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The future of Buffalo's Great Northern may not be settled

A group of protesters stand in front of the damaged Great Northern grain elevator Sunday.
Assemblymember Sean Ryan
A group of protesters stand in front of the damaged Great Northern grain elevator Sunday.

The future of the historic Great Northern grain elevator in Buffalo's old grain kingdom on the waterfront remains unclear, even with a judge approving the demolition of the storm-ravaged structure. On Sunday, elevator supporters turned out to plead with owner ADM not to demolish the landmark,

Buffalo is familiar with struggles over preserving landmark structures, although almost none are as big as the giant, abandoned grain complex on Ganson Street on the city's Kelly Island. The city's decision to allow demolition by ADM — subsequently upheld in court —has revived some of the heat of these struggles, frequently in the more residential Elmwood Village. It's also encouraging yet another look at how the city decides what buildings go and which stay.

Councilmember Chris Scanlon said demolition would be a mistake.

"First and foremost, we have to ensure the safety of residents of the City of Buffalo," Scanlon said. "I think long-term, here, what it's done is create an opportunity to have a conversation and, hopefully, spur some action regarding the Great Northern and what ADM can do with it. Obviously, it's privately owned."

Although the seemingly endless flow of grain into the General Mills plant continues and hundreds of good jobs continue, knocking down the vast Great Northern over a period of months could make plant operations difficult. Kelly Island itself is far less of an industrial area than decades ago, with recreational operations like Buffalo Riverworks just across the street and multiple rail lines.

"Kelly Island has kind of transitioned to a mix of commercial and recreational, industrial," Scanlon said. "The call for the demo order was approved, again, because you have to ensure people's safety. But the actual action of demolishing that building, that will be a huge undertaking and not something I'd like to see happening."

Scanlon said he and other members of the Common Council are talking about what to do, potentially to again change the city's demolition procedures to make landmarks perhaps harder to knock down.

"I've had conversations with some of my colleagues on the Council this week, about it, and where we're at and what we can do," he said. "One thing I think you'll see is that kind of talking, speaking to everyone involved and say, 'Let's slow down here. Let's have a conversation. Let's see what the realistic possibility is, what we can do with that building.' Again, the tricky part is that it's privately owned."

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.