Photo courtesy of Mark Paradowski
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 5, 2013
Press Release re: Former North Park Baptist Church
Contact: Tom Yots & Jason Wilson
Phone: (716) 852-3300
In April of 2012 the former North Park Baptist Church on Colvin Avenue
was damaged by a three-alarm arson fire. No one was harmed during the
incident thankfully since the North Buffalo church had been vacant for
a number of years after the owner, the Korean United Methodist Church,
vacated the property for unknown reasons. Late last November the owner
applied for a demolition permit from the City of Buffalo citing in
large part the damaged caused by that fire.
Earlier this week the City of Buffalo Preservation Board
their intention to nominate the former church for local landmark
designation given the property's high architecturally design, rich
history and physical presents in the neighborhood. The demolition of
the former North Park Baptist Church began yesterday (Friday) afternoon
at 3pm. The now familiar manner in which we neglect and sequentially
dispose of our city has unfortunately begun to define the City of Good
Neighborhoods as much as our actual architecture does.
Photo courtesy of Mark Paradowski
As we begin to debate the true culprit of yet another Friday afternoon
demolition, whether it is an irresponsible property owner, an utter
lack of vision from elected officials, or the general absence of
appreciation for our unique architectural gems like this former Italian
church, or a combination of all of the above, we
can't help but share a critical piece of dialogue that is missing from
this familiar conversation.
This piece is the incompatibility of the
otherwise overwhelming successful Historic Tax Credit program and the
economic and design realities related to rehabilitating and repurposing
a vacant religious space.
The decline of the neighborhood church building type during the last 40
plus years is very similar to that of the decline of the industrial and
commercial buildings in the downtown cores as well as our cities'
neighborhoods themselves. This trend was caused in large part by the
movement patterns of our country's population from established, urban
neighborhoods to newly formed communities in the suburbs surrounding
our cities. Unfortunately, the recent sequential story of our cities'
gradual renaissance rarely includes the successful repurposing of
neighborhood religious spaces.
With the aid of the Historic Tax Credit
, once idle manufacturing buildings are being converted into
trendy downtown living lofts and homeowners in at-risk neighborhoods
are provided incentives for renovation work on their historic homes.
But almost all vacant churches and other religious spaces are left
vacant, many neglected to the point of demolition.
The primary reason why more religious spaces aren't repurposed as part
of the Historic Tax Credit program is that the majority of the
prospective buyers' rehabilitation plans are currently incompatible
with the design standards which govern the incentive program. These
Standards (known as the Secretary of the Interior's Standards) mandate
that the congregation space or sanctuary, typically a large rectangular
basilica space which is often two-stories or more in height, can not be
easily subdivided into smaller spaces. The Standards applied in these
cases expect those congregation spaces to be reused in a way that
respects and reflects the original historic use. This presents an
obvious problem for potential developers and owners of these properties
because every available square foot needs to be leveraged in order for
the project to be financially feasible.
Photo courtesy of Preservation Studios
from the Spring of 2010,
Interior of the former North Park Baptist Church
The former North Park Baptist Church is actually an example of a failed
attempt to use Historic Tax Credits in a proposed rehabilitation
In 2010 while working at Preservation Studios
historic preservation consulting firm) we participated in a walkthrough
of this property with local architect and developer Karl Frizlen of the
We ultimately partnered with The Frizlen Group in
proposing a design that would have placed residential units into the
congregation space. The proposed design called for keeping the original
interior wall surfaces and stained glass windows and inserted an
independent structure within the open space of the sanctuary (see below
renderings). The New York State Historic Preservation Offices was
and presented the project for informal review to the National Park Service
who oversees the historic tax credit program. The
National Park Service eventually rejected the design primarily because
the openness of the congregation space was lost.
With their proposed
project being ruled ineligible for the Historic Preservation Tax Credit program
Frizlen Group decided to not move forward with purchasing and
repurposing the church. It was determined that Historic Tax Credits
were essential in making the proposed project financially
Local examples of once-vacant churches that were successful
rehabilitated include the King Urban Life Center
in the former St.
Mary's of the Sorrows church and Babeville
in the former Asbury
Delaware Avenue Methodist Church, which was a Historic Tax Credit
project. Both of these rehabilitation projects inserted new uses into
the former sanctuary spaces that did not obscure the original historic
open space. These layouts and designs are what the Standards are
calling for in order for a church rehabilitation project to be eligible
for tax credits. The obvious catch-22 is that the transparency in the
King Urban Life Center and the openness in Babeville are not features
that would be easily accommodated in an apartment design.
So what can be done? Do we to live with the "imperfections" of the
nation's most successful and cost-effective community revitalization
program even though it often doesn't allow for the reuse of vacant
religious spaces? No, we don't live with it. We act to change it and to
make it a better and more comprehensive tool in revitalizing our
When word first surfaced of the possible demolition of this building
Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN)
sent an alert across the state to
various historic preservation advocacy groups and funders. As a result
PBN has been invited to participate in an upcoming symposium in March
at the Carey Center for Global Good in Rensselaerville, outside of
Albany, New York.
The symposium, co-sponsored by the NY Landmark
, the Preservation League of New York State
and the Partners
for Sacred Places,
will focus on the adaptive use of religious
. Former State Parks Commissioner and land use advocate,
Carol Ash, will also be partnering in the program.
PBN intends to bring
to the symposium the serious problem faced in upstate New York cities,
like Buffalo and Niagara Falls, where there are not easy commercial
reuse solutions for vacant religious buildings. This problem is of
course compounded by the fact that the economies in these communities
do not support development projects without incentives like the
Historic Preservation Tax Credit program.
We are hoping that the
collective knowledge and experience at this symposium along with the
expertise of the New York State Historic Preservation Office
National Park Service
will allow for the development of viable
solutions to this problem.
Like many religious buildings in our communities, the former North Park
Baptist Church was located in a residential neighborhood and anchored
the blocks that surrounded it. The character of a neighborhood is often
highlighted by the religious buildings that serve as these anchors. The
'village' feel of the Elmwood Village comes not just from the small
shops and supporting residential blocks but also from churches like
Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian
on Elmwood & Lafayette and the
Unitarian Universalist Church
on Elmwood & West Ferry. These
beautiful and imposing buildings are integral to the neighborhood they
serve and that integration goes well beyond their religious and social
activities to include an important physical presence of architecture
North Buffalo has lost an important neighborhood landmark today, and it
is PBN's intent to pursue every available avenue in order to make the
rehabilitation of our communities' vacant religious spaces more of a
reality than it was today.
|Preservation Buffalo Niagara's mission is to identify, preserve,
protect, promote and revitalize historically and architecturally
significant sites, structures, neighborhoods, commercial districts and
landscapes in Erie and Niagara Counties.