One of the region’s most recognized architectural icons is undergoing a transformation. The Richardson Olmsted Complex on Forest Avenue will be home to a boutique hotel, architecture center and conference center.
Eva M. Hassett, a board member of Richardson Center Corp., met The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer at the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane to discuss the $54.6 million construction project. She said the nonprofit agency created by the state to chart a course for the National Historic Landmark spent about six years researching options and placed an emphasis on encouraging public involvement.
Here is a summary of some issues covered in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full 6-minute interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.
Meyer: Folks who pass this complex – driving or walking along Forest – are seeing quite a bit of activity.
Hassett: We don’t have a date yet, but sometime in mid-July, we will be reopening the south lawn along Forest Avenue to the public. It’s about a 9-acre project. It’s really the first big announcement, big opening that we’re going to have. It costs about $5 million, which included moving some parking lots … so we could put more green back into the south lawn.
So we’re planting trees. About a hundred trees are being planted this month. We’re saving some of the historic Olmsted trees. The design that we’re using is very sustainable and ecological. We’re using native plants. We’re using rain gardens to manage the water. We really tried to ask ourselves, “What would Frederick Law Olmsted design today if he were looking at those nine acres?”
Meyer: We’re talking about $56 million in construction. Where is most of the money coming from?
Hassett: Just over $37 million is an appropriation from New York State, coming through the Empire State Development Corp. The rest, almost $20 million, will be private money … with tax credits. … We think this is going to be a very attractive project to tax-credit investors, because it’s really unique. It’s such an icon. I’m not sure there is any other building with an Olmsted-designed landscape and an H.H. Richardson-design building in a neighborhood like this, in a city like Buffalo.
Meyer: You’re aware of the fact that some folks are critical of this project, questioning whether all this money should be plowed into one relic from the past. How would you respond?
Hassett: This is going to be one of the biggest public-private economic-development projects in this region. And let me remind folks: For decades, this was a vacant, falling-down landmark. For decades. So we’re going to turn it into an economic contributor. In terms of construction jobs, this is going to be about 545 construction jobs. You can see some of them out front right now. … When the hotel is up and running [likely in late 2015], it will be somewhere between 80 and 90 permanent full-time jobs, almost a $3 million payroll in the hotel. … Also, the architecture center will be a place that supports the economic activity at other architecture and preservation places in Buffalo, like the Darwin Martin House or the grain elevators – all those other things that are bringing tourists and helping people spend money. … And lastly, and this is very important to us, the project will have neighborhood impact – impact for the people who literally live across the street from it, who have lived across the street from a deteriorating, vacant building for a long, long, long time. So we really hope that this will be part of the revitalization of the West Side, the Grant Street neighborhood.