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Dillon Courthouse to become Buffalo's public safety complex

The former Michael J. Dillon federal courthouse - across from City Hall on Niagara Square - will become the City of Buffalo's new public safety complex.

The city is in the process of purchasing the 80-year-old building from the U.S. General Services Administration for $1. After the purchase is completed, the city plans to spend an estimated $3.5 million turning the historic structure into a combined police and fire headquarters that also will house some of the city's data operations.

The Brown Administration declined to comment on its public safety campus plans, saying it's premature to discuss it. But sources told The News that the city is expected to close on the property in mid-to -late November, and hopes to complete renovation so that the former federal courthouse can reopen as a City of Buffalo public safety complex in September 2017.

Current police headquarters on Franklin Street. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The police building on Franklin Street is considered valuable real estate in the current downtown market. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Buffalo Police headquarters is currently located at 74 Franklin St., at the corner of Franklin and Church streets, and Buffalo Fire headquarters is a few blocks away at 195 Court St.  The two headquarters have been at their current locations since the 1930s.

BUFFALO FIRE HQ

The current fire headquarters on Court Street could be used for other city purposes. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Shifting police and fire administrative offices to a single building is aimed at making both operations more efficient. It also would allow the city to sell the police building on Franklin Street, which is considered valuable real estate in the current downtown market. The city is not now planning to sell the Court Street fire headquarters, which could be used for other city purposes.

The city in September 2015 hired a consultant to help develop a public safety complex plan,  and two potential sites have been  mentioned - the vacant Dillon courthouse building at 68 Court St. and Niagara Square, and the former Kmart building at 998  Broadway.

Broadway area residents have petitioned the city and spoke before the Common Council in support of converting the former Kmart site, which has been vacant since the store closed in 2002, into a public safety complex. Having a public safety building there,  residents said, would help revitalize the neighborhood and also bring a stronger police presence that would be welcome in the area.

"Children, businesses and homes would have a sense of security where they live," their petition says. "Moving the Police Headquarters to the Historic Broadway Fillmore Neighborhood will guarantee a police presence and help revitalize our community."

Fillmore Councilman David A. Franczyk backed the plan, and Francyzk and other city officials said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda also liked the idea of placing a public safety complex in the former Kmart site.

But converting the one-time discount store building into a public safety complex would require substantial construction, and a price tag of as much as $25 million to $30 million, The News was told.

The former courthouse, in contrast, is in good shape, and needs much less work.

Mayor Byron W. Brown included $1.9 million in his 2017 capital budget that is earmarked for the first-phase of the Dillon courthouse upgrades. That will include creating property evidence and DNA storage as well as updating data, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in the building.

The building also will need an updated fire alarm system, and an additional egress to meet fire codes.

The Dillon courthouse was built in 1936 and has been vacant since the Robert H. Jackson Courthouse opened on nearby Delaware Avenue at Niagara Square in November 2011.

The  Dillon courthouse is a seven-story,  180,950 square-feet sandstone and steel building that features a mix of courtrooms, administrative offices and other law enforcment spaces, including jail cells.  The first-floor lobby was once used as a post office. It is near a city-owned parking lot as well as a parking ramp.

The U.S. Government Services Administration in October 2015 declared it excess property. When no other federal agency was interested in the property, it became eligible for lease or sale to other government agencies, including the City of Buffalo.

The property is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is an example of Art Moderne architecture, and was built under one of the federal government's New Deal programs.

Franczyk said he appreciates the architectural and historic value of the Dillon courthouse, but is nonetheless disappointed that the 998 Broadway location won't be turned into a public safety complex. Franczyk added that the public safety complex was one of two major projects he has been advocating to help revitalize East Side neighborhoods in his Fillmore District.

He also has advocated for reuse of the long-vacant Central Terminal, turning it into a city Amtrak train station. A  committee chaired by Brown recently formed to recommend a new Amtrak train location for the city.

"I am disappointed  it's not at 998 Broadway," Franczyk said of the public safety complex, "But now we have to make sure the Central Terminal is selected as the train station."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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