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Editorial: A private developer is needed to save Fruit Belt landmark

This is a plea for anyone — developer, preservationist, prospective homeowner — to save the Meidenbauer House, one of the historic structures in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt.

Built in 1865, the Meidenbauer House is part of the neighborhood fabric. The Fruit Belt is feeling both the advantages and disadvantages of abutting the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which is fast turning itself into one of the nation’s premier health care destinations. Amid all the change, the house is a piece of neighborhood history that residents don’t want to lose.

The city has owned the house since 2005, repossessing it after its owners fell behind on taxes. This summer city officials decided the vacant building was a public safety risk and should be demolished. A planned June demolition was pushed back twice at the request of Preservation Buffalo Niagara and other groups.

Lou Petrucci, the city’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Permit and Inspection Services, said officials would try once more to find someone to save the property — but this is the last extension, he warned.

“If anybody’s out there, we need them to come forward,” Petrucci said.

The Fruit Belt Community Development Corp., an arm of St. John’s Baptist Church, had designs on building a new grocery store and parking lot on the parcel. That proposal faded in 2014 when activists objected to the building’s demolition.

Restoration specialist John Gulick has tried several times to buy the house since 2010. Gulick has been in contact with city officials and said he plans to submit a new proposal. He contacted appraisers to begin work on his application. Several other developers, including Savarino Companies, expressed “tentative” interest.

Restoring the building comes with a cost. Gulick, who said there are several hurdles, estimates renovation work under $1 million: “But I’m an eternal optimist, and that’s why I’m still looking at this project.”

Not every old building deserves to be saved. The Medical Campus’ growth makes everything nearby more valuable. Sometimes it is better to transform.

But the Medical Campus growth sometimes makes Fruit Belt residents feel like they are being pushed out. It would be nice for all if a private buyer stepped up and saved this bit of Fruit Belt history.

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