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Former Johnnie Ryan plant to be demolished as Niagara Falls Council refuses landmark designation

The plant where Johnnie Ryan soda pop was produced and bottled for more than 40 years soon will be demolished, as the Niagara Falls City Council on Wednesday night refused to block the plan.

James C. Roscetti, attorney for owner Matthew P. Moscati, said Thursday that he expected Moscati's contractor to obtain a demolition permit quickly.

On May 1, a judge said he could do so as soon as the day after the Council meeting, unless the Council passed a resolution designating the plant as a local historic landmark.

The Council voted down that idea, 4-1.

Councilman William Kennedy II, a Democrat, was the only supporter of the landmark designation for the 73-year-old building at 822 Niagara St.

"We have to have a vision of downtown Niagara Falls that goes beyond it being an empty lot, because that's what it's going to become," Kennedy predicted.

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

Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma and Councilman Ezra P. Scott Jr., a Democrat, joined Republican Councilmen Christopher P. Voccio and Kenneth M. Tompkins in voting against landmark status.

They agreed that it was unfair to try to designate the plant as a landmark so late in the process.

No preservation move was initiated until after Moscati, a Buffalo architect who has won awards for reuse of historic buildings, sent a contractor to City Hall Feb. 7 to seek a demolition permit for the property.

Seth A. Piccirillo, the city community development director who is running in the Democratic primary for mayor, refused to sign the permit.

The next day, the city Historic Preservation Commission called a special meeting for Feb. 12, when it agreed to begin the process for a landmark designation.

"(Moscati) bought a building that wasn't historical. Now they want to change the rules in midstream," Tompkins said.

"As a real estate agent, that would be a huge deterrent to anyone coming in here to redevelop Niagara Falls," Scott said.

"If the historic preservation group thought it should be protected 10 years ago, five years ago, a year ago, that would have been different," Voccio said.

"If the (Niagara Falls) Historical Society wanted to make this historic, they should have done it years ago," Touma said.

The plant was vacated by the Ryan company about 35 years ago.

The commission voted April 2 to recommend landmark status for the plant, which was constructed right after World War II, on the grounds that it is "an excellent example of art moderne commercial architecture ... (which) combines the sleek modernity of the international style with art deco-style ornament."

"It's a warehouse and a bottling plant," Moscati scoffed in a Buffalo News interview last month. "It's not a great example of either style."

However, the Council tabled the landmark designation April 30.

The next day, hearing a lawsuit MATC filed against the city, State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Furlong ordered that the demolition permit must be issued immediately if the Council voted against the landmark designation or if it delayed action again.

Moscati acquired the plant in 2015. He said he sought tenants who would reuse it, but was unsuccessful, so he decided to tear the plant down and lease the 132-by-165-foot lot for redevelopment.

He said Wednesday there are three potential tenants, and he confirmed one of them would like to build a Tim Hortons on the site. He declined to identify the other contenders.

Piccirillo had contended that Moscati wanted to rush the demolition before the city's March 1 taxable status deadline to save money on property taxes. Roscetti denied that.

Moscati said the timeline for demolition depends on the availability of his contractor's crews.

"The city's been decimated by land speculators for the last two generations," Kennedy said. "If something is built there, I'll be the first to admit I was wrong."

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