The mayor of Lackawanna on Tuesday gave the owner of the former Bethlehem Steel Administration Building 10 days to begin tearing down the historic structure, after an Erie County Court judge earlier in the day lifted a temporary stay of demolition.
Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski said he wants the abandoned, structurally impaired building to come down after years of delays granted to Gateway Trade Center, the building’s owner, that have failed to produce a plan for reuse.
“The owners of that building have done nothing but stonewall a costly demolition. That is the bottom line. They don’t want to pay for it, but they have to, and now if they don’t they will be fined for contempt of court,” Szymanski said.
Joseph S. Loraiso, Gateway’s executive vice president, said the company would abide by the court’s decision by beginning to tear it down in about two weeks.
Loraiso said the company considered pursuing a detailed analysis of the building but decided against it because of the cost involved. There were discussions with the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and others interested in saving the building, he said, but in the end the cost of turning the building around proved too high.
“It’s unfortunate, but we are under a court order to start the [demolition] process, and that is what we are going to do,” Loraiso said.
Preservationists have urged that the three-story, Beaux Arts-style 1901 building – with its ornate facade of graceful columns and Corinthian pilasters, pediments and dormers – be preserved as an iconic building from the region’s industrial era.
A group of citizens from Lackawanna and Buffalo delivered a petition with about 600 signatures to Szymanski on Tuesday afternoon, hoping to buy time for the building by urging him to see the value of reusing a part of Lackawanna’s history rather than knocking it down.
“We hope that through pressure on the mayor, the city will back off and give the owner more time to consider all the options. We also hope we can collaborate with Gateway, which needs the city to back off so they don’t have to come up with the money immediately to demolish, and because citizens don’t want the demolition,” said Dana Saylor-Furman, the ad hoc group’s spokeswoman.
But Szymanski said his mind was made up.
“It’s time to move on. I think that building is a prime representation of this entire region. It used to be beautiful, it used to be full of work, and now it’s abandoned, unsafe, unused, unwanted and it’s time we got more progressive. Bring down that building, bring down the silos and bring down the grain elevators, and let’s get this city moving,” Szymanski said.
Told that the City of Buffalo was beginning to find new uses for its grain elevators, Szymanski answered, “That’s why Buffalo looks like it does.”
He also said he didn’t believe a building abandoned for about 30 years and without heat could come back, noting that two structural engineering reports cast doubt on the building’s future.
“That building has nothing but sentimental value,” Szymanski said.
Erie County Court Judge Kenneth F. Case had given Gateway a 90-day stay of demolition on Aug. 23, to provide more time to explore alternatives to the wrecking ball. But in Case’s courtroom Tuesday, no alternatives were presented by the company’s lawyer, who also didn’t dispute the City of Lackawanna’s contention – rejected by preservationists – that the building was not salvageable.
Instead, the attorney for Gateway, a subsidiary of New Enterprise Stone and Lime Co. of New Enterprise, Pa., argued that demolition was costly and more time was needed. The city’s attorney argued that was not its concern.
Case said he had no alternative but to uphold the order of demolition since there was nothing legally improper about it.