Cool New Buffalo Blog...

Newell Nussbaumer from Thunder Bay fame...has created Buffalo's coolest new blog. Buffalo Rising!!!

I know this is way off topic for my blog...but I'm compelled to promote Newell's new blog as he did sign the petition to help save the Woodlawn Row Houses along with dozens of other people! Check it out...


Revitalize Buffalo...Today for Tomorrow!

Alan over at Buffalo Pundit writes about the meeting, too...

Tonite at the Delaware Park Casino, Amy Maxwell and Megan Weaver, two of Buffalo's most inspiring über-community leaders and organizers of Revitalize Buffalo, led a group of about 100 people who gathered to continue charting the course of Buffalo's broad based cultural and economic revitalization.

The meeting began with a fascinating round where everyone had an opportunity to introduce themselves. We were reminded by another über-community activist, Harvey Garrett, that we can't talk our way out of this mess that we find ourselves in. He said he would stay involved with the organization as long as there were concrete results being produced. Amy Maxwell reviewed a number of accomplishments that the organization has just completed. We broke into small working groups after the meeting was over and discussed a wide range of issues.

I led a small group after the meeting ended about Buffalo's east-side, historic property and the problems presented by abandonded, boarded, derelict and vacant houses. We've decided to meet, photo-document and set up small tours so people can become more familiar with this, the other-side, of Main Street.

Tonite I met an inspiring group of people and learned a few things about this community, too. A block away, Jennifer runs the Bristol Home. Make sure to check it out. I drive and walk by it everyday and first learned about it tonite...duh! Two other people, Michelle and Carey, in my working group, just started a business researching and documenting the architectural history of property here in Buffalo. I'll make sure to spread the good word as I learn more about their business.

Another Buffalo Blogger and Attorney, Alan Bedenko, was at my table tonite. He runs the phenomenally successful, Buffalo Pundit, which I now have good reason to link to. Judy Einach, who is running for Mayor with the Primary Challenge endorsement, did a fantastic job of being in two places at once and was at the Casino tonite talking with people as they first arrived. Check out her website Judy4Mayor.org to learn more about her positions and strategy for winning the Mayor's Office in November.

"Slrbs" and Urban Legends...

The latest on-line edition of Planetizen just arrived. There is a piece by Bloomberg columnist, Andrew Ferguson. He mentions one of my favorite "urbanist" thinkers and historians Joel Kotkin. Last week I posted this latest Joel Kotkin article, required reading for urban folks, The Rise of the Ephemeral City. My posting was picked up on SpeakUpWNY. Thanks Linda!

Gabe, posted a response to Kotkin's writing and some other posts at SpeakUpWNY.
This included a link to James S. Russell's article from Harvard Design Magazine, Fall 2000.
It's called Privitized Lives: On the Embattled 'Burbs.

Well here is what Andrew Ferguson has to say about the battle between the city and the suburbs. Stuff we ought to be thinking about while attending planning and preservation meetings in the months and yes, years ahead.

Andrew Ferguson 4/27/05 Slrbs vs. City: 'Burbs Win!

I'll archive the piece, too when I return from the Revitalize Buffalo meeting tonite at the Delaware Park Casino. The meeting begins at 7pm. Everyone is invited.


Tumbling Down the "Rabbit Hole"

Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to talk with local Housing Activist & Fillmore District Housing Court Liaison Michele Johnson. She has encouraged me to photo-document a number of her projects and expose new housing and real estate developments here on the city's east side. Frequent readers of this blog understand that a primary theme and part of my developing urban critique is the city's negligent stewdardship and owership of real estate. While many housing activists turn their attention to "flipping scams" I've focused my attention on various properties owned by the city of Buffalo itself. Examples of this documentation include - Woodlawn Row Houses, Wollenberg Grain Elevator, 669 Genesee Street, JN Adam site in Perrysburg.

So, this morning I set off to photo-document four city owned properties. Jay Lynch, Marketing Manager in the Division of Real Estate had recently given me a catalog of city owned property. I called Michele to let her know that I was venturing into her area. Needless to say, at the end of the day and after just sharing pictures with Michele Johnson, she was as shocked with what I had discovered as I was. I choose two vacant and two "occupied" (surprise, yes the city is a landlord) houses to investigate.

So as I tumbled down the "rabbit hole" of malice and neglect I first looked at 1290 East Ferry Street. Here's the city's official property description for 1290 East Ferry. No one was home so I didn't have the opportunity to ask questions about the landlord. Playing, "I-spy...building code violations" I quiclkly noticed what I thought were at least four exterior violations. Peeling paint, rotted front stairs, missing down spouts and a crumbling chimney.
1290 East Ferry - Owner, City of Buffalo

click to enlarge
Leaving East Ferry I drove down Nevada and over to Koons Avenue. This past weekend the street was on the news as the city experienced four brutual murders at 320 Koons Avenue. Well, looking at the catalog of properties that Jay Lynch had provided, I figured that the city's un-occupied house at 319 Koons Avenue might be a good place to investigate. I was not disapointed. Here's the city's official property description for 319 Koons Avenue.
319 Koons Avenue - Owner, City of Buffalo

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Nice little house. Too bad the city didn't sell it a few years ago or consider just giving it away. The place is being "demolished by neglect." Here in this little block of Koons there are four houses directly accross the street from that horrendous crime scene where four people were recently murdered. Yet, the city's house at 319 Koons Avenue is the only one wide open like this. I quickly looked to see if the new boiler was still there that the Division of Real Estate's description said was recently installed. Lots of other stuff was missing, too.

The third city of Buffalo property I investigated was in the heart of Broadway/Fillmore. On my way to Clark Street I had the opportunity to chat with city of Buffalo Building Inspector Tracy Krug. He's doing an excellent job with his blight busting crew in this part of the city. Michele Johnson often tells me about the diligent work this guy is doing. I took a closer look at 24 Clark Street. Here's the city's official property description.
24 Clark Street - Owner, City of Buffalo

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I learned from the neighbor in the white house on the left that the city has owned this house for four years. She is not able to sell her house, where she has lived for close to 40 years, as the derelict condition of the city's house prevents this. From the front porch, I took this now familiar shot.
The fourth house I investigated was the highlight of my tour of city of Buffalo owned property. Mark Benson and his wife have been the city of Buffalo's tenants at 158 Clark Street for four years. Here's the city's official property description. I learned from neighbors that Mark Benson is out everyday making sure the neighborhood stays clean.
158 Clark Street - Owner, City of Buffalo

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Mark openly shared a number of details of his tenancy with the city of Buffalo. It's not a pretty picture, city as Landlord. During the past four years at his own expense he has replaced rotted floors throughout the house, installed a new hot water tank and a new furnace. He has attempted to negotiate a roof repair with John Hannon, Director of Division of Real Estate. Here you can see the damage to his living room ceiling caused by the water leaks. We are looking at a bucket during a rain storm. John Hannon reportedly told him, "if you don't like the place, *%#*ing, move!"

Dealing with John Hannon reached a crisis point recently as Mark Benson and his wife were threatened with an eviction. Mark tells me that he with held two months rent to help off-set the cost of the new furnace. After explaining this to the Judge recently the eviction was over turned and Mark and his wife were allowed to stay.

There are a number of other "Landlord from hell" stories that Mark told me. This included the water department showing up on a regular basis to turn the water off at the street. According to the "occupancy agreement" Mark shared with me, the Landlord is clearly responsible for the water. Must be one of those communication problems between John Hannon's Department and well...who really knows.

Mark Benson also told me that he has attempted to negotiate the purchase of 158 Clark Street with John Hannon but to no avail. Mark is the kind of guy you want on your side. Smart, affable and seriously involved with the daily goings-on here on Clark Street. While talking with him out front, everybody walking, riding or driving by took a moment to chat with him. He's very concerned about the condition of this property next door at 160 Clark Street. (See these pics, here and here.) You'll never guess who the owner is...ok, here's the city's official property description. Mark, told me that John Hannon has offered this property to him for $700.00! While refusing to negotiate with him for the sale of the house where he has lived with his wife for these last four years...Mark told me that I was the first person knock on his door in four years asking about the property.

I'll be asking the city for supporting legal documentation regarding the ownership history of these properties and hope to get some answers as to why none of these properties - 1290 East Ferry, 319 Koons, 24 and 158 Clark Street - have "For Sale" signs or have never been offered for sale at the annual city property auctions.

Hold on...something tells me that we'll be tumbling down this "rabbit hole" for a good long time.
Artspace ArchiveAnnals of NeglectBAVPAWhere is Perrysburg?Broken Promises...
Writing the CityWoodlawn Row HousesTour dé Neglect - 2006faq


A Little More 669 Genesee Street...

This afternoon I had the opportunity to visit 669 Genesee Street once more. I've written about it before:
While the block of buildings that Willert Genrich owns and wants to demolish on Genesee Street near Chippewa, the so called "Genesee Village," has received more attention from community minded activists and preservationists during the last 6 weeks than this three building 1920's light industrial business campus has, I am left wondering again why this might be the case. While certainly unique and totally cool, the so called Genesee Village is not part of any historic district nor do the buildings have any protective "land-mark" status.

One is left wondering why the city has failed to site Willert Genrich for any building code violations at 109 Genesee Street. I'm sure the inspection folder for that property has either been misplaced or gathered so much dust by now that all the city inspectors thought it was some sort of done deal. Ask yourself, are new laws really going to prevent "demolition by neglect." Why not simply enforce current building codes?

Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the my two previous posts to get up-to-date about 669 Genesee Street which is only one mile away from the "Genesee Village" (Cool google map.)

This afternoon with another urbex-tourist in tow we set out to see if the 669 campus was secure. We quickly found that the Division of Real Estate secured first floor access points and placed a lock and chain on the front fence, the rear gate well...itwas still wide open. So, we walked in to make certain that the building's rear entry points were secure. We also wanted to know if the water was finally turned off after 5 years of gushing all over the basement floor.

On March 17th this door was wide open and is now secured.

click to enlarge
Here's the new front gate security system and another rear entry door secured.

click to enlarge
So, lacking any access to the basement to check on the water situation we went to the front and located the water shut-off hole in the sidewalk. We noticed that some fresh blue paint had been sprayed in the area and that the hole was full of lots of debris which looked as though it had been there for years.

Heading around towards the front of the building we noticed this on the Monroe Street side.

click to enlarge
All these bricks are falling from this crumbling spot on the third floor which can be seen from these pictures. Text book case of "demolition by neglect."

click to enlarge
I've contacted a few attorneys this evening and hope to put the city on formal legal notice early this week regarding the crumbling third floor and the brick liability thing. I fully understand that the city is self insured for these sorts of liability risks and perhaps a little legal nudge will remind them that these sorts of liability exposures are certainly not acceptable in privately owned buildings yet seem to be ok when the city owns it.

Of course there are three additional examples of municipally owned "historic structures" that are crumbling or as Sam Hoyt likes to say about privately owned buildings in the same condition, "demolition by neglect." These other historic buildings that are crumbling on the city's watch include:
Perhaps Assemblyman Sam Hoyt's new "let's stop demolition by neglect" legislation is inspired by this example. Recent e-mail correspondence with him, suggests otherwise...and so it goes.

If anyone would like to sign on and be part of the "notice of definiency" I intend to file this week against the City of Buffalo, please contact me thru my e-mail, davidtorke at gmail dot com.
Artspace ArchiveAnnals of NeglectBAVPAWhere is Perrysburg?Broken Promises...
Writing the CityWoodlawn Row HousesTour dé Neglect - 2006faq
City Houses for Sale...

I picked up the latest catalog of city owned property from the Division of Real Estate this week. It's tucked away on the 9th floor of city hall and Jay Lynch is the Marketing Manager. He can be reached at 851-6541.

Here in this little corner of Masten readers of this blog know that my primary concern are the Woodlawn Row Houses which have been city owned for over two years. There are two other properties the city is feebly attempting to market here in this neighborhood, too. Remember both of these houses are located a block away from the new home of Performing Arts High School.
  • The first is located at 125 Verplanck. Here's the city's official property description. Look at the assement!
  • The second is located at 82 Waverly. Here's the city's official property description. Now, I'm not a real estate agent or lawyer, but something's not right when you compare the two assesments for these two properties.

125 Verplanck.... 82 Waverly

Of course just driving buy you would have no idea that the property is city owned or for that matter that these two properties are for sale. No signs...duh! And no links on the city's website to this sort of surplus property. Very simple no cost marketing strategies...and so it goes...

City Property Still For Sale...10 Years Later...

While still wondering about the fate of 669 Genesee Street, Mark Kubiniac saw my post last month and pushed the city to begin taking action on the complex of buildings and the process of securing the three buildings. Here's the e-mail to Jay Lynch, Office of Strategic Planning...
  • Dear Mr. Lynch, Here is the link that I mentioned to you on the phone. Has the board-up crew been notified that the building is wide open, and how would I inquire as to the status of the demolition? -- M.K.
Mark Kubiniac sent me the following:
  • Lynch had no idea that the building was open, that anyone was interested, nor what an asking price would be. Offers to the City would be reviewed by a Land Use Planning committee that would evaluate an proposal, its financing and its adherence to Zoning Code and Strategic Planning. With their approval a sale could be agreed upon.
  • Apparently his office has a catalogue of City-owned properties that are available, though they have not been able to get it on the website. I suggested that any good realtor would put a property up on a MLS site within a day or so of getting a listing. Mr. Lynch did know that the building was "released" for demolition but had no idea of whether $ was earmarked for demo and when it might happen.
  • It seems there is disconnection between Real Estate, Development and Demolition components of the City.
Mark followed up with this e-mail to Jay Lynch
  • Jay, Thanks again. I think that everyone would agree that the best accurate and factual info comes from the owner. The City really needs to market its surplus properties as readily as any other property owner that wants to sell. Is there any timetable for gettting the surplus property catalogue on line? - Mark
From my latest visit to the Division of Real Estate on the 9th floor of City Hall earlier this week, I learned from Jay Lynch that the city even had a series of tenants in the building 'till 2001. While our elected and annointed continue to tumble down the rabbit hole of indifference and neglect just think of the possibility here if the city took Mark Kubiniac's suggestion seriously. I mean, why not put the city's surplus real estate on-line with pictures? The effective marketing of city surplus property...national attention for pennies.

With four simple postings to Craig's List, I generated over 600 hits to my little blog while attempting to gather some positive interest in 669 Genesee Street. Blogger is free and my Nikon Coolpix 2100 cost $100 on eBay.

Suggestions for the Division of Real Estate include:
  • Put property listings on the City's website
  • Place "For Sale" signs on surplus city property
I know these are the sorts of common sense suggestions that you probably would have assumed are already happening. They are not. And here's the kicker. 669 Genesee Street is not listed in the current catalog of city property for sale.

Here are some additional pictures that you may have missed. Check out the little liability thing associated with falling bricks. And the ice sculpture in the basement of 669 that has probably gone thru at least 5 years of freeze and thaw cycles since the city's tenant left in 2001.

I plan to tour the area this weekend. Wanna bet the water's still running? We'll see.

Artspace ArchiveAnnals of NeglectBAVPAWhere is Perrysburg?Broken Promises...
Writing the CityWoodlawn Row HousesTour dé Neglect - 2006faq


The Rise of the Ephemeral City...
The May 2005 issue of Metropolis Magazine arrived today and Joel Kotkin has an essay about the urban malaise that is totally worth a look. The on-line version of Metropolis is free and worth getting for the cool design stuff and unique global perspective. I've archived Joel Kotkin's article as I don't know how long the good people at Metropolis will keep back issues available on-line.
"The Rise of the Ephemeral City" in - Fix Buffalo archives or Metropolis Magazine, May 2005

Here are a few excerpts from Joel Kotkin at his recent best...
  • The great work of cities is best accomplished in small steps, block by block. It confirms a sense of place and permanence. Rooted in ephemera, a city can only lose its historic relevance, or at best fade into a graceful senescent dowager who everyone admires but no one takes seriously anymore.
  • Having lost the economic and demographic initiative to the hinterlands, cities have two alternatives. They can work to become more competitive in terms of jobs, attracting skilled workers and middle-class families, or they can refocus their efforts on providing playpens for the idle rich, the restless young, and tourists. All too often the latter strategy is what many municipalities appear to be adopting. A number of cities now regard tourism, culture, and entertainment as "core" assets.
  • Just look at the sad example of Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm's "cool cities" initiative, which stresses the development of the arts, hip districts, and downtown living. Despite the hoopla, Michigan's "cool cities"--Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Grand Rapids, and even Lansing--have experienced some of the most severe job losses in the nation during the last few years. Under the leadership of its young "hip-hop" mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit continues to fall toward what former Comerica Bank chief economist David Littman calls "a graveyard spiral."
  • Perhaps most important, an economy oriented to entertainment, tourism, and "creative" functions is ill-suited to provide opportunities for more than a small slice of its population. Following such a course, it is likely to evolve ever more into a city composed of cosmopolitan elites, a large group of low-income service workers, and a permanent underclass--or into what San Francisco is already becoming, what historian Kevin Starr describes as "a cross between Carmel and Calcutta."
Ouch...is anybody downtown listening?
Artspace ArchiveAnnals of NeglectBAVPAWhere is Perrysburg?Broken Promises...
Writing the CityWoodlawn Row HousesTour dé Neglect - 2006
In Search of the Missing $60,000

Where did the money go? The Buffalo News prints the sale price of real estate transactions for property that sells above the $5000.00 mark each week. On Monday the Buffalo News printed two sales on Glenwood Avenue two blocks away from the future $28,000,000 home of Performing Arts High School.

159 and 214 Glenwood (click for maps) are less than a block apart yet something happened to all the equity that was there just a few years ago. Both of these houses were built by Rocco Termini's Gal-Van Development. He's the same guy who is building the "Mc-Lofts" on Ellicot Street.

159 Glenwood....... .......214 Glenwood

According to city of Buffalo records:
  • 159 Glenwood was built in 1995 and is assesed at $53,000. It was sold two weeks ago for $30,000.
  • 214 Glenwood was built in 2000 as was just forclosed on by the bank for $63,000.
I'll be watching 159 Glenwood and will report back about the sale.

I received an e-mail from Dick Kern yesterday about the sale of a property at 340 Masten Avenue, just around the corner from this block of Glenwood. That house was built in 1993 and HUD forclosed on the property in January 2004 for $59, 202. It was sold in April 2005 for $25, 150.

Two houses sell for less half their original (tax payer or HUD subsidized inflated) price! What a deal for developers...and so it goes.
Performing Arts...

Here's what the former Buffalo Traditional High School will look like by January 2007. Local architects Kelly Kulp and Carol Case-Siracuse of Cannon Design have created a signature school that students, teachers and neighbors will find amazing, uplifting and transforming in this little corner of Masten.

click to enlarge

Paul McDonald at city hall made this "artists version" available to me yesterday.


Sam Hoyt and Preservation...Curious Mix?

On April 16th the Buffalo News ran a story by Mark Sommers about New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt's latest preservation initiative. I've archived the full text of the article so you can read it next week, too...

  • Hoyt Wants Laws to Back Historic Preservation

    News Staff Reporter

    Assemblyman Sam Hoyt wants Buffalo to protect its historic buildings and he wants the State Legislature to do its part.

    Hoyt said Buffalo should follow the lead of other cities, including New York City and Albany, that have enacted ordinances requiring owners of historic properties to maintain them in "good repair" against deterioration, decay or damage.

    "Buffalo has a wealth of significant architecture that other cities can only dream of," Hoyt said. "We need more teeth in our ability to hold property owners accountable when it comes to the maintenance of historic properties."

    Hoyt said...continue...
I first started covering the story about the significance of the Samuel Tredwell House decision back in December 2004 as it first appeared in the New York Times. In this case Judge Tolub vigoursly enforced current laws. Here, Sam Hoyt is wrong. We don't need new legislation. We simply have to enforce current laws.

The New York Times link no longer works yet the New York Daily News covered the case at the same time. Read it here.

Sam, check with Judge Nowak. He's enforcing the law. The problem with historic preservation in the city of Buffalo is that the city has no business owning the stuff.

Sam, really want to help? Three things...
  1. Tell Council President David Franczyk to call Perrysburg Town Supervisor Myrton Sprague and get the J N Adam deal done.
  2. Develop a plan to help the city sell the Wollenberg Grain Elevator
  3. Help develop a similar plan to market the Woodlawn Row Houses


Judy in the 'Hood...

On Friday evening 400 residents of Buffalo and Erie County gathered at the Buffalo Convention Center to hear the acceptance speeches from the candidates Primary Challenge had just recently endorsed for November's Mayoral Race here in Buffalo, NY. Various Primary Challenge candidates for seats in the Erie County Legislature, spoke as well. Kevin Pryor is someone to watch for District 3, here in the 'hood.

Here Judy Einach is talking with Buffalo residents shortly after Primary Challenge's endorsement. Joe Schmidbauer from Buffalo's established alternative media community and former Masten Council Member David Collins were on hand to congradulate Judy Einach on the endorsement, too!

click to enlarge

Craig, from North Coast US, covered the event. Here's his recap.

And on Saturday morning, Judy Einach held the first press conference of her campaign right here in this little corner of Masten in front of the Woodlawn Row Houses.

click to enlarge

Again Craig, from North Coast US, covered the event. Here's his take on Judy Einach's mayoral campaign.

Make sure to check out what Judy Einach had to say about the City's ownership of the Woodlawn Row Houses and the condition of city neighborhoods. Here' s the full text of her remarks on Saturday morning.
  • These Woodlawn Row Houses, with "local landmark" status are sadly a perfect example of poor public stewardship. Imagine what we could accomplish if City government worked in concert with community activists to address the problems we seek to solve. City government sets the standard.
Check out Judy Einach's website, Judy4Mayor.org. I'll be sure to keep readers of this blog up-dated regarding Judy's Mayoral Campaign and urban policy especially as it relates to issues impacting neighborhoods such as this.


Judy 4 Mayor...

I've just heard from the Judy Einach Campaign for Mayor that Judy will be making her first scheduled press conference in front of the Woodlawn Row Houses tomorrow morning, Saturday April 16th at 10:00am. Here's the map...

She will be receiving the endorsement of Primary Challenge this afternoon at the Buffalo Convention Center.

Check our her website Judy4Mayor and see what positive change for Buffalo is all about...
Latest Woodlawn Row House Pics...

I've been away for a few weeks...here are a few pics I took yesterday.

I've been documenting the long slow deterioration of this property for 14 months. Here are the latest pics. The back of the building is still wide open. Many of my neighbors are very concerned about the condition of this building, too. They are concerned that as the warmer weather arrives a certain criminal element may start using the building. Chief Building Inspector Lou Petrucci, Council President David Franczyk and Masten Council Member Antoine Thompson know that the building is wide open in the rear, yet nothing is done.

click to enlarge

Here's a recent post from March 2005. Here is the Quick Overview of this initiative. Make sure to check out the larger city-wide story here, The School House Project.


From Detroit...

I recently reported about the debut of Detroit: Ruin of a City a few weeks ago. Here's all the academic conference information that surrounded the George Steinmetz and Michael Chanan film. Seems like lots of Walter Benjamin and Theodore Adorno is still being discussed in Ann Arbor...