Owner of Bethlehem Steel Agreed to Sell Hours Before Demolition Began
Excerpts from the article originally published by Mike Puma, Views of Buffalo, March 12, 2013.
Concerned citizens, preservationists, and architecture buffs looked on in horror as wrecking equipment attacked the unique architectural features of the Bethlehem Steel Administration building Friday afternoon. A few quick blows to the ornate façade dashed all hope the building would be saved after months of hard work and countless hours by a group of dedicated people. Demolition was halted briefly after a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued, but resumed after the judge lifted the TRO last Friday.
Initially the demo began at the rear of the building and it appeared as though the demolition crew would work their way to the front. However, when the TRO was lifted the wrecking equipment moved to the front of the building. The crews smashed the large pediments, ripped off the ornate copper trimmed dormers, and punched holes all over the façade.
David Torke of fixBuffalo and others were fighting until the last minute to save the iconic structure and talks were going well. He explains, “I met with [the owner] Steven Detweiler at his home Thursday evening, contacted our legal team and with the cooperation of Judge Dillon’s law clerk we scheduled a settlement conference in NYS Supreme Court for the following morning.” Judge Dillion was receptive to the cause and indicated that he would clear his calendar. While discussing the a settlement with Detweiler, he agreed to sell the building to a new entity, a 501c3, for less than $100k. He’d already had numerous conversations with local (supportive) attorney Bill Magavern and agreed to sell.
“All parties and their respective attorneys agreed to meet, which was the first time Steven Detweiler and Mayor Szymanski had been in the same room. Detweiler already had numerous conversations with local (supportive) attorney Bill Magavern and agreed to sell. On Friday morning I sat down with the mayor and his father-in-law, Norm LeBlanc the City’s attorney. During the next 90 minutes they were becoming allies in our struggle to save the building. However, Steven Detweiler changed the terms, he demanded that we make a $200K, non-refundable deposit and complete all renovations to the building by the end of 2013” said Torke.
“Our attorney, Richard Berger appealed to Detweiler’s business sense and described how long and involved historic reuse planning and renovations often take, but Detweiler’s new demands were non-negotiable. He indicated that his demolition contractor was instructed to clean-up the back of the building and informed us that he’d keep channels open to a potential settlement through the day.”
Just a few hours later, Detweiler’s demolition crew began destroying the administration building with no further contact from Detweiler. The building was not only important to the greater story of America, but should have been important to Lackawanna, because Lackawanna Steel built the city as a company town. It’s not often you get the chance to point to a building and say, “this is why our city exists, this is genesis for us” and now the Steven Detweiler has ensured the people of Lackawanna never can. “What happened three hours later after our meeting was criminal,” Torke continued, “it was cultural rape and people should never forget that Steven Detweiler did this.”
Copper Crudely Torn Away Same Day as Meeting with Gateway Trade about Ownership Transfer
Bethlehem Steel nominated to National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered List; Letter of Support by the Preservation League of NYS
“…there have been critically important changes to the plight of the Bethlehem Steel North Administration Building that make the Preservation an enthusiastic supporter of the nomination to the National Trust’s “11 Most” program…”
Letter goes on to point to the detailed historical research completed by Dana Saylor and the testimony of Frank Kowsky; the active engagement of the community and the formation of the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group as well as the participation by the well-established Campaign for Greater Buffalo; the professional team ready to work led by Barbara Campagna, FAIA; and the uncovering of the KHH engineering report concluding that the building is structurally sound.
Demolition of Beth Steel Halted in NYS Supreme Court! Permit Issued Illegally without Proper Environmental Review
The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) was pleased to learn that The Campaign for Buffalo – History, Architecture & Culture, Inc. today filed an Article 78 Proceeding in New York State Supreme Court, which placed a temporary restraining order on the demolition of the historic Bethlehem Steel Administration Building in Lackawanna, New York.
Their petition maintains that the City of Lackawanna issued a demolition permit to the owner, GATEWAY TRADE CENTER, INC., on December 17, 2012, without performing environmental review as required by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR). The suit contends that the demolition permit is therefore a nullity in that it was issued illegally. The Campaign is seeking a permanent injunction on the demolition of the building until full compliance with SEQR is demonstrated. A hearing is scheduled before Hon. James H. Dillon for Wednesday, February 27th at 9:30 a.m.
Richard Berger, Esq., a local attorney with experience in environmental and preservation law, representing The Campaign, stated, “SEQR mandates all agencies of government to prepare an ‘Environmental Impact Statement on any action they propose or approve which may have a significant effect on the environment.’ Even actions which do not require a full Impact Statement, still require careful environmental review and findings. It appears that none was carried out in this instance. We hope that our filing today will halt the demolition of the Administration Building and lead to its ultimate restoration and reuse.”
Previously Withheld Structural Report Uncovered by Citizens; Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group Sues to Stop Demolition
Bethlehem Steel Building is Structurally Sound;
Citizens to File Suit to Stop Demolition!
The 1901 Bethlehem Steel Administration Building is structurally sound, according to an August engineering report which was withheld from the courts by the City of Lackawanna, and by building owner Gateway Trade and Steven Detwiler.
The report, dated August 2012, included a complete walk-through of the building by an independent structural engineering firm which counters the City of Lackawanna’s claims that the building is a threat to public safety. “We believe the overall building structure to be sound and not at imminent risk of collapse.”
The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group will file a lawsuit with the City of Lackawanna Court on Friday, February 8th, calling for Gateway Trade to cease all demolition activities until an investigation can take place. Well-known attorney Richard Berger, whose previous work includes environmental justice around Love Canal issues in Niagara Falls, and various preservation projects around Buffalo, will file on behalf of Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group.
The group would like to complete an adaptive reuse study involving one the nation’s most important and neglected architectural and cultural assets. The purpose is to create jobs and facilitate economic development along the waterfront. Numerous developers, architects and consultants have expressed interest in the building.
Browse and Download Press Kit Below
Our Professional Team is Ready! There is Funding!
The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group (LIHG) has engaged the services of a team of well-respected preservation and planning professionals. The group, funded in part by a private donation, will assist in creating both feasibility and adaptive reuse studies for the 1901 Bethlehem Steel Administration Building. Declared structurally sound by an August engineering report, LIHG wants to show the public just what is possible at the site.
One of the team members is Barbara Campagna, formerly the Chief Architect at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a board member at the successful Richardson Olmsted Complex. She said, “We will create a plan for near and long-term development of this historic site by combining contemporary ideas and needs with a respect for our 20th century industrial story, providing cultural and economic benefits to the Lackawanna and Buffalo Niagara region residents and a destination for ever-increasing cultural heritage visitors. By preparing a comprehensive Feasibility & Adaptive Reuse Study, we will be using time tested planning tools to develop a responsible and sustainable approach towards the reinvention of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building.
The building has everything we need to tell the story of our industrial heritage, connect it to our expanding and dynamic waterfront and demonstrate how preservation is one of the building blocks of economic revitalization in America and in Western New York. The Richardson Olmsted Complex, the Martin House, Larkinville, the Central Terminal. These were all places that had languished and deteriorated for decades but are now key to the remaking of Buffalo. Having spent the past 30 years involved in saving and rethinking the Richardson Olmsted Complex, I’m thrilled to have been asked to assist in the visioning of the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building.”
Demolition has Begun at the Back
Building Significance and Brief “How we got here”
The Bethlehem Steel Administration Building (ca. 1901) is one of the most iconic buildings of our regional industrial heritage. What happened in this building literally built America and was a major supplier of steel to the United States armed forces in WWI and WWII, influencing our victories. It has been determined National Register eligible for it’s association with the history and technology of steel making, the tens of thousands of workers employed and the lives and communities they created in Western New York, as well as the architectural details of the building itself.
The Mayor of Lackawanna is the driving force for demolition, calling for a demo order, threatening fines upon the owner, and avoiding all discussion about reuse options. We can only change his entrenched position through citizen action. The current owners of the building, Gateway Trade, have been delinquent in building maintenance and appear relieved that demolition is on the horizon. Disrespectful and short-sighted jurisdiction of the Mayor, and a delinquent maintenance plan and pleads of ignorance from the owners cannot be accepted. More about current events leading up to demolition.
Share your Voice
We must turn our anger and hurt into action. Call, leave your name and city (national calls are welcome!), and your message in opposition of demolition of Bethlehem Steel and urging the Mayor to revoke the demolition order:
- Call Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski at 716-827-6464. Ask to speak to or leave a message for the Mayor. You might be put on hold indefinitely, call again, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Call owner of the building Steve Detwiler of Gateway Trade at 716-826-7310. If it’s after hours, try to leave a message, or ask to be transferred to sales, they always answer sales inquiries! Or call and leave a message at 716-662-1555.
We must show and act upon these basic principles in order to preserve our collective culture:
- Preservation is economic development. The site was and can be a place for good-paying prideful jobs, during and after rehabilitation. The area has recently seen millions of reinvestment in transportation and recreation infrastructure along the waterfront.
- Demolition is not progress. There are no plans for use of this site once vacant. But we have reuse plans and have professionals ready to help secure a National Register nomination and Historic Tax Credits.
- The Mayor is throwing away the past and future of his hometown. Even as he touts it’s heritage as a reason to live there. His appetite for demolition and lack of transparency defies his position as Mayor.
- The owners have been negligent. Gateway Trade, owners of the building, rejected interested developers and the help of numerous preservation groups. The treatment of this building by an individual would have levied citations long ago.
You can also contact:
- Call Congressman Brian Higgins at 716-852-3501, or email him through his website at http://higgins.house.gov/contact/email-me.shtml.
- Call Senator Chuck Schumer at 716-846-4111, or email him through his website at https://www.schumer.senate.gov/Contact/contact_chuck.cfm.
- Call Assemblyman Kevin Smardz at 716-826-1878 or email email@example.com.