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New plan calls for reuse of part of Trico Complex

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus plans to redevelop the trademark portion of the massive Trico Complex that bends around Ellicott Street onto Goodell and to remove the remaining four buildings to build a 250,000-square-foot, laboratory-friendly expansion of the Innovation Center, a biomedical business incubator.

The decision reverses a plan last spring to tear down more of the city block-sized brick-and-reinforced concrete complex, bounded by Ellicott, Goodell, Washington and Virginia streets at the intersection of downtown Buffalo, Allentown, the Fruit Belt and the medical corridor.

“The exciting part of this is that the iconic view of the Trico Building – that image that is etched in people’s minds – will be preserved,” said developer Doug Swift, who was hired as a consultant to oversee a redevelopment feasibility study prepared with input from architects, engineers, construction cost estimators and commercial real estate experts.

“We’re talking about preserving 270,000 square feet, which is still a very substantial project.”

The decision, which will need to go before the Buffalo Preservation Board, retains 42 percent of the National Register of Historic Places-designated complex by saving Building No. 8, one of five structurally independent building units that was added in 1937.

Some preservationists said six months ago that the process lacked transparency and called for a reuse study. Tom Yots, executive director of Preservation Niagara, said he was glad a study was done.

“The whole Preservation Roundtable appreciates being included in the process, but we have not had the time to review this document,” Yots said.

“We feel the range of options that were offered were good. What concerns us is that the option being proposed would not be eligible for historic preservation tax credits, according to what we are hearing from the [State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation]. We’re told there were too many things eliminated that were not justified by the complex’s condition.”

Paul McDonnell, chairman of the Buffalo Preservation Board, cautioned that the option could lead to the elimination of all state and federal funds to redevelop the building. But his concerns went farther.

“As chairman, we would not be necessarily in favor of any plan that demolishes such a significant amount of that building. Not only is it an example, architecturally, of a Daylight Factory building, but it’s also important culturally because of the history of industrial Buffalo,” said McDonnell.

He noted that an attempt to locally landmark Trico, which would have strengthened the hand of the Preservation Board, was tabled May 1 by the Common Council.

The feasibility study found that Building No. 1, which was built in the 1890s as an ice house and stable before Trico owner John R. Oishei purchased it the 1920s, to be the most threatened space. That building, which occupies about 10 percent of the site, and the other remaining structures known as Building No.’s 2, 3 and 7, which were added between 1929 and 1936, would be cleared away under the option chosen by the Medical Campus to make room for the Innovation Center expansion.

As expected, the complex has significant environmental damage as well as roof and structural challenges inside and out. Foit-Albert Associates found a variety of hazardous materials and petroleum products, with elevated levels of heavy metals and PCBs throughout the complex, along with mold.

There also were 144,000 gallons of contaminated water in the sub-basement.

But Swift said that with the possible exception of Building No. 1, everything was salvageable. Other factors, he said, outweighed the building’s physical condition alone.

“The decision to scale the complex down is more of a market analysis,” Swift said.

Millitello Realty, which evaluated potential reuse options, found an excess of more than 88,000 square feet of “undeveloped space” and potential development costs it said would scare developers away.

The first option that looked at preserving the entire 591,591-square-foot site concluded it would cost $113.7 million to develop. A second analysis would have removed Building No. 1, most of Building No. 2 and a portion of Building No. 7 but still leave the cost of development at almost $97 million.

Both amounts were said by Militello Realty to be far more than what the market would bear.

The Medical Campus’ preferred option to retain only Building No. 8 reduced the development cost to $52 million.

“Reducing the size of redevelopment to Building No. 8 has several advantages. This scheme is a more manageable redevelopment project, would have an easier time attracting a legitimate developer to take on the project and is more in scale with the current local demand,” the report said.

“This scheme saves an entire building rather than portions of several buildings, and eliminates from the equation the majority of structural and environmental ‘hot spots’ within the larger complex.”

The market analysis suggests that the site could be redeveloped to include a 120-room hotel, 60 loft apartments, and office and medical space.

The cost of simply mothballing the building was put at $5.8 million, which didn’t include funding ongoing operation and maintenance of the complex until a developer became involved.

Trico, which made windshield wipers and related automotive parts, moved out in 1998, transferring all operations to Texas and Mexico. After a developer died a few years after acquiring the space, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus acquired the building in 2007 and transferred the title to a city agency to avoid liability. Buffalo Brownfield Restoration Corp., a subsidiary of Buffalo Urban Development Corp., then made the Medical Campus the designated developer.