It took decades, but the Richardson Olmsted Campus has moved from faded architectural icon to symbol of Buffalo's economic resurgence.
And while preservation of the National Historic Landmark at Elmwood and Forest avenues is not entirely complete, state officials have taken notice of the results so far.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on Thursday awarded the Richardson Olmsted Campus and its first redevelopment project, Hotel Henry, with a 2017 NYS Historic Preservation Award.
"It's a pretty extraordinary transformation," said Daniel MacKay, the state's deputy commissioner for historic preservation. "We don’t just have occupancy, we have vibrancy."
MacKay credited a "multicylinder engine" of gubernatorial administrations, city mayors and private sector "visionaries," such as former Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey, who for many years championed preservation of the long-neglected complex designed by famed architect H.H. Richardson.
Lipsey, who died in 2016, also donated with his wife, Judith, $5 million toward the opening of an architectural center, with a main permanent gallery and other display areas, inside the Richardson complex.
MacKay had a closeup view of both the before and the after of the Richardson. He toured the site of the abandoned Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane several years ago during his time as director of public policy with the Preservation League of New York State. And just a few weeks ago, he spent two nights in the 88-room boutique hotel that opened last April in the main towers building of the Richardson Olmsted Campus.
"It's just a remarkably lovely place now," he said.
Three of 13 buildings are now being reused – about a third of the campus, which has a total of about 500,000 square feet of space. The 100 Acres restaurant also is located at the site. It is considered one of the largest historic preservation projects in the country.
MacKay said the new hotel, restaurant and architecture center should spur redevelopment of other parts of the Richardson campus, and sooner rather than later.
"All things being equal, you would imagine that subsequent phases will happen more quickly," he said.