Demolition of Bethlehem Steel Administration Building Halted

This post originally appeared on Views of Buffalo

The Bethlehem Steel Administration building got a temporary
reprieve from demolition yesterday as preservationists have been publically advocating
for the reuse of the historic structure. During the City Hall meeting in Lackawanna
this past Tuesday, concerned citizens and preservationists were stonewalled during
the meeting. The demolition of the building was not on the official agenda and
as a result the group was told anyone who spoke out of turn would be held in
contempt.

Romaine Lillis, a longtime resident and member of the Lackawanna
Historical Society, decided to speak about the demolition at the meeting regardless
of the threat. Although Lillis was promptly shut down she was able to make her
point, “That building should remain for us. It should be an icon for this city,
stop this nonsense.” Lackawanna has does not have a Preservation Board or even
a preservation ordinance for that matter, which complicates trying to halt the
demolition of historic buildings.
The issue of the demolition was not on the agenda because it
needed to be submitted the prior week by Wednesday. News of the demolition came
to light last Thursday and the City was unwilling to make an exception for the
meeting. Further complicating the issue was the fact that the City only meets
every two weeks and demo equipment was already on site ready to go.
Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski wasn’t present during the meeting,
but had the following to offer yesterday. “I am tired of hearing about our
glorious past. I think preservation societies are only trying to preserve what
once was as opposed to moving our region in a positive direction.” Apparently
Szymanski has “no use for the building or for those who want to preserve it”
because it has been “unsafe, unused, and unwanted for thirty years.” While the
building has been unused for nearly three decades, there doesn’t seem to be any
evidence of code enforcement during that time to ensure deterioration didn’t occur;
it didn’t get in this condition overnight.

There have been countless projects throughout Western New
York that have utilized historic tax credits for rehabilitation work. Buildings
like the Hotel Lafayette and the soon to be redeveloped Tishman building to
name a few. The Lafayette was left for dead not long ago and now will become a
downtown destination. The Administration building is one the last ornate and
beautiful buildings on Western New York’s waterfront and could become a
destination drawing people to our shared asset.

Demolition of the building is becoming less feasible for the
owners, Gateway Trade Center, who were counting on half a million dollars in
Restore NY funds, which cannot be used for demolition. The money was slated for
an adaptive study or the rehabilitation of the property. Regardless of this,
the City of Lackawanna is putting pressure on Gateway to proceed with the
demolition.
The meeting this week at City Hall also brought to light
what may go on the site after demolition; a warehouse. A letter from 2009
states, “the demolition of this building will allow us to have the opportunity
to build a state of the art warehouse or manufacturing facility, where a vacant
building once stood.” The letter was addressed to former mayor, Mayor Polanski
and came from the project manager of Gateway Trade Center, Patricia Schreiber.

It seems this beaux-arts beauty of “our glorious past” would
likely be sent to the landfill in favor of a warehouse. The hope being that we
can finally move “our region in a positive direction.” Now that demolition has
been temporarily halted there is an opportunity to begin developing an adaptive
reuse study to determine if rehabilitation is feasible.

Once again, a very special thanks to David Torke of fixBuffalo for his images (entry image is from the Lackawanna Steel Museum web site) and hard work in trying to save this iconic structure. For addition photos and a copy of the letter mentioned above, check out his Flickr page, fixBuffalo

About the author  ⁄ Todd Mitchell_

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