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Albright-Knox expansion gets Planning Board thumbs up

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Albright-Knox Art Gallery
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Rendering of the Albright-Knox expansion.

The long-discussed expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery shifted from a bunch of architects around a computer screen to a project Monday, as the $155 million project went before the Buffalo Planning Board.

The project was before the Planning Board for a recommendation to the Common Council on establishing a Planned Unit Development (PUD) - the first stage in the process. After receiving the thumbs up, the project shifts to the Council Legislation Committee Tuesday on the PUD and on changing the boundaries of the art gallery's property: its statutory tract.

"It is a big step. I think, also, when we think of these meetings, such as the meeting of Buffalo's esteemed Planning Board, it's important to remember that there has been a lot of preparatory work by the team going into the process prior to our half-an-hour appearance before the board," said Gallery Director Janne Siren. "It is an important step. I'm very grateful for the board, for its excellent questions."

Soon it will come in for other stages to get the $155 million project, from the drawing board to breaking ground to erecting steel and concrete. Siren said that construction start is a year away.

"Which is that if we look at the big picture, we are hoping to break ground in the fall of 2019," Siren said, "and then we estimate a two-year construction period, so that if we remain on schedule, we would be able to re-open in the fall of 2021."

The project also will go before the city Zoning Board of Appeals because it will require a number of variances from the Green Code, which regulates development, often in very intricate ways.

Siren said when complete, there will be major changes to the present gallery buildings, a large new building and an underground parking ramp covered by a real grass lawn along Elmwood Avenue. However since the lawn will top a parking ramp, it does not qualify as real lawn.

"Proposal for an expansion was first mentioned in our strategic plan in 2001," Siren said. "Between 2001 and 2010, we conducted about 10 studies related to a new building project and now we've had OMA on board as our architect since June of 2016. So these are long processes and they need to be very thoughtfully planned. We are dealing with a cultural resource that's irreplaceable."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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