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Buffalo to take ownership of Dillon courthouse Wednesday

The Common Council Tuesday approved purchase of the former Michael J. Dillon federal courthouse, the final step needed for the city to take ownership of the historic building slated to become Buffalo's public safety complex.

The city should take title to the building Wednesday, when a real estate closing is scheduled. Buffalo hopes to move its police and fire headquarters into the 80-year-old sandstone and steel structure by September 2017.

"This is the right location to house both Buffalo police and Buffalo fire headquarters," Mayor Byron W. Brown said following the Council vote.

The city is paying the U.S. General Services Administration $1 for the building, located at 68 Court St. and Niagara Square, across from City Hall. The sale includes a provision that the former courthouse can only be used by the city as a public safety complex. If the city ever decides to move its police headquarters elsewhere, the former courthouse building reverts back to the GSA, city officials said.

The courthouse has been vacant since 2011, when the federal courts moved to a new building, the Robert H. Jackson Courthouse, on Delaware Avenue and Niagara Square.

The former Dillon courthouse is in excellent condition, city officials said, and will need only minimal work, estimated at $3.5 million. That work will include updating mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, and creating new data storage and evidence centers.

Police headquarters will take over most of the courthouse building, with fire headquarters needing much less space, city officials said.

The courtrooms on the sixth floor of the building will become classrooms for police and fire training, the officials said.

The current police headquarters building, at 74 Franklin St., is expected to be sold, most likely to private developers.

The city will retain the current fire administration building, located behind City Hall at 195 Court St. There's talk of turning that building into a public works campus, allowing the city to consolidate operations, and possibly sell another building now used by the Department of Public Works on Harrison Street.

Brown last year said the city's police and fire headquarters were at capacity, and creating a single public safety building would make the two operations more efficient while also spurring more economic development. Some Council members at the time suggested turning a vacant K-Mart building on Broadway into a new public safety complex, but the Brown Administration said that building is too small. It would have required over $30 million in renovation and new construction to create a public safety complex at that site, administration officials said.

Council members agreed the numbers justified the Brown Administration's decision to select the former Dillon courthouse, but expressed concern about parking availability at the Niagara Square site. Council members emphasized they don't want police cars and other vehicles double parking in or around Niagara Square, as they often are outside of the Franklin Street police building.

City Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak assured lawmakers that there is ample parking, both on the street, and in an adjacent parking lot the city owns.

"There is a parking plan," Stepniak said. "You won't see double parking you see on Franklin."

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