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Steel plant building prepared for razing

The sprawling Bethlehem Steel North Administration Building sits as far north as you can go in the City of Lackawanna. In fact, to the naked eye, the last few feet of that building seems to be a little north of the green "City of Buffalo" welcoming sign directly across Fuhrmann Boulevard.

But virtually the whole 111-year-old building, just north of Ridge Road, sits in Lackawanna, and that's an important point in the attempt to save it from the wrecker's ball.

Lackawanna, according to preservationists mounting a last-minute protest to the building's demolition, lacks the preservation ordinance and review process found in the City of Buffalo.

Workers began readying the historic building in Lackawanna for demolition Monday morning, following a late-night vigil staged by preservationists hoping to stall the tearing down of the building.

"In Buffalo, there is a preservation ordinance," said Dana Saylor-Furman, the protest group's leader. "In Lackawanna, there is not, so there is no slowing down of the process, and there's no Preservation Board oversight."

Shortly after 8 a.m. Monday, a worker from Empire Dismantlement Corp. of Grand Island began placing a red "Danger Asbestos Hazard" ribbon on the fence surrounding the building.

Up to 40 preservationists staged their vigil, from about 7 p.m. Sunday to 2 a.m. Monday, in an attempt to stall the demolition project.

About 17 protesters also showed up at a Lackawanna City Council meeting Monday night, including several city residents, among them Romaine Lillis.

"Things should remain for us," she told Council members. "It should be an icon for the city." She encouraged the Council to "stop this nonsense."

Council President Henry Pirowski said he had not been brought up to speed on the property beyond recent media reports.

First Ward Council Member Abdul Noman asked Ralph Miranda, city director of development, about the condition of the building.

"It's bad," Miranda replied. "In the opinion of experts and engineers, it's unsalvageable."

Before the meeting, Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski said that he and most residents of the city he's spoken with fully support the demolition.

"It's been sitting there unused and unsafe for 29 years," said Szymanski, who acknowledged receiving about 75 calls since Friday from people urging the city to halt the demolition.

More than half the calls were from people outside of New York State, including a few from places like Brussels, London and Toronto, Szymanski said. Just two Lackawanna residents favored saving the building.

"The sentiment I'm getting [from Lackawanna residents] is, 'It's about time,' " he said. "It may represent the industrial age of America, but it reminds me of the beginning of the Rust Belt of America. It's time to move on."

Lackawanna city officials, claiming the massive three-story building is in deplorable condition, recently obtained a court order to have the building torn down.

Saylor-Furman suggested that the Bethlehem Steel property, so close to Lake Erie, could be redeveloped, much the same way that developer Rocco Termini has transformed the Hotel @ the Lafayette in downtown Buffalo.

"He knows and understands that by saving these properties, you can engender good will and also create a money-making business property," Saylor-Furman said.

Heather Gring, 25, another activist, added that such restored sites also have proven to be a strong draw for tourists, as evidenced by last October's National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference in Buffalo.

News Staff Reporter Jay Tokasz contributed to this report.