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Renovation of MLK Park's 1926 casino building nearly complete

More than 90 years after its construction, a historic building in the heart of Buffalo’s East Side is getting new life and restored purpose. The 1926 casino building in Martin Luther King Jr. Park is nearly through the third and final phase of a $2.6 million renovation.

With help from the state office of historic preservation, contractors and the city’s public works department have been refurbishing and recreating some of the same details that existed when the building was first erected.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Large window frames like these will be filled with picture windows, similar to those that originally filled them.

Public Works Department Deputy Commissioner of Buildings and Energy Management Rishawn Sonubi described “opening up these beautiful metal truss that were hidden by a drop-ceiling in the past” and “opening up the windows so that you can bring more light into this space.”

Mayor Byron Brown said contractors are “sweating every single detail.”

“We’re going to be replicating the original 1926 staircase and as you enter the building we’re going to replicating the original wood doors from 1926 as well,” said Brown. “So this is a total historic reconstruction of this building.”

In addition to renewing elements of the past, the renovation also includes some new amenities – most notably, access for people with disabilities by way of a ramp and elevator.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Upgrades to the casino building have been conducted in three phases, with the first tackling reconstruction of the building’s exterior, and the second focusing on its first floor. The lower level will host space for programs, community events, and storage for ice-skating on the MLK splash pad.

“Overall, we are constantly trying to improve our facilities, and we think we’ve done a successful job here,” said Sonubi.

The building is expected to be open to the public with meeting space and a concession stand between mid-June and early July. With far more open space on the second floor, city officials envision a future banquet space, though Brown said that possibility is further down the line than the initial opening.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Renovation continues inside the second floor of the MLK Park casino building.

While the building’s facets are expected to draw strong public interest, Brown said it is not seen as a revenue generator for the city.

“But maybe as a way to offset costs and ongoing expenses,” said Brown. “And what we have been trying to do, working with the Olmstead Conservancy, is upgrade facilities in all of our Olmstead Parks, which generate some revenues that can then be shared in the operation of the Olmstead Conservancy.”

Brown said the goal is to maximize the public’s ability to enjoy the space along with the rest of the $8.5 million in improvements that have been made to the park.


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