The fate of one of Buffalo's late 19th-century architectural gems is up in the air until its owner, members of the Buffalo Preservation Board and community development officials decide if they can find a way to save it.
Developer Carl Paladino Thursday appealed to the Preservation Board for permission to raze the six-story Webb Building at 90-92 Pearl St. to extend a parking lot.
Paladino characterized the historic building as an albatross in downtown Buffalo's currently depressed commercial rental market. He also said he is concerned about safety and liability issues because bricks fell from the 106-year-old building during a windstorm last winter.
"I would never come before this board with a request to knock down a historic building," said Paladino, who is part owner and manager of two other historical buildings of renown, Ellicott Square and the Guaranty Building, one of the country's first skyscrapers, designed by renowned architect Louis Sullivan.
"I, too, am a preservationist, albeit a practical one," he added. "Allow me to take out a demolition permit to demolish the building, with the understanding that for 60 days I will not apply for the permit until Dec. 1."
In the end, Paladino was persuaded to consider alternatives to demolition, including suggestions that he transfer ownership to a not-for-profit group or work with local, state and federal housing officials to develop a new use for the building. He agreed to meet again with the board in two weeks.
The Webb Building has official city landmark status. It is considered a contributing building to the city's Joseph Ellicott District, explained Susan McCartney, a Preservation Board member.
"As individuals charged with protecting our very valuable historic and architectural resources, we must do everything possible to find a solution to the threat of losing this building," she said.
To that end, city community development officials at Thursday's meeting expressed an interest in working with Paladino, who said the vacant building is beset by a leaking ceiling and rotted wood, but it is architecturally sound. Paladino said the building has been boarded up and a roof tower removed.
"We've taken all the precautionary measures any human being can take to secure the building, but we have an old structure and we are concerned about liability," he said.
Some Preservation Board members suggested gutting the inside of the building, leaving just the facade, then developing a modern building.
Ms. McCartney, however, said this would seriously undermine the historical integrity of the building.
The brick and stone structure, built in 1888, is the last remaining Buffalo work of prominent New York City architect Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz.
Paladino purchased the abandoned building in 1994, he said.