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Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper is backing efforts to prevent the former Erie Freight House on Ohio Street from being torn down to clear the way for a new riverfront apartment complex.
The group, which focuses on ways to restore and revitalize the Buffalo River corridor, said Tuesday that it is backing efforts to purchase the former Great Lakes Paper Fibers Corp. plant from developer Sam Savarino and his partners in favor of an alternative plan to convert the partially collapsed landmark into a diverse development that includes a restaurant, offices, shops, rowing club, top-floor loft apartments and meeting space.
But the property’s owners, Savarino and his partners, FFZ Holdings, are seeking permission from the city to tear down the building and invest $15 million to construct a new five-story building with 48 riverfront apartments.
“We have no interest in selling,” Savarino said.
While preservationists say the metal-clad building, which dates to the 1860s, is the last surviving example of the type of freight house that played a key role in the city’s development as a hub for waterborne commerce, Savarino argues that the building, which suffered a partial roof collapse, has deteriorated too much to be worth saving and has lost much of its historic character through a series of alterations over the years.
“Riverkeeper is supportive of the preservation community’s efforts to purchase and restore this unique riverfront property for a modern use,” the group’s executive director, Jill Jedlicka, said in a letter to James Comerford, the commissioner of the city’s Office of Permits and Inspections Services.
“We encourage the current owner to negotiate reasonable terms upon which to transfer ownership,” she said. “We would hope that the city would also work to encourage the developer to transfer ownership to an entity that can safely secure the property, rather than grant a demolition permit.”
Larry Brooks, a spokesman for the group that is seeking to purchase the building from Savarino, declined to identify its members.
email: drobinson@buffnews.com