"Make new sites, but keep the old"

Preservation projects Ð and tax credits Ð deserve praise for bringing new life to Buffalo's historic buildings

Transforming sections of a historic church garnished with stained glass windows and Romanesque architecture into modern apartment units may seem unorthodox.

But in Buffalo, renovating and repurposing historic buildings is actually a booming business – one which is accomplishing the admirable task of preserving the city’s impressive architecture and ensuring the public gets to enjoy the space, rather than just the view.

The project at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church is the most recent of an influx of these developments. Lafayette Lofts, the new monikers of the recently constructed 21 units, has taken over the empty space that had been wasting away in the church. The building is still an active church, but no longer needs to accommodate 1,400 people, as the congregation has dwindled to 100.

This new use of space will allow the church to survive financially, preserve the historical site and give a few lucky tenants the chance to live in an apartment with windows made of stained glass.

Though some of the original architecture had to be modified to accommodate the apartments, on the whole the project is emblematic of Buffalo’s thriving culture of preservation projects, as developers bring new life to old buildings – and ensures that they survive the threat of demolition.

Thanks to state and federal tax incentives, developers aren’t shying away from the challenges that come with restoring and repurposing older buildings. Instead, having identified a clear interest from the public – many residents are intrigued by the prospect of living in a repurposed space – developers are jumping at the opportunity to renovate buildings and enjoy tax credits that cover up to 40 percent of the price.

With Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown making increased downtown housing a priority – he hopes to see 1,300 new housing units downtown by 2018 – this preservation boom couldn’t happen at a better time.

Specifically, more affordable housing is needed, and apartments like the Lafayette Lofts don’t fit that bill, so the vast number of ongoing projects should include some affordable housing lest this influx of development ignore a large portion of the population.

With more than 30 new projects approved by the state in the last year, it seems likely that Brown’s goal will be met and exceeded. And because Buffalo has so many older buildings, renovation happens at a faster pace, increasing the speed of the city’s ongoing revival – a revival that is breathing new life into the city without obscuring its past.

City officials have identified more than 500 buildings as potential historic sites that could qualify for tax credits, so as long as there is no lapse in the tax incentives, there’s no end in sight for this construction rush.

The state tax credit was extended last year through 2019, after Governor Andrew Cuomo bowed to intense lobbying on the part of preservationists and lawmakers. But the credit is currently capped at $5 million, limiting its effectiveness and reach.

When it comes to this city’s architectural past, Buffalo’s history is preserved – its roots are deep and its foundation solid – so why not reach higher?

An increased cap on tax credits will allow for larger-scale projects and an even greater certainty that as new buildings rise up amid the Buffalo skyline, that the new won’t supplant the old.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com