Originally appeared in the Buffalo News on July 3rd, 2012.
A plan for a larger Peace Bridge plaza shows that demolition of homes wouldn’t be necessary if a duty-free store is eliminated from the site, according to an opponent of the expansion.
A drawing of what an expanded plaza might look like was obtained by the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture, which is suing the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority over the demolition of eight houses on Busti Avenue.
While the authority did not reject the authenticity of the drawing, a spokesman said the duty-free store provides needed revenue and that eliminating the store would not help the authority improve traffic flow.
The Campaign says the drawing is an internal document from the Peace Bridge authority.
Upon examination, a Peace Bridge spokesman said the drawing could be one of several plans the authority has for possible expansion but that such plans hinge on variables that are outside the control of the authority, such as the acquisition of public rights of way and a vacant nursing home.
The authority would also like to do pre-inspections in Canada, which would relieve some of the congestion on the U.S. side and could further change plans for an expanded plaza, said Matthew N. Davison, director of communications and government relations.
“The argument that we’re holding a plan behind our back and as soon as we get the houses down we’re going to slap it on the table, that’s not really true,” Davison said.
The drawing places a new duty-free store at the location of the Episcopal Church Home, a possibility the authority discussed publicly in April.
“We take this plan very, very seriously,” said Tim Tielman, director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo. “That’s why we have to fight it every step of the way.”
Tielman said the drawing shows that the authority is deep into planning for a new plaza and that if the duty-free element were eliminated, the authority could still add more customs booths without razing the homes, an assertion the authority does not support.
Eliminating the duty-free store doesn’t allow traffic to move faster, Davison said. The authority is planning a series of renovations on land it owns, he said.
The authority plans to demolish the eight homes it owns on Busti Avenue regardless of whether plans for an expanded plaza can move forward, and it rejects calls from preservationists to rehabilitate the homes and sell them to private owners.
“We want added buffering,” Davison said. “Why would we get rid of this space when there’s the potential that we could improve our facility by some sort of small expansion?”
Though the authority has said it would not demolish Hutchinson Chapel on the nursing home site, Tielman said another, much larger building on the site, Thornton Hall, was named a city landmark in 1980 and also should not be torn down. The authority has not committed to preserving any other buildings on the nursing home site.
The authority was planning to demolish the houses June 20, but Tielman’s group obtained a temporary restraining order. The Campaign says the homes are historically significant, noting in its court filings that three are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The authority is seeking to have the lawsuit heard in federal court, instead of in state court. In a statement announcing the move, the authority maintains that the demolitions are “not related to any future plaza initiatives.”