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DOWNTOWN LANDMARK FACES NEW DEMOLITION THREAT

An Amherst developer plans to buy the Bank of Buffalo Building next week and possibly tear down the 19th-century landmark for a high-rise project.

Ciminelli Development Corp. wants to demolish the 94-year-old building at Main and Seneca streets and combine the land with the adjoining Chamber of Commerce site.

Ciminelli's plans call for an office building, a project that was first proposed in 1986. The company considers the Chamber site too small and thinks both properties are needed to make the project viable.

"We're looking at the feasibility of keeping the building, but right now it looks like a detriment," said William Stark, vice president of Ciminelli.

If the project calls for demolition, the preservationist community is almost certain to oppose the action.

The Bank of Buffalo Building is in the Joseph Ellicott Preservation District and has limited protection against demolition or exterior changes. Demolition would require approval of the Buffalo Preservation Board or the Common Council.

Susan A. McCartney, president of the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, said her group will continue to push for restoration of the bank building. She said the coalition will argue that the bank building can be preserved as part of a larger development involving the Chamber site.

"They will have a tough time convincing the community that it can't be done because it's already been done," said Ms. McCartney, referring to the Chamber building that was torn down.

Designed by W.R. Gibson, an Englishman, the Bank Building is known for its stonework and glass dome. The structure also is considered an excellent example of Renaissance-revival architecture and a reminder of Buffalo's booming economy in the late 19th century.

In buying the building, Ciminelli has exercised an option it acquired from the owner, Kimmins Industrial Service Corp. Kimmins, at one time, had considered attempting to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places and, if successful, restoring it. The restoration cost was estimated at $1.5 million.

Ms. McCartney said her group would like to meet with Frank Ciminelli, company president.

Barring that, the coalition is prepared to fight his plans for demolition.

She expressed confidence that the city's preservation board and the Common Council would oppose a demolition.

Stark said the Bank of Buffalo Building will be purchased next week and the city-owned Chamber site within 30 days. He declined to discuss the company's redevelopment plans, except to say that two major tenants are interested in locating offices in the proposed building.

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