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Lipseys' $5 million gift rejuvenates Richardson Center project

Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey was enamored of the H.H. Richardson Complex.

Ten years ago, Lipsey helped persuade then-Gov. George E. Pataki and the State Legislature to provide $100 million to give the run-down and neglected National Historic Landmark a second life that would include the creation of an architectural center ($24 million of the money would also create the new Burchfield Penney Art Center nearby).

[Gallery: Tour of construction progress at Richardson Olmsted Complex]

Lipsey then chaired the Richardson Center Corp., which used the remaining $76 million to seal and stabilize much of the Forest Avenue complex, just south of SUNY Buffalo State, and develop a plan for future use that will lead in 2017 to the opening of a hotel and conference center, as well as the architectural center.

Lipsey died at age 89 on Nov. 1. But even in death, he and wife Judith had more to give the since-renamed Richardson Olmsted Complex. The couple donated $5 million to the center – an initial $2.5 million, plus an additional $2.5 million contingent on $5 million being raised by the Richardson Center Corp. Already, nearly $2 million has been received, including major donations from M&T Bank and the Howard and Leslie Zemsky family, leaving about $3 million to be raised to reach the goal.

"This generous gift from the Lipseys enables us to carry out Stan's vision," said Paul Hojnacki, president of the Richardson Center Corp. "He looked at the vacant Richardson Olmsted Complex and the City of Buffalo and saw endless possibilities. The gift makes certain that the architecture center in Buffalo adds to the economic vitality of our region."

The $10 million will launch the architecture center, whose costs, including construction and exhibits, is pegged at around $5 million, and help complete the first phase of the Richardson's redevelopment and support what comes next. The architecture center will be named in the Lipseys' honor.

"From his first days in Buffalo, Stan was enamored with its architectural masterpieces, and troubled over the state of disrepair of some of these treasures," Judith Lipsey said. "His passion to restore them to their former glory was only superseded by the satisfaction of realizing his dreams."

The new entrance to the Richardson Olmsted Complex at the back of the campus, pictured in March 2016. When complete, the historic complex will house the Hotel Henry and the Buffalo Architectural Center. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The new entrance to the Richardson Olmsted Complex at the back of the campus, pictured in March 2016. When complete, the historic complex will house the Hotel Henry and the Buffalo Architectural Center. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Lipsey died knowing that a portion of the Richardson was on track to reopen in 2017. The Hotel Henry Urban Resort and Conference Center, a $70 million project with 88 hotel rooms, is expected to open in April, with a Dec. 1 opening planned for the architecture center. The nine-acre South Lawn designed by the famed landscape team of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, but later disrupted with parking lots, was fully returned to green space in 2013.

Over the past 10 years the Richardson Olmsted Complex – so named because Olmsted's involvement – has been one of the country's largest historic preservation projects, said Barbara Campagna, the architecture center's president, and the former chief architect of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The center's main permanent gallery exhibit on Buffalo's architecture will be on the lower level, by the grand glass entrance at the building's new north entry. A rotating gallery will be on the first floor, and a suite of two rooms within one of the patient ward buildings will show what the original hospital rooms were like. There will also be displays that tell the story of how the Richardson Olmsted Complex was born, and the mental health care provided as part of the nationwide network of Kirkbride hospitals.

The center will have about 3,000 square feet of exhibition space in all.

Campagna said the long-term goal is to have a 10,000-square-foot architecture center consolidated into one of the buildings developed in the second phase.

The center is getting ready to hire an exhibits designer and an executive director.

Only about 160,000 of 463,000 square feet on the 42-acre campus – roughly one-third of the space – will have been redeveloped when the projects are completed next year. A consultant for the next phase of the complex's development has just been hired.

A stairwell that will restored at the historic Richardson Complex. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

A stairwell that will restored at the historic Richardson Complex. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Monica Pellegrino Faix, the Richardson's executive director, said there is always plenty of interest in the site, which opened as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane in 1880. Since 2011, all 45 public tours have sold out, she said.

Campagna said the opening of the center will be the fulfillment of Lipsey's dream.

"Stan had this very strong vision to have an architectural center," Campagna said. "He thought it was crazy that Buffalo, with the type and amount of architecture we have, didn't have a place that specifically focused on our architecture.

"I don't believe the Richardson Olmsted Complex would ever have been rehabilitated without Stan," she said. "The architecture center would never have been created without him, either. He created both of them at the same time, and was chair of both boards up until the time he passed away."

Campagna said Lipsey had a knack for handpicking effective people on the board and bringing them together to collaborate.

"I've been on a lot of boards, and this has been the best board I've ever been on," Campagna said. "He's one of the people I respected the most of just about anyone I've ever worked with or met professionally."

Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development, said the rebirth of the Richardson would never have happened without Lipsey, noting the preservationist and philanthropist also played a key role in the restoration of the Darwin Martin House.

"Lots of people can take credit, but the person who made it happen was Stan Lipsey," Hoyt said. "It's appropriate that anytime an individual comes to this center, that Stan's name will be at the forefront. I don't think there is any person in Western New York who can claim to have done more to restore our masterpieces than Stan Lipsey."

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