The pedestrian bridge linking the Rath County Office Building with Main Place Mall above Pearl Street in downtown Buffalo was scheduled to reopen at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. It was closed last week in response to the massacre in California and other recent mass shootings.
An Erie County sheriff’s deputy will be stationed at a checkpoint on the third-floor footbridge, and county employees and members of the public who use it will have to provide identification and face the possibility of being searched, according to a statement issued Monday by Peter A. Anderson, spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.
Poloncarz on Thursday directed that the footbridge be closed while a plan was developed to increase security at the unmonitored entrance into the Rath Building. The county executive said that discussions about the closing began months earlier in light of the wave of shootings, including last month’s attacks in Paris by the Islamic State.
County workers will now be required to show their employment identification card, and others will be required to present a government-issued form of identification, sign in and indicate their destination. They and their belongings also may be searched if security personnel consider it necessary.
Attorneys for Main Place Tower, which anchors the mall at Church Street, had threatened to sue the county if it did not open the footbridge, according to Anderson. The lawyers, he said, cited a circa 1971 agreement requiring that the footbridge remain open during business hours.
“The county attorney explained that the bridge was being closed due to safety and security concerns for county employees and visitors at the Rath Building,” Anderson said. “Despite that, the threat of litigation was reiterated. We were confident that no judge would compel Erie County to reopen the bridge without added security measures in place and the bridge was not reopened due to the threat of litigation, but rather because new security procedures were developed to address concerns.”
Many people who work in the tower and at the Liberty Building, which is attached to the upper level of the mall by Court Street, along with motorists who park in the ramp below the mall, cross the footbridge to gain access to Franklin Street, especially in the winter months.
With the reopening, Anderson pointed out that county workers are not permitted in the building with weapons.
“Please be reminded that according to the Erie County employee handbook, ‘Unauthorized possession of firearms, explosives, or other weapons, either on an employee’s person while performing county duties or on county property, is prohibited,’ ” he said.
The enhanced security measures, he added, are intended as a proactive way to increase protection for the people who use the Rath Building. On an average day, there are about 2,300 county employees in the building and 500 to 600 visitors.
Security personnel already are stationed at the Franklin Street lobby of the building, and visitors are required to sign in and submit to a search if requested.
“We will continue to review security and work to improve it where possible,” Anderson said.
Workers at mall businesses expressed relief Monday that the bridge will be reopening; a large percentage of their customers come from the Rath Building.