Paladino has failed to repair major code violations at two large downtown buildings - The Buffalo News

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Paladino has failed to repair major code violations at two large downtown buildings

The vacant eight-story building at 199 Scott St. has trees growing on the roof, right above the ribbon of graffiti.

No fewer than 49 windows are missing, and most of the rest are broken, allowing rain and snow to eat away at the building's interior.

The brick high-rise, a familiar site to motorists passing through downtown on the Niagara Thruway, has been in Housing Court since the summer of 2007.

Only three of 10 code violations have been repaired.

The once stately Greystone Building off Elmwood Avenue on the other side of downtown has been in Housing Court even longer, since the spring of 2005.

Records show the building owner has yet to correct three of the five major code violations, including a bad roof and missing windows.

"Clearly demolition by neglect," reads a community report submitted to Housing Court in 2007.

It's not just the decrepit conditions that upset neighbors, but the drug users and prostitutes who gravitate to the eyesore, located within a couple of blocks of two city schools.

Then there was the time a hooker had sex with an employee of the building's owner in or near the property, according to a court record.

Suffice to say, some of the neighbors are mad as hell at that owner -- Carl Paladino.

"You find drug paraphernalia, you find booze, you find needles. There's all kinds of illicit activity going on in the warm-weather months," said Marilyn Rodgers, who lives less than a block from the Greystone.

"A couple of years ago, I was actually threatened by a hooker with a knife in the park who had brought a john from over there."

Paladino, who lost last year's election for governor in a landslide to Andrew Cuomo, has tried to hold off enforcement action with limited interior work and numerous promises to convert both the Greystone and 199 Scott St. into apartments.

But he has failed to follow through on any of his redevelopment plans, and both buildings remain eyesores and a drag on neighborhoods where public and private investment has attempted to improve the surroundings.

"Every couple of years, he comes up with a new plan, and nothing gets done," Rodgers said.

Paladino refused to be interviewed for this story.

Few repairs made

Paladino, one of the largest commercial landlords in downtown, owns some 250 properties throughout Erie County, ranging from vacant lots and empty drugstores to well-maintained and leased apartment and office buildings.

Their conditions tend to reflect their surroundings -- sometimes ragged in distressed neighborhoods but well-kept in better areas.

City inspectors haven't found fault with most of the properties.

That's not the case with 199 Scott St. and the Greystone on 24 Johnson Park. Only those two are the focus of this investigation.

The building at 199 Scott dates to about 1920 and formerly housed the Fairmont Creamery and later was used by Rich Products for refrigerated storage.

It's been vacant since the mid-1990s after a fire.

The building was purchased in 2001 by the 5277 Group, a limited liability corporation that Paladino controls.

He announced plans to convert the building into apartments or condominiums, but the plans went nowhere, and the building was cited in March 2007 for 10 code violations, including a damaged roof, missing windows, loose bricks, rusty metalwork holding up the billboard and piles of dirt, trash and other litter.

The building was in such poor condition that the city immediately moved the case into Housing Court.

Inspectors, in court documents, said the building is "posing a possible fire hazard and [has a] blighting effect on the City of Buffalo."

Subsequent inspection reports showed no progress until two of the 10 violations were partly corrected in May 2008.

While reports note some work to clean up the building's interior, they repeatedly noted Paladino's failure to correct most of the code violations and frequently mentioned piles of dirt and other debris and overgrown weeds.

The most-current report, dated Dec. 8 of last year, said only three of the 10 original violations have been corrected, while two others were partly repaired.

Among the outstanding violations: missing windows, a deteriorated roof, and loose and falling bricks.

Paladino's company has two active permits to do electrical work and asbestos abatement.

A Buffalo News reporter walked the property last week and found no signs of construction activity.

But bricks that had fallen from the building were strewn on the ground, graffiti was spray painted on several sections and the east side of the building was missing 42 windows.

That's the side that overlooks the adjacent Lofts at Elk Terminal, an upscale apartment complex redeveloped at a cost of more than $10 million whose units rent for up to $1,895 a month.

The opposite side of the building, which includes a billboard Paladino uses to pillory his perceived enemies, includes graffiti at the roof line and a crumbling loading dock and a pile of concrete debris at ground level.

The building is a half-block away from the offices of Mayor Byron Brown's Clean and Seal Team, which is geared to fight urban blight.

Safety danger

The Greystone was built in 1894 and was originally known as the Berkeley Hotel.

The city's Landmark and Preservation Board document describes the building as an "excellent example of the Italian Renaissance Style.

This is one of the oldest reinforced concrete structures in the city."

Another limited liability corporation controlled by Paladino, the 5182 Group, bought the vacant property in March 2002 for $150,000.

In September 2003, a member of a demolition crew was seriously injured when he was buried by falling concrete inside the Greystone.

The injured worker, claiming unsafe conditions, got a $4.9 million settlement from Paladino's insurer not long after the case went to trial.

Public records show city inspectors cited the building for major code violations in March 2004, including missing windows, trash and debris, and a damaged rear wall that was in danger of collapsing.

While records show Paladino promised to renovate the building, it remained in disrepair, and the Inspections Department referred the case to Housing Court in 2005.

A report filed with the Housing Court on behalf of the neighboring community two years later showed nothing had changed.

"Property has been vacant for well over a decade. Vagrants, vandals, graffiti artists and drug users have gained access and still do," said the report, prepared by Rodgers, who served as a liaison between the court and community groups from 2005-07.

"No action has been taken to assure the security of the building or the surrounding neighborhood.

Clearly demolition by neglect.

"Property is rapidly decaying due to inattention of ownership, existing hole in the roof from accident in 2002 still has not been weatherproofed, causing additional decay in this property that, itself, is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings."

That same month, another report was filed with the court.

"On Saturday morning (8/25/2007) an Ellicott Development employee ...met up with a local prostitute ... and had relations with her on Johnson Park.

Police were called, but by that time [the prostitute] had stolen [the employee's] SUV owned by Ellicott Development."

Public records show little has changed in the building's condition the past three years.

Residents complain

In April 2008, Corporation Counsel Alisa A. Lukasiewicz wrote to Paladino's attorney about the Greystone.

"The falling concrete and bricks continue to present a hazard to the public ...," she informed him.

"The city is greatly concerned that someone may be struck by a piece of concrete or brick and be seriously injured."

Lou Petrucci, the city's chief building inspector, said the department has sought penalties in Housing Court for the continuing problems, which, at present, involve three outstanding violations, including the failure to repair the roof or replace missing windows.

"We've asked three times for sentencing and the previous judge thought because of the unique situation of the building that it was better to keep it as an open court case," Petrucci said.

Maximum penalties for uncorrected code violations include a fine of $1,500 or 15 days in jail.

Rodgers, the neighborhood resident and former court liaison, said action should have been taken by now.

"Mr. Paladino has been given a free ride," she said.

Paladino said he still intends to renovate the building, and his attorney, in papers filed in Housing Court in 2009, said progress has been slowed by the poor economy and a difficulty in obtaining financing.

"Despite what would appear to be a lack of improvement judging from the exterior of the building, the company has performed significant work," attorney Kathleen Linhardt wrote, citing efforts to remove falling masonry on the outside and " interior cleanup, to the extent possible."

Paladino's latest plans call for studio apartments.

"I think work will start in the spring," Paladino told The News in November.

Catherine Fabozzi, president of the Carolina Independent Block Club, said the building is "starting to crumble" and "getting to the point of no return."

"I don't care if they tear it down or build it up, but do something with it because it is a nuisance in this community," she said.

Paladino's company has five active permits for work at the site.

A News reporter found no construction activity during a visit to the property last week, although a chute jutted out of a second-floor window and emptied into a trash bin below.

The six-story building appeared weather-beaten, and most of its first-floor windows were boarded up with plywood.

A half-block away sits Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, which the city reopened in 2008 after a $36.1 million renovation.

Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, located one block down South Elmwood Avenue, reopened in 2009 after $20 million in work.

The Greystone is also within a stone's throw of several restaurants that the city has provided financial assistance to.

"This is a neighborhood," Rodgers said, "and the neighborhood needs to be respected."

That respect has been a long time coming.

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Crumbling conditions: A look at Paladino's two properties in Housing Court

199 Scott St.

  • Known to Thruway motorists for Paladino's attack billboard on the western side of the building and trees growing on the roof.
  • City inspectors cited the building for 10 code violations in 2007.
  • Inspectors characterized the building as "posing a possible fire hazard and [has a] blighting effect on the City of Buffalo."
  • Infractions included damaged roof, missing windows, falling brickwork.
  • Only three of 10 violations have been repaired.
  • Uncorrected violations include nearly 50 missing windows, loose bricks and damaged roof.

24 Johnson Park

  • Known to neighbors as a magnet for prostitutes, drug users and other criminals.
  • Building cited for five violations in 2004.
  • Infractions included missing windows, a damaged rear wall in danger of collapse, trash and debris.
  • A Housing Court liaison in 2007 described the owner's stewardship of the property as "Clearly demolition by neglect."
  • Only two of five violations have been repaired.
  • Uncorrected violations include damaged roof, missing windows.
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