Niagara Gazette

March 13, 2013

Memorial officials demolish local landmark despite health center plans falling through

Memorial officials demolish local landmark despite health center plans falling through

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has torn down a historic building on its 10th Street campus, but has no plans to develop the plot where the building stood.

Demolition contractors from the Niagara Falls construction company Regional Environmental Demolition Inc. took down the 96-year-old Evelyn Apartments, once home to former Gazette publisher Hamilton B. Mizer and Lily Rush, the first woman to earn a master’s degree from Niagara University, after being hired by the hospital.

The company was granted a demolition permit from the city’s department of Code Enforcement on Feb. 15 and took down the apartments and another house on the site that did not have historic landmark status on Feb. 18 and 19.

Pat Bradley, a Memorial spokesperson, said the building was dilapidated and a danger to the neighborhood.

“We did what we thought was the best thing for the neighborhood,” Bradley said. “We didn’t think it was worth taking a chance.”

The apartments were protected by a local landmark designation set by the Niagara Falls Commission on Historic Preservation in 2009 after a long campaign to gain the designation by former owner Evelyn Pullo, for whom the building is named.

The commission voted to deny the hospital’s request for a certificate of appropriateness — the document necessary to demolish a designated landmark — in June. The Niagara Falls City Council then voted to override the commission’s denial, granting the hospital the certificate of appropriateness, meaning that the hospital, which bought the building from Pullo in July 2011, was free to take the building down.

The hospital was seeking to demolish the building in order to make way for a proposed primary health center to be run by Community Health Center of Buffalo, Inc., the not-for-profit that operates Community Health Center of Niagara out of the Hamilton B. Mizer building next door.

But, the new primary health care center — to be built with a $5 million grant from the federal government — has moved to a new site on Highland Avenue in the city’s North End due, in part, to issues with the required timeline tied to the grant.

Avery Bates, who has served as a point man on the health care center project for Community Health Center of Buffalo, Inc., did not return several calls seeking comment on issues during the grant process tied to the Evelyn Apartments’ local designation as a historic landmark.

Bradley said the hospital has no plans for the site at this time.

“The building wasn’t suitable for any health care uses,” he said. “We don’t have anything pending for that site.”

Jamie Robideau, a commissioner on the historic preservation board, said that because the building was still designated as a historic landmark the commission should have been notified before the permit was granted.

“Anytime anything is flagged it goes through us,” Robideau said. “That’s the rule.”

Robideau, who was speaking for himself as he had not had a chance to confer with other commissioners, said the hospital should have applied for another certificate of appropriateness, being that the reasons stated in the original application — to make way for the health center — were no longer valid.

“From our commission’s point of view, that certificate became null and void the minute the plans for the health center were cancelled,” Robideau said.

Robideau said that while he was sad to see the Evelyn Apartments demolished his concerns are not limited to that one building. He is worried that the commission is not taken seriously in some parts of city hall.

“There’s a general lack of communication and lack of respect for what we do,” Robideau said.

Dennis Virtuoso, the city’s director of Code Enforcement, said that although the property was flagged in the city’s computer system as a historic landmark, the city council resolution granting the certificate of appropriateness gave the contractors every right to take the building down.

And with no other legal road blocks, such as a court-ordered injunction, his department has to grant the permit so long as the contractor has all other required documentation.

“There was no injunction so we issued the permit,” Virtuoso said.

Michael Gonzalez, a plumbing inspector for the city’s department of Code Enforcement, said that he was recently inside the building and that he felt it was beyond repair. There was extensive water damage to the plaster and hardwood floors.

“You could barely walk on the floors,” he said.

Evelyn Pullo, the former owner who fought for the building to be designated as a historic landmark, said the hospital had been pursuing the property for a long time. She didn’t want to sell but eventually she lost the ability to maintain the property.

The 99-year-old Pullo now lives in the Schoellkopf Health Center on the Memorial campus.

“They’ll probably make a parking lot out of it,” Pullo said.

She said she sold the property to the hospital after coming to the realization that she had no one to leave it to.

“If I was still in good health and I could get around I’d still be in the house,” Pullo said. “But that’s what happens. Everything must come to an end.”