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PRESERVATION AGENCY EASES OPPOSITION TO DEMOLITION

The state Historic Preservation Office is acquiescing in the likely demolition of most of the Richmond Avenue block.

The city has a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for acquisition and redevelopment of the block alongside the Erie Canal, bounded by Richmond Avenue, Lock, Church and Ontario streets.

However, the brakes were slammed on the project in the summer of 1998 when the Historic Preservation Office reported that the block could be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The city's plan, as presented to HUD, is to buy most of the block and turn it over to a developer to be selected in a bidding process.

Daniel A. Spitzer, an attorney hired to navigate the shoals of red tape involved in the project, said demolition is not certain but is likely.

The oldest building on the block is about 100 years old. A report by the archaeological firm of Dean & Barbour, released in September, showed the entire block was rebuilt over a period of about 15 years, apparently in the wake of a major fire in the 19th century.

"They have found that all the (original) facades were either removed or destroyed," Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said.

The state claimed the block could be a historic site because of its proximity to the canal and because the buildings appeared to have been constructed of Lockport dolomite, the stone blasted out to build the original canal that opened in 1825.

The Dean & Barbour report, which cost the city almost $15,000, concluded that there was nothing on the block of preservation interest.

Allen James, a spokesman for the Historic Preservation Office, said the buildings were only "marginally eligible" for the National Register, which would have prevented their demolition.

James said, "The buildings are technically eligible, but we agreed that retaining them is not prudent or feasible. We've reached an accord to creatively document the history of that district and work it into whatever happens to that site."

The block now includes a tire store, a bar, a vending machine company and a motorcycle repair shop. Also located there, at Church and Ontario streets, is the Hamilton House, owned by First Presbyterian Church. One of the oldest houses in the city, it is now used as a day-care center. It is also the only building on the block the city does not plan to acquire.

The owners of the others will be receiving city purchase offers, according to Community Development Director William J. Evert. He said the city hopes to avoid using its powers of eminent domain.

Brian McDonough, a preservationist and contractor, questioned the demolition plan at last week's Council meeting.

"These are salvageable buildings," he asserted. "With today's technology, we can integrate these buildings to show the genius that has come out of this community."

He condemned the notion of historical site plaques when Ottaviano brought it up. McDonough said they won't go over big with tourists. "They want to see authentic buildings. They don't want to see a plaque," McDonough said.

Spitzer said, "The whole purpose is to get people from the canal into the historic district. These buildings, in the shape they're in, are more of a barrier to getting people into the city than a help."

Ottaviano said he is certain the terms of the request for proposals from developers, as well as the city's zoning ordinance, will prevent anything that doesn't fit in.

He said the city will take care "so we don't get a drive-through with a purple roof."

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