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Donovan Building empty, awaits wreckers

The lights are now off, and no one is home in the Gen. William J. Donovan State Office Building in downtown Buffalo.

The last state employees housed in the building moved to new quarters last week ahead of the planned demolition of the 45-year-old structure. The state Office of General Services relocated about 430 state workers from nearly two dozen agencies and offices to new quarters in downtown Buffalo over the past nine months.

"In any instance when you are moving such a large number of state agencies and personnel, it isn't easy, but in general, it was a smooth process," said General Services spokeswoman Christine Burling.

The building's largest agency, the Department of Transportation, and its 250 staffers moved to a privately owned building at 100 Seneca St. in late November. The Veterans Affairs Office has been operating out of the Mahoney State Office Building on Niagara Square since early 2006. And a group of seven small agencies relocated together to the Electric Tower at 535 Washington St. earlier this month.

Several other departments found spots along Main Street in the downtown core.

Workers from the Division of Parole, as well as the office of Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, were the last to depart their longtime offices earlier last week. Hoyt, D-Buffalo, spent the past 14 years in the Donovan Building, occupying a portion of the office his father, the late Assemblyman William Hoyt, had called home for the preceding 18 years.

"There's a lot of memories for me and my family over there, but it is time for that building to go," Hoyt said. "It's one of the ugliest buildings in Buffalo sitting on one of the city's best development sites."

The state has been formulating plans to vacate and raze the eight-story, 146,000-square-foot office building for several years. Originally, the Donovan Building site -- which is bounded by Main, Scott and Washington streets and Upper Terrace -- was eyed for a proposed transportation center. Now the property, located across the street from Memorial Auditorium, will play a key role as a development site tied to rebirth of the Erie Canal Harbor/Lower Main Street area.

Hoyt, who noted the state already has earmarked $7 million to tear it down, said now that the idle Aud also appears destined for the wrecking ball, there are potential savings in demolishing the structures simultaneously.

"There may be an opportunity to bid them together, saving time and money. They're sitting about 200 feet from each other, so it's something that should be explored," he said.

The Empire State Development Corp. is in charge of the effort to clean up and tear down the Donovan Building, with its local Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. acting as lead agency.

Charles Rosenow, executive director of the harbor development panel, said he's also interested in bundling the two demolition projects if that's feasible.

"It's something we're going to look at. We could potentially have one contract, one staging area, one contractor," Rosenow said.

URS Corp. is wrapping up the first phase of an environmental review that will lead to development of an asbestos-removal strategy and final cost estimates. That process is expected to continue through much of 2007.

The closure of the Donovan Building and upcoming demolition leave its namesake without a local site that honors him, but Hoyt said he hopes to change that situation.

"Wild Bill Donovan was so well known and so admired. He was a local legend, and we will find a way to acknowledge him when the building is gone," Hoyt said.

A highly decorated World War I hero, the Buffalo native went on to serve as chief of the federal Office of Special Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Hoyt would like to see a formal ceremony in which Donovan's portrait and a plaque that grace the building's main lobby are removed.

Donovan died in 1959, and the building was named in his honor when it opened in 1962.


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