to a UNESCO World Heritage site in Liverpool and the Battersea Power Station in London.