The once vibrant brick building at the corner of Delaware and Hertel avenues, once the home of the North Park Branch Library, has been vacant for almost 10 years.
But now, the Centro Culturale Italiano di Buffalo plans to give it new life by transforming it into an Italian American Cultural Center.
“This is a monumental moment in the history of the Italian-American community in Western New York,” said former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello during an announcement ceremony Monday afternoon at the former library site.
A team from CCI of Buffalo was chosen as the designated developer for the redevelopment of the building. Board members from CCI of Buffalo and consultants will be putting together a comprehensive plan for the reuse of the building, said Mayor Byron W. Brown.
“I’m looking forward to being back here ... for a ribbon-cutting ceremony,” Brown said.
The new cultural center has an estimated cost of $1 million and is expected to be open next year, said Dr. Francesco Giacobbe, president of CCI of Buffalo.
“We will have a business plan ready soon. We will select the name for the new building and launch a fundraising program. It is a gigantic project,” Giacobbe said to dozens of supporters who attended the press conference.
“Everyone will be welcome,” he added.
Before Monday’s announcement, city officials had been talking for years about finding a cost-effective way to redevelop the building located at 2351 Delaware Ave.
The former library branch was up for sale for many years, said Delaware Council Member Joel P. Feroleto, who also participated in Monday's announcement.
And the building was under threat of being demolished almost two years ago when Benderson Development Co. wanted to tear it down to build a larger commercial-retail building on the site. The city had also received at least two other proposals that involved razing the building.
Back in January, the city’s Preservation Board recommended that the former library building be granted historic landmark status, which makes it virtually impossible for a building to be demolished. However, the Common Council rejected the recommendation.
Preservation groups then appealed in State Supreme Court, which directed the Council to reconsider its decision because it had not provided sufficient rationale for not designating the site a landmark.
This past March, the Council granted the brick building local landmark status, and at the time Feroleto said an organization expressed an interest in opening a cultural center at the site. The fact there was a substantial proposal for reusing the former library building without tearing it down made the difference in the Council reconsidering its decision.
The 5,592-square-foot former library branch was built in 1928 and was once a bustling community cornerstone. It was closed and its collection moved in April 2008 because of asbestos and lead paint concerns. The building has been vacant and boarded up since then.
Not long after the building was closed, the city began leasing space in the Kmart Plaza on Hertel Avenue for the North Park Branch Library, which is bigger and has more resources, Brown said.