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What's next for Gates?; Closing of hospital could open the way to reclaiming a bit of Olmsted's vision

Kaleida Health and, indeed, all of Erie County have made strides over the past decade to improve the quality of the region's health care. A critical part of the task has been to reduce the number of hospitals in the area. We have had too many buildings treating too few patients to best serve either the physical health of residents or the financial health of hospitals.

The next big step in that process is scheduled to occur next year, when Kaleida shuts down Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle. It will mark a significant moment, with a new building opening next to Buffalo General Hospital. But what about the old building? It can't be left standing, vacant, at one of Buffalo's pivotal locations.

Kaleida has taken responsible steps in that regard, but no plan has yet been adopted. As planners consider the options, everything needs to be on the table, from renovation and reuse to demolition. The question to be answered must be, "What makes the most sense -- financially, aesthetically and practically -- for the neighborhood and the city?"

The nonprofit Urban Land Institute recently spent a week in Buffalo, conducting nearly 200 interviews and surveying the site. Its sensible approach is to try to reclaim the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted, which has become obscured in that area, in large part by the hospital's century of expansion.

That would be a fitting direction, as Buffalo belatedly seeks to restore the parks, parkways and sightlines that were too willingly sacrificed in the name of progress.

The institute's proposal -- sensible, given the neighborhood -- is to develop market-rate condominiums and apartments. Still, the question is, what becomes of the hospital building? The institute's draft plan envisions razing sections of the hospital and restoring other areas.

Details will tell the tale, but there should be no hesitation, if it offers the best outcome, to remove the entire building. Yes, it's 100 years old this year, but not every old building needs to be protected simply because of its age.

The hospital at Gates Circle has served the community well over the decades, but its time is past. Its best service now will be to accept whatever fate best serves its neighbors in Buffalo.

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