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Editorial: Shoreline Apartments too deteriorated to keep

With all due respect to the architect who designed Shoreline Apartments and to the tenants who have occupied the structures for many decades: It’s time to move on. No one should have to live in such terrible conditions.

The state plans to demolish the Shoreline Apartments. It’s the right decision, even in a city that understands the value of its old buildings.

Signs of the “urban removal” mistake continues to haunt many parts of the nation. Today’s cities are still paying for the ill-advised decision to knock down historic structures in place of cookie-cutter “modern design.” The follow-up superhighway connections put the final nail in the coffins of many urban communities. They shredded the fabric that knitted families and neighborhoods together.

So some opposition to the demolition plan was always likely. Sure enough, it came when John Schmidt, who on Jan. 12 became the last tenant to leave the Shoreline Apartments, and Terrence Robinson, a member of the Buffalo Preservation Board, moved to block the city’s Planning Board’s approval of the redevelopment plan for the apartments. Fortunately, Supreme Court Judge Joseph R. Glownia dismissed the petition, though an appeal appears likely.

The two men also wanted to set aside the Buffalo Preservation Board’s approval to demolish the apartments. Their claim is that local, state and federal regulations were ignored. But what really is being ignored here is the fact that, while many tenants gave good marks to the property management company, the buildings are not worth saving. They are in terrible shape and the costs of renovating them are too high.

One of those tenants, Stephen Williams, was quoted in The News saying that the buildings had served their purpose. “The physical plant is deteriorating.” That might be an understatement given another tenant’s observation about rodents and roaches.

Norstar Development USA has moved 172 tenants or families to other low-income housing so that demolition can make way for new low-income housing.

The Shoreline Apartments were the brainchild of modernist architect Paul Rudolph. They were completed in 1971 by a state agency as subsidized, low income homes. But they haven’t stood up well. Nor has another Rudolph-designed building, the Earl W. Brydges Library in Niagara Falls. The imposing, fortress-like edifice opened in March 1974 and, like the Shoreline Apartments, has suffered from water damage.

Some people find Brutalism to be an appealing architectural style, but the decision to demolish the apartments is about substance, not style: They are too damaged to repair. And the people who lived in the deserve better conditions than the complex can reasonably provide.

Work has already begun. Five of the deteriorated buildings were torn down in 2015. Demolition of the remaining 16 buildings is expected to begin later this year.

It would be unfortunate if the redevelopment plans were delayed. Plans call for 214 new low-rise apartments and townhouses, offering one-, two- and three-bedroom units. They would be ready for occupancy in 2020. The first 48 units, which are called Niagara Square Apartments, opened last February at Carolina and Niagara streets.

It is not always the case that a piece of history should be demolished, as Buffalo has learned. The city’s historic structures have become its 21st century calling card. But when people are living in deplorable conditions, it’s time to take a hard look. The city, the state and the Preservation Board have it right. The buildings are no good.

Tear them down.

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