A Breakdown of the Johnnie Ryan Building Debacle

Look at the above building. This tan brick, glass blocked, asbestos wonder of an office structure has been the center of a months-long fight over historic preservation and the right to demolish.

This series of events began in February, when local residents noticed construction crews gutting the vacant structure. The construction workers openly admitted that they were contracted to perform asbestos abatement, with plans to demolish the building.

Historic preservationists began to lament the loss of yet another old Niagara Falls building, but there was on problem: no demolition permit was approved.

Enter Seth Stage Left

Seth Piccirillo, who you might remember is running for Mayor of Niagara Falls, happens to be in charge of issuing demolition permits. When the previously mentioned historic preservationists began publicly prematurely mourning the building, Seth publicly noted that there was no demolition permit.

This gave the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Society enough time to ramp up a process to declare the building a landmark. In turn, when the owners of the building decided to show up for a permit, Seth refused.

Of course, the owners of the building, who openly admitted that they want to lower their property taxes by demolishing the building, were not happy. Included in this group of owners is Buffalo architect Matthew Moscati, and his company MATC Inc. On March 27, MATC sued the city over the refusal to approve the demolition.

Historic Preservation throws the pitch…

By the beginning of April, Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Society Commission recommended that the City Council approve the building’s landmark status.

…the Council bunts it…

The next day, the Council tabled the vote after Moscati’s attorney, James Roscetti, called every member of the Council to discourage them from moving forward. The Council decided they would wait until the State Supreme Court made a decision on the lawsuit.

…the Empire’s umpire shakes his head..

The lack of response from the City Council frustrated Supreme Court Justice Daniel Furlong, who forced an ultimatum: the City Council must make a decision at their next meeting, or he would issue the demolition permit himself.

An important side note on the lawsuit: in an affadavit, Roscetti claims that someone clued Historic Preservation in on the demolition and urged them to push for a landmark status, which Historic Preservation denies.

…and the Council walks back to the dugout

On May 15, the City Council struck down the landmark designation 4-1. Most members of the Council came to an agreement that the recommendation to make the building a landmark came too late, and the adverse effects of approving this status outweighed the benefit of saving the building. The lone dissenter was Councilman William Kennedy III, who was strongly in favor of saving the building.

Of course, if you know anything about the history of Niagara Falls, you would understand that the fight over this building wasn’t necessarily just over this building. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look at the historical and political meaning behind the Johnnie Ryan debacle.

-Sheepie ❤

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