The city is hauling the owner of the former AM&A's building into court after he ignored inspectors' demands to gain entry to the long-empty complex.
An exterior inspection Feb. 7 found numerous problems at the Main Street complex, including material hanging from a sixth-floor window frame.
Documents filed in Housing Court claim the problem jeopardizes the safety of pedestrians. Inspectors said they also found rotting door frames, cracked foundations, peeling paint and other violations.
City officials said they have no idea whether Richard Taylor and his company, Carpe Diem Development, have fixed more than 100 violations found inside the building during previous inspections dating back two years. They claimed Taylor ignored a Jan. 18 letter that demanded a reinspection and threatened him with prosecution in Housing Court if he failed to comply.
The cluster of 10 buildings with a single facade occupies prime real estate in the heart of the business district.
Inspections in 2004 and 2005 found such violations as extensive mold and water damage, crumbling asbestos, faulty wiring, decaying walls and the presence of 55-gallon drums containing unknown substances.
Richard M. Tobe, Buffalo's new commissioner of economic development, permits and inspections, said the city has received no responses from Taylor.
"We intend on making sure that the laws are enforced and that this building not be allowed to deteriorate like this," Tobe said.
Housing Court Judge Henry Nowak is scheduled to hear the case April 7, and Tobe said a number of things could happen at that time.
If Taylor or a representative appears in court and voluntarily agrees to a new inspection, crews will check the complex and report their findings. If all violations haven't been corrected, the owner would likely be given a deadline to make repairs.
If the owner doesn't appear in court, Tobe said, the city intends to ask for a warrant to enter the building.
Taylor has been in Europe for some time, said George Hamberger of Hunt Commercial Real Estate, who has been trying to market the AM&A's site for seven years. Hamberger said he was unaware of the city's new court case against Taylor.
Tobe said Taylor also did not respond to a request that he file with the city any rehabilitation plans he has for the site.
Four months ago, Centerstone Development said it was working with Taylor on a plan to transform the empty buildings into a mixed-use complex that would likely include offices, housing and retail. As recently as late January, Centerstone said it was continuing to meet with building designers to discuss options for the building.
Other developers also have expressed interest.
"If there is a real interest to renovate this building and put it back into productive use, we welcome it. But there has been a long period of inactivity," Tobe said.
If Taylor is pursuing redevelopment, Tobe said, the city will insist on seeing detailed plans and will hold him to specific deadlines. Tobe said a future court order could require benchmarks be met at specific times.
Other than Taylor's short-lived experiment with an upscale women's apparel store, the building has been vacant since The Bon-Ton closed the former AM&A's flagship store in 1995. The shutdown ended a 128-year-old downtown retailing legacy.
During last fall's mayoral campaign, Byron W. Brown said finding a new identity for the former AM&A's site is important to revitalizing downtown. He criticized then-Mayor Anthony M. Masiello for being too lenient with Taylor.
Even after inspectors cited the building for a long list of violations, the city opted not to pursue court action. Masiello said Taylor was working on a redevelopment plan.