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City eyes Dillon Courthouse as new home for police, fire departments

City officials are considering relocating the headquarters of the city’s police and fire departments to the former Michael J. Dillon Memorial U.S. Courthouse on Niagara Square, reusing the imposing 80-year-old structure that’s been declared surplus property by the federal government.

Mike DeGeorge, a spokesman for both the Brown administration and the Buffalo Police Department, confirmed that “the city has submitted an application for that site as a potential public safety headquarters and the review process is underway.” But he declined to elaborate without giving any reason, even though both the city and federal governments are subject to Freedom of Information laws.

Pat Sclafani, spokesman for the U.S. Government Services Administration, and Joan LaRocca, spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, also confirmed that the federal government is reviewing the city’s application, in accordance with federal surplus property procedures. Sclafani said the city’s application was submitted to Justice last month and that agency “expects to make a decision sometime in early summer 2016.”

Built in 1936, the nine-story Dillon courthouse is a 180,950-square-foot concrete block building with a basement, sitting on three quarters of an acre at 68 Court St., across Niagara Square from City Hall. The building, which has been vacant since the opening of the Robert H. Jackson Courthouse in November 2011, features a mix of courtrooms, administrative offices and other law enforcement spaces. There’s limited outdoor parking.

The property is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, with formal nomination pending that would subject it to regulations.

The building was declared excess property by the GSA last October, which made it available first for transfer and reuse by another federal agency. But with no interest expressed over a 30-day screening period, it moved into surplus status in mid-November.

That made it eligible for conveyance, lease or sale to nonprofits, tax-exempt institutions or state and local agencies – such as the city. And according to the GSA, it was available for use as a school, homeless facility, prison or another law enforcement facility, or it could be sold to a public entity for another public purpose.

That’s where the city’s application to consolidate the police and fire departments comes in. Such a step would unify the two public safety agencies under one roof for the first time, though not necessarily in a newer building.

The Buffalo Police Department has been based at 74 Franklin St., at the corner of Franklin and Church streets, since 1937, while the Buffalo Fire Department sits a few blocks away at 195 Court St., where its home dates to 1932.