Only in NT: Historic Preservation benefits select few in NT

In Community News, Niagara County, Regular Columns

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In 2005, during the administration of North Tonawanda Mayor David Burgio, the Common Council passed a Historic Preservation Ordinance creating a Historic Preservation Commission.

The subsequent Commission hasn’t focused on preserving historical sites with actual historical status but has enabled wealthy carpetbaggers to get tax credits for “historic” buildings.

Why is there still no attempt at designating  for historic status  the Niagara Falls Power Transfer Station on Robinson, Sweeney Cemetery,  the area known as Black Hannah’s Woods, the Erie Railroad station on Oliver Street, entrance to Pine Woods Park, the Hungarian church building on Oliver, Niagara Power building on Webster, Evening News building on Webster, Payne Avenue High School building, Colonel Payne school building?

A review of City minutes where the Commission’s recommendations for local designations were approved indicates a rather amusing collection of structures.  What has happened to them since they were designated as “local landmarks” is in some cases a travesty.

Four churches were designated as local landmarks in the Commission’s early years. Two were, at the time, St. Peter’s Lutheran Brethren Church on Thompson at Bryant and the original home of First Baptist Church which then was a photography studio being converted into a wedding chapel. The entire campuses of Ascension and Our Lady of Czestochowa Roman Catholic Churches were designated.  Members of the Elks Lodge in its 1921-era Louis Eggert-designed building also obtained designation by the Commission. These buildings and their history, including designations by the Commission as local landmarks are documented in publications produced as guidebooks for tours of historic homes and other books by the NT History Museum available in both the Museum and the NT Library.

There appear to be no public listings of such sites by the Historic Preservation Commission or NT itself, certainly not on NT’s website.

The First Baptist building was altered several times before its designation.  The Ascension buildings were and are being altered, something that isn’t supposed to happen with historic designation. The Elks building?  No attempt at all was made to preserve even part of it after a 2011 fire of suspicious origin. NT’s immediate removal of all traces of its illustrious existence so the property could provide additional parking for the Remington Tavern was a disgrace.

Somehow, in order to provide significant taxpayer-funded assistance on the acquisition and renovation of the former Remington-Rand complex, the Burgio-created Lumber City Development Corp. accomplished Federal and State historic status and tax credits and grants for the complex, in spite of former NT officials who toured NT before the Commission or LCDC were created with State officials being told it had too many changes to be eligible for historic status.

Two of the Ascension structures, the church and rectory, now are owned by a member of the Planning Board who is most known in the community for his union involvements and being a landlord on Oliver St.

The former mayor, who moved to NT in 1993, was able to get the same Federal and State historic status and tax credits for the acquisition of a building on Webster constructed in 1891 as the Dick Block building by the Dick family.  Photos from 1897 indicate it had serious alterations of the front façade in the 20th century.  LCDC worked on getting him historic status and somehow overcame the fact that it’s a brownfield. The former mayor, after benefiting from the historic status recently sold the building to an out-of-town real estate management operation.

It makes you wonder what he’d have done if he ever had gotten his Gateway Point project through?  Did he plan to personally acquire all of the land occupied by boathouses?  Is that why the ridiculously bordered and only “local historic district” (per City minutes) ever created, the Downtown Historic District, ended at River Road and didn’t include the historic waterfront that was responsible for the City’s development?   Of course, all of that area is a brownfield also!

Somehow, notifying all of the property owners in that area and making it possible for potential owners to know before they purchased that they would not obtain building permits for changes to the appearance of their property unless the Historic Preservation Commission approved, has never happened.  The two properties whose owners benefited the most so far from the creation of the Historic Preservation Commission and Lumber City Development Corp. are of course in that district.images (1)

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