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Preserving an icon; Medical campus responds to criticism, softens plan for demolition at Trico site

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus' new plans for the Trico Complex demonstrate the value of a second look. Whether the revision will satisfy everyone seems doubtful, but the effort appears to have produced a notably better plan.

Six months ago, leaders of the medical campus had planned to tear down much of the city block-sized structure, to the consternation of Buffalo's preservation community. After absorbing much criticism over their decision and the process that led to it, medical campus leaders hired a consultant, which came up with a plan that redevelops the trademark portion of the massive complex, preserving 270,000 square feet of one of Buffalo's most recognizable buildings.

But there is a tradeoff. The new plan would still remove four other buildings on the site, in part to build a 250,000-square-foot expansion of the Innovation Center, a biomedical business incubator. A request for proposals to reuse the 270,000 square feet inside the iconic main building will be issued with an eye to an appropriate reuse.

The plan to raze the four buildings could pose political and financial problems. While the Preservation Roundtable noted that it was pleased to have worked with the medical campus, it also noted that it did so only in a limited capacity and is not in a position yet to comment on the revised plans.

It did note, however, that plans to demolish any of the National Register-listed buildings could lead to the loss of all public funding, a revenue source that is frequently critical to such development projects. It urged the medical campus "to reconsider any plans for all or any selective demolition … until the community has an opportunity to review and comment on the study."

Leaders of the project say they understand they won't get 100 percent approval from the preservation community, but believe they will attract considerable support. This much seems certain: Although the process may not have entirely satisfied the Preservation Roundtable, the fact is that the medical campus did take account of the criticism sent its way and went back to review the project. In the end, it came up with a better plan.

It is too early to know if this is the best plan possible, but it is fair to say that when the past collides with the future, there must often be compromise. The resolution of this issue must allow for the expansion of the Innovation Center, which stands to be a leading factor in Buffalo's developing high-tech medical economy. The revised plan already includes the retention of much of the Trico Building. That's a significant compromise.

Whether it is the right one or a financially manageable one has yet to be determined, but there is a lot to like about what has occurred over the past six months.