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Demolition of Bethlehem building is delayed

Demolition of the former Bethlehem Steel administration building has been temporarily put on hold -- and the City of Lackawanna is now taking the building's owner, Gateway Trade Center, to court again June 21 for not moving quickly enough to demolish the building.

"The building had a stay of execution, so to speak," said Joseph LaRaiso, Gateway's executive vice president. "If the city backs off, we can back off, but they're not, from what I can understand."

Demolition could still begin before the June 21 court date, LaRaiso said.

"We're probably a week or two from restarting demolition," LaRaiso said. "I don't want to be found in contempt of court again." The city earlier obtained a court order to force the company to raze the century-old building.

LaRaiso said he was also learning from The Buffalo News for the first time that a $500,000 state grant the city applied for to help the company pay for the demolition was turned down.

"Of course, we are disappointed. It's a tremendous expense for us," he said.

LaRaiso blamed the demolition delay on "a timing issue" between the state Department of Labor and Empire Dismantlement, the demolition contractor, in which certain obligations, he said, had yet to be fulfilled before work could resume.

LaRaiso acknowledged that the city "has been on our case for years to do this, and we've been dragging our feet because of the economics." He said the company, which bought the building in 1983, concluded years ago it was "cost prohibitive" to rehabilitate the building but could, when the economy improves, build a new incubator office structure at the site.

Dana Saylor, among the preservationists who have had a presence outside the building over the past week, said she was glad for the reprieve and would work with others to mobilize sentiment for saving the building.

LaRaiso, however, was critical of the people demanding that the building be saved from the wrecking ball.

"Everyone wants to do these great, grandeur things, but no one wants to put any money to get anything done. Typical Western New York," LaRaiso said.

The state grant that was to pay for the company's estimated $700,000 to $800,000 demolition cost was withdrawn earlier this month because "an alternative reuse study of the building" was never conducted as promised, a state development agency spokeswoman said.

The City of Lackawanna was awarded $500,000 in October 2009 for asbestos removal based on a verbal agreement made with that agency and the state according to Laura Magee, spokeswoman for Empire State Development Corp.

The agreement called for a reuse study that allowed for asbestos abatement and remediation, but not demolition. Gateway Trade Center, the building's owner, never conducted the study and informed Empire State Development on May 7 it was planning to demolish the building.

According to Magee, the company said it planned to do so without removing the asbestos first out of safety concerns and to reduce project costs.

She said the agency then notified the building owner and the city that since the reuse study promised earlier had not been conducted, the grant was withdrawn.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com