The Buffalo Preservation Board decision last week to seek a historic designation for the Bachelor Apartments building on Franklin Street may doom a $75 million project to build a new 12-story hotel and mixed-use complex on the site, just three months before it was to start.
Ellicott Development Co. has proposed construction of the hotel, apartments and office tower on a vacant 100-space surface parking lot next door to the Buffalo Christian Center, at 500 Pearl St. The plan includes purchasing and knocking down the Bachelor Apartments building at 331 Franklin, where the corner of the parking ramp would stand.
The project would feature six floors of 390 parking spaces, a three-story hotel with up to 112 rooms, 28 apartments on two floors, and one floor of 28,000 square feet of office space.
Work was scheduled to start in April. But the 8-0 vote by the Preservation Board to recommend that the Common Council designate the site as a local landmark could prevent its demolition and negate its value to Ellicott.
“We are evaluating options now,” said Ellicott CEO William Paladino. “If we can’t demo the building, we can’t do the project.”
The unanimous vote doesn’t automatically mean the building is landmarked and protected from demolition. The Preservation Board is responsible for considering the historic value of buildings in the city, and whether they can be altered or taken down. Its recommendation goes to the Common Council, which will send it to a committee for a public hearing and consideration before it comes back to the Council.
“Although I’d love to say it would prevent it now, this is really the first step in the process,” said Paul McDonnell, Preservation Board chairman.
The four-story building was built in 1886 and was one of the first buildings designed by Green and Wicks, an architectural firm established in Auburn, N.Y., only two years earlier. It was the firm’s first multiple-dwelling building, and it is the oldest existing apartment building originally built for that purpose that preservationists have found in the city, said Tim Tielman, a Preservation Board member.
“So it’s significant in the development of Green and Wicks’ architectural style,” Tielman said. “They tower in Buffalo’s architectural history. Anything that helps show that style, and certainly because of its age and that stage in their career, it’s significant.”
It’s also known for being the home at one time of about 30 bachelors in the city, hence its name.
“This type of building is the reason downtown Buffalo thrived. And just having people be able to live downtown with the potential for commercial space downstairs is the most valuable type of land-use you can have in Buffalo, beyond offices, if you’re talking about generating that sidewalk activity that everyone says they want,” Tielman said.
Paladino has said Ellicott would try to commemorate the building, perhaps naming a banquet area for it or displaying photographs documenting the building’s history and incorporating cornices and other elements from the Bachelor into the new facade.
Tielman counters that Paladino’s project also doesn’t need to happen at that site. He said someone else will come along with a different project that will work.
“As the medical campus grows, there will be a demand for this kind of thing. Bill is just trying to get a project on the ground before someone else,” Tielman said.
Tielman rejects any assertions that the Preservation Board is blocking a $75 million project.
“The city shouldn’t be giving up a valuable building that’s contributing to downtown,” he said. “It’s a valuable building. It deserves to be saved. and it contributes a lot more to Buffalo’s vitality.”