Add another $108,000 to the cost of Buffalo's controversial new Central District Police station under construction at Main and Tupper streets, city lawmakers were told Monday.
This time, the money went for buried history, officials say -- or, more exactly, a leaking 70-year-old underground fuel oil tank, surrounded by contaminated soil, uncovered in July when workers began digging the foundation for the new station. City lawmakers were expected to grumble at today's Council meeting when they are asked to approve the additional funds for the $4.2 million project.
But grumble or not, the money already has been spent to remove the problem tank, according to Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra.
"We had to go ahead with construction. The Council was in recess at the time we found it," said Giambra, appearing at a Council caucus to explain the cost increase.
City officials think that the 6,400-gallon tank and a nearby area of gasoline-soaked earth date from the 1920s, when a gas station occupied the site.
But Council members would rather grumble about the most recent owner.
"That guy who owned that property really got a good deal," said Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola, reacting to Giambra's disclosures about the leaking tank.
Construction of the showcase police station already has been delayed for about two years while Buffalo officials wrestled with other problems, including scarce parking, an expensive building design and nearly $800,000 in land costs.
Because the building is located in a historic area, architects were required to design a special facade to blend in with the Theater District streetscape. Special considerations also had to be made for parking.
Nothing, however, stirred more controversy than the $700,000 the owner demanded for the lot, at 695 Main St. City records show the lot was purchased in September 1995 by the 703 Main Corp., which lists its offices at 506 Delaware Ave.
Officials also say the company attempted several years ago to seek a significant reduction in the $384,500 assessed value of the property.
In the end, despite threats of lawmakers to condemn the site or find other locations for the police station, the city wound up paying the asking price.
After workers found the tank, architects discovered old photographs showing a gasoline service station on the spot, the southeast corner of the intersection.
"Nobody knew it was there," Giambra said, adding: "Under the terms of the sale, we took the property as is."
According to Giambra, the city would have little recourse against the previous owner.
"If we could go back to whomever owned the gas station, we might be able to get some money back, but that's unlikely," Giambra said.