A developer who has been promising to develop six historic buildings on Genesee Street in downtown Buffalo for two decades now wants to knock down four of them.
Willard A. Genrich, who gutted and braced a string of circa 1880s buildings nearly two decades ago to preserve them for redevelopment, is seeking a city permit to create a parking lot where four of them stand.
Genrich told the Buffalo Preservation Board last week he needs the parking to support a future restaurant venture.
City officials indicated they have serious reservations about the plan. Genrich did not return phone calls seeking details of the demolition request.
Genrich, who owns 99 through 123 Genesee St., situated on the south side of Genesee between Oak and Ellicott streets, announced plans last June to convert the gutted buildings at 99-101 Genesee St. into a restaurant and office complex.
The developer, who has raised the ire of city officials and preservationists with his years of inaction on the properties, received city Planning Board approvals in January to join the two buildings into one structure.
A first-floor restaurant was set to open this summer, with offices on the upper two floors to follow. The historic building, which once housed Werner's Photographic Gallery, is known for its prominent atrium window.
If Genrich gets his way, his remaining holdings, which extend to the corner of Genesee and Oak, would be razed.
Preservation Board Chairman John Lapping said the advisory panel will not take a formal vote on the demolition until its May 12 meeting, but he predicts the board will oppose the request.
"My guess is we'll vote against this. This is not something we want to happen," Lapping said.
Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said he is opposed to knocking down the building shells because of their historic nature and their location.
"I am not happy with that idea. We shouldn't allow him to take down any of those buildings to make a parking lot. It's ridiculous," he said. "Genesee Street is a gateway to downtown and it is part of our comprehensive downtown plan."
In 2004, the mayor put Genrich on a target list of building owners who are sitting on key city properties without clear plans for their redevelopment. Masiello threatened the city will take action to gain control of the buildings if no plans are forthcoming.
Jessie Fisher, an architect and preservationist who is redeveloping buildings at 85 and 91 Genesee St., said the requested demolition would undermine her group's efforts.
"One of the reasons we felt comfortable making a significant investment of time and resources is because of the great potential of that block," Fisher said. "The ultimate success of my project is tied to the entire inventory of beautiful buildings in that neighborhood."
Ray McGurn, commissioner of permit and inspection services, said his office will weigh Genrich's demolition request against a city assessment of the buildings' condition, neighborhood and preservation concerns.
"There's certainly a lot of interest in the future of these properties and how they fit into that downtown corridor," McGurn said. "We'll consider all that when it comes back to this office for a final decision."
McGurn expects to issue a decision on the permit request by the end of May.