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Sean Ryan calls on city to rescind Great Northern demolition; put demands on ADM

Sean Ryan calls on city to rescind Great Northern demolition; put demands on ADM

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Damaged Great Northern Grain Elevator (copy)

A lawsuit is seeking to stop the Brown administration from going forward with an emergency demolition of the 1897 Great Northern grain elevator at 250 Ganson St. This weekend, State Sen. Sean Ryan called on the mayor to rescind the demolition order.

State Sen. Sean Ryan is calling on the Byron Brown administration to rescind its emergency demolition order for the historic Great Northern grain elevator.

At the same time, a contractor who has examined the Great Northern said in an affidavit to State Supreme Court that the north wall damaged in a Dec. 11 windstorm "is totally independent from the rest of the structure" and "does not compromise the remainder of the Great Northern Elevator."

And a structural engineer working with developer Douglas Jemal submitted a statement to the court expressing certainty that the Great Northern can be preserved.

Both were in support of a lawsuit filed by the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture calling on the Brown administration to revoke the emergency demolition, with arguments in State Supreme Court to resume Monday.

In a letter Friday to James Comerford, commissioner of Permit and Inspection Services, Ryan cited Jemal's contention that the locally landmarked 1897 structure can be restored and his willingness to buy the property. He said there should be an immediate independent feasibility assessment of the hulking brick box structure, the last of its kind in North America.

"Given the current circumstances, it would be unconscionable for the demolition to go forward," Ryan said. "The structure can be repaired and rehabilitated, but in order to get there, we need the City of Buffalo to step up."

Great Northern grain elevator damage

Wind caused damage to the north wall of the grain elevator, owned by ADM Milling Co., a division of commodities giant Archers Daniel Midland at 250 Ganson St., opened for business in 1897 and was last used in 1981. It sits next to a flour mill that was added later and is still in operation. Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.

Comerford ordered an emergency demolition after it was sought by Archer Daniels Midland. The company filed an engineering report highlighting problems with the structure identified years before the December windstorm. Those problems have gone unrepaired. ADM, which requested emergency demolitions prior to this month in 1996, 2003 and 2020, was never told by the city to correct those problems.

Ryan said tearing down the Great Northern would not only be a historic loss, but would also reward ADM's behavior. Instead, he said, the city should compel the company to make repairs through its new receivership program piloted by Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

If ADM was unwilling to make repairs, the building should go to a receiver who would make the repairs, stabilize the building and then find an interested buyer, Ryan said.

"Our city loves to celebrate the success of preservation, but those successes require action," Ryan said. "We can save this building. We just need the City of Buffalo to act."

That view was echoed by Fillmore Council Member Mitchell Nowakowski.

"ADM has proven to be an irresponsible owner," Nowakowski said. "They have had years to rehabilitate this building and have done nothing.

"With an independent assessment and our receivership program, we can finally get this building into responsible hands and preserve this unique part of Buffalo's history. The demolition permit should be rescinded to in order to make this happen."

Kenneth Keller, a contractor with a history of working on historic buildings, including projects with developer Rocco Termini, said the damaged north wall "can be easily isolated with fencing and other barriers to mitigate any danger to the public."

He reached his opinion after reviewing "extensive drone footage and photographs" of the grain elevator.

Keller also suggested wrapping the entire structure in "debris netting" commonly used in dense urban areas, including several glass-and-steel and masonry skyscrapers in Manhattan damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks. Cranes and boom trucks can reach the top of the Great Northern to install the netting, he said, as well as remove or reattach damaged metal panels the city has expressed concern about.

Sanjay Khanna, a consulting structural engineer who works with Jemal, reviewed a number of issues identified by engineers working with ADM, but he said none weren't correctable.

"Our office has been involved with many projects involving historic structures in D.C. and other parts of the U.S., where similar repairs and restorations have been made," Khanna said. "There is no question in our mind that this building can be retained."   

Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He's also a former arts editor at The News. 

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