Finally, a new Buffalo administration is dealing with the single largest obstruction to the rejuvenation of downtown Buffalo. True to his campaign promise, Mayor Byron W. Brown is moving to force action on the unconscionable decline of a key site in the heart of downtown.
Former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, after two terms of turning his back on the games AM&A's building owner Richard Taylor was playing with the city, did the unthinkable last year and blocked city court action that could have forced Taylor to bring his property up to code -- or let someone else do it.
The development momentum slowly building at the city core will be helped by the city's decision to haul Taylor's Carpe Diem Development into court for ignoring demands for access to the building. "Carpe Diem," which means "seize the day," is an unlikely name for the corporation. The only day Taylor seized was a brief one, a poor experiment with a women's apparel store that promptly failed. His success has been the frustrating of all attempts by the city to bring the property back as a vital part of the business district.
Inspections in the past two years -- the last after the Fire Prevention Bureau also sought court intervention -- found extensive decay in the structure. Taylor ignored city demands for follow-up inspections to see if problems cited in more than 100 violations have been corrected.
The city's new economic development head, Richard M. Tobe, whose duties also include permits and inspections, has taken a serious and planned approach to the problem, which will come to a head in Housing Court April 7 if Taylor fails to open the AM&A doors to inspectors.
Tobe has a formidable task, because if history is any guide Taylor will stall before he is forced to comply with the law. Under no circumstances can the city simply take his word that repairs will be done. The process, unfortunately, may take a long time, but the city has no choice. If Masiello had done what he should have done early in his administration, the AM&A's building would be a vital part of downtown by now.
Decisions on this site depend heavily on the condition of the building. If it's sound and the problems of mold, water damage and decay can be fixed, developers, preservationists and architects can argue whether rehabilitation and adaptive reuse make financial sense. If it's too far gone, those arguments don't get started -- but the site itself is so central to the business district that the city will have to do everything it can to promote demolition and new construction.
Tobe's forthright warning that inspectors will seek warrants to enter the building if Taylor doesn't yield is the right step. Brown's early attention to this mess also is welcome. There has been developer interest in this building, but Taylor's roadblocks to progress have to be removed before anyone can move forward. More delay cannot be an option.