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Preservationists balk at Paladinos’ proposal for Bachelor Building

Ellicott Development Co. has bought the Bachelor Building at Franklin and Tupper streets in downtown Buffalo, but its plans to demolish the building remain at risk while the city considers a request to declare it a landmark and prevent demolition.

The Buffalo developer, owned by Carl and William Paladino, bought the 130-year-old, four-story apartment building at 329-331 Franklin St. from Nick Sinatra for $1.1 million.

Built in 1886, the Bachelor was one of the first apartment buildings designed by Green & Wicks, and it is the oldest existing apartment building originally built for that purpose that preservationists have found in Buffalo. It’s also an example of an apartment building constructed just for bachelors – it was home to about 30 – from which it earned its name.

Ellicott intends to knock it down as part of a $75 million mixed-use project on 0.85 acres at 500 Pearl, site of the Buffalo Christian Center on the other side of the block. Plans include a six-story hotel, apartment and office tower on top of a six-story parking garage. The new building would include a three-story hotel with up to 112 rooms, 28 apartments on two floors and one floor of 28,000 square feet of office space, plus six floors of 390 parking spaces. But Ellicott says the parking ramp design means the Bachelor has to come down.

The project already received approval from the city Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, and work was slated to start in April, pending a demolition permit. But it was blocked when the Preservation Board voted unanimously to recommend the Common Council stop demolition by designating the Bachelor Building a local landmark.

If that happens, Ellicott CEO William Paladino has said, the project won’t work. “There’s no way we can do that,” he said. “We’d have to think of something else to do.”

The Council has not scheduled a hearing or vote on the matter, but Ellicott is lobbying the Council to reject the landmark request. Paladino sent a letter to Council President Darius G. Pridgen in late January, arguing against such action.

“A local landmark designation would wholly eradicate our ability to complete our proposed redevelopment,” Paladino wrote. He said the firm looked at alternate designs, but those would require demolition of other buildings to the south.

Paladino also questioned the Bachelor’s historic value, noting prior efforts to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places were denied. He argued the building “is simple and low-cost, with modest interior finishes,” and “does not exhibit elaborate architectural detailing.” It also lacks “historic defining features” such as original windows and storefronts.

And he suggested that his project would be more beneficial to the neighborhood than saving the Bachelor.

Finally, he questioned the building’s moral pedigree, noting that “original sales literature” for the building refers to it as an “apartment-house for gentlemen,” with rules “framed with the idea of giving tenants the utmost liberty.”

“In other words, it can be assumed it was a brothel or place for other types of lewd or indecent, at times, behavior by the prominent men that the Preservation Board referred to that have either lived at or visited the building,” Paladino wrote. “One can also draw the conclusion this is why the building has not made the national register.”

Tim Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, called that a “scurrilous” anti-gay slur. “The insinuation is clearly there. It’s so baseless. It’s so absurd, his leap of logic. It’s crazy,” he said. “I don’t know how anyone makes that logical leap. He clearly wants to insinuate that it was a bad place and not worthy of being a local landmark.”

Tielman said such single-sex apartment buildings were common at that time, for both men and women, and asserted that more than half of adults in Buffalo at that time lived in rooming houses – including Mark Twain. “It betrays a total lack of knowledge of the history of the development of Buffalo,” he added. “That’s all the more reason we should be preserving it.”

Paladino downplayed the remark, saying he “threw that in there because people mentioned that to us.” But he stressed that the bigger factors are the importance of his project for changing that part of downtown Buffalo.