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Termini plans to buy two pre-Civil War buildings on Sycamore

Two of Buffalo’s oldest buildings have acquired a potential new owner – a prominent downtown developer – who promises to eliminate a threat to their very existence.

Rocco R. Termini plans to purchase 68 and 72 Sycamore St., which preservationists call two of the last remaining, intact pre-Civil War buildings in the city.

He’s been thinking about what he will do with the buildings, but one thing is certain: He won’t demolish them.

"I guarantee they won’t be torn down. Not on my watch," Termini said Thursday.

James Comerford, the city’s commissioner of permit and inspection services, reached out to Termini recently about purchasing the buildings, said attorney James Milbrand, who represents the buildings’ current owner, Nancy Singh.

It was an offer that Termini couldn’t refuse.

"Do I want to do it? No. But someone had to step forward," Termini said. "These are the oldest buildings in Buffalo … They’re part of the (Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor), and they’re important to Buffalo. To have them torn down would be a travesty to the city."

The news brought a bit of relief to preservationists, who have been working to save the buildings from demolition and eventually get them designated as a historic district.

"We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s probably the best outcome we could have hoped for today," said Jessie Fisher, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

The buildings originally were rooming houses and date back to the 1840s, preservationists said. They were contemporaries of the Michigan Street Baptist Church, which played a key part in the Underground Railroad.

When Singh purchased the properties, she intended to operate a boarding house, officials have said. But the city nixed that idea. At one point, Singh requested permission to demolish 68 Sycamore, but that request also was denied. Common Council members have said repeatedly that demolition should not be an option for either of the buildings.

After that, Singh appealed to the Housing Court for an emergency demolition. The hearing was held Thursday in front of Judge Patrick M. Carney.

But it turned out the city already had reached out to Termini about purchasing the buildings, which have been up for sale for the past eight months, Singh said. Termini put down a $10,000 deposit on the buildings, and the deal should resolve the issue, unless "something goes awry with the transfer," Carney said.

"Rocco has agreed to purchase it. He has a contract in hand. As long as all that is progressing, there will be no appearance on Monday," Milbrand said. "If it doesn’t progress, we’ll be back here on Monday asking for at least a partial demolition."

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