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Owner of vacant Johnnie Ryan bottling plant goes to court for demolition permit

A Buffalo architect who owns the vacant Johnnie Ryan bottling plant in Niagara Falls wants to tear it down, finding little historical or architectural value to the 10,000-square-foot building.

"It's a warehouse and a bottling distribution plant," Matthew P. Moscati said.

Others, however, see it as a historic landmark.

The Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Commission last week recommended to the City Council that the building at 822 Niagara St. be declared a local landmark. The commission called the plant, built after World War II, "an excellent example of Art Moderne commercial architecture" and said it "combines the sleek modernity of the international style with Art Deco-style ornament."

"Just being the style doesn't mean it has architectural significance. It's not a great example of either style," said Moscati, a former chairman of the Allentown Association's preservation committee who has won several preservation awards.

He's suing to gain a demolition permit.

Seth A. Piccirillo, the city community development director, said he didn't sign the demolition permit because of the historic preservation process. Moscati said that process began after he paid for the permit.

Niagara Falls blocks demo – for now – of old Johnnie Ryan plant

"My due process has been trampled upon by his department," Moscati said. "They seem to like to change the rules in the middle of the game."

"They're not demolishing it because of developmental purposes. They're only demolishing it because of taxes," Piccirillo said.

"How many more buildings do you want to lose in the city? I think the community has the right to ask that question," Piccirillo said.

Moscati said if he is allowed to demolish the building, he would retain ownership and lease the site for redevelopment. He said some potential tenants have contacted him but he wouldn't identify them.

His attorney, James P. Roscetti, said "a franchise" is a possibility for the 132-by-165-foot lot.

"The leadership is more interested in self-serving political agendas than the quality of life in the city," Moscati said.

Piccirillo is running for mayor.

State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Furlong scheduled arguments in the case for May 1. That's the date of the City Council's next regularly scheduled meeting, and a vote on landmark status for the plant could be taken.

Moscati said he knows historic buildings when he sees them, and the Johnnie Ryan plant doesn't fall into that category.

Other than the side facing Niagara Street, Moscati said the building presents "a utilitarian faceless façade."

Davaasambuu Dashsambuu, a Mongolian businessman, bought the property in 2013 and hired Moscati to design various concepts for the Ryan plant and a vacant lot next door.

He sold the property to Moscati in 2015 after the city rejected plans for apartment buildings and a La Quinta hotel.

After three years of trying unsuccessfully to lease the plant, Moscati decided on demolition last fall.

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