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The Editorial Board: Judges should hear the Great Northern appeal before it’s completely destroyed

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Great Northern reimagined (copy)

This image shows what the Great Northern Grain Elevator could look like if demolition is halted and a new section added. But time is running out.

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If a panel of appellate judges finally rules in favor of stopping the demolition of the Great Northern grain elevator, it won’t make any difference if the structure is too far gone to save – even partially.

Yet, that’s what could easily happen if Justice John M. Curran of the Appellate Division holds to his scheduled Dec. 12 court date to hear the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture’s second appeal to stop demolition and salvage what remains of the mammoth structure.

By Dec. 12, the excavation crane now tearing Great Northern apart may have completed – or nearly completed – its destructive work. As of now, there is enough left to reconstruct it as a monument for those fascinated with industrial architecture to visit. Yes, there are many such people. Indeed, the grain elevator’s partially demolished state would likely make it even more attractive to aficionados of “ruin porn,” a surprisingly large sector of the tourism industry.

But none of that will matter if the appellate court waits to hand down its decision until Great Northern is little more than rubble.

Court delays have impeded the progress of the Campaign’s mission to save Great Northern since July, when State Supreme Court Justice Emilio Colaiacovo upheld the City of Buffalo’s demolition permit, but then waited to dismiss the case – necessary for allowing an appeal to proceed – until just before the structure’s owner, Archer Daniels Midland, began demolition on Sept. 16.

After that, it took some time to prepare the appeal. Had Colaiacovo acted promptly, the appeal could have been placed before a court by September.

Despite its ill fortune in the courts, Great Northern has kept its place in the hearts and minds of those who cherish Buffalo’s industrial heritage. It’s not surprising. As the spectacle of its destruction slowly proceeds in the public eye, discussions continue to be shared. A recent op-ed in the News by architecture professor Gregory Delaney stated “Never before has the building offered as viable a future for adaptive reuse than it does today,” and went on to propose: “By substituting the building’s enormous brick curtain walls for new ones in glass, and its dense configuration of vertical bins for a series of variable horizontal floors and open spaces, the “reconstructed” building could more readily host a new set of programs ... all while preserving the building’s original massing and reclaiming its powerful urban presence.”

This visionary idea can still become a reality. Justice Curran should move the appeal date closer to give it a chance.

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