The buildings are the most historic of the 11 that remain in the Cobblestone District, bordered by South Park Avenue and Perry, Mississippi and Illinois streets.
The district, designated a local landmark in 1994 by the Common Council, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
Metalworking shops, product manufacturers and maritime suppliers once occupied the buildings along the cobblestone streets. They were there as Buffalo emerged as an industrial powerhouse and hub for grain storage in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Several buildings redeveloped after the district’s historic designation brought state agencies and several businesses, including a music club, comedy club, brewery, bakery and distillery.
As Carr’s buildings languished, millions poured into nearby Canalside. And millions more are about to be spent on rehabilitating the DL&W Terminal across the street.
The city has taken heat from preservationists for not doing more over the years to save his buildings and other historic buildings.
Mayor Byron Brown vowed to “crack down hard” on negligent owners in December 2020, following the partial collapse of a neglected Civil War-era building on Ellicott Street. At the time, James Comerford, then the city’s commissioner of permit and inspection services, identified Carr’s properties as crucial ones to protect.
“When we talked to the mayor about his get-tough policy, we gave him a list and said this is the one we want to go after first,” Comerford said in 2020.
If the city did not have a strategy for the Cobblestone buildings before, it’s working to come up with one now.
“The desire of the Brown administration is to preserve the buildings,” said Brendan Mehaffy, who heads the Office of Strategic Planning. “We are intentionally moving down a path with multiple strategies with the goal of finally resolving this issue.”
The city has brought in outside counsel to work with its law department, which in turn is working on a plan with the mayor’s office, permits and inspections and strategic planning.
“We have had the NCAA Tournament several times now, and every time they come back the buildings are the same or worse than they were before,” Mehaffy said. “I think our goal – certainly by the next time the NCAA comes through – is that they are fully revitalized and active buildings.”
Preservation Buffalo Niagara hopes Carney will put the troubled properties into receivership.
“This tiny block of the Cobblestone District represents, really, the last intact block of buildings related to the Erie Canal,” said Jessie Fisher, the organization’s executive director. “This is our last connection to that part of our heritage.”
Carney asked the preservation organization to develop a stabilization plan for the Cobblestone properties. A structural engineer and contractor allowed inside the properties concluded it would cost $200,000 to stabilize them.
In 2002, Carr bought the Cobblestone Bar & Grill, used nowadays for arena and private events.
He purchased the three-story 1869 building at 118-120 South Park the following year for $150,000, shortly after the death of Edmund Rudnicki, who operated the Buffalo Blacksmith Shop for nearly a half century until his death in 2001. A brass foundry was also in the building at one time.
Carr later received approval from the city to demolish the “smithy,” a corrugated metal addition to the blacksmith shop.
In 2008, Carr bought the four-story building at 110 South Park for $500,000. The property consists of buildings added on over the years that extend nearly halfway along Illinois Street.
The 1852 building was originally home to George Mugridge & Son Steam Bakery, makers of hardtack – a type of biscuit – for the Union Army during the Civil War. The building was also used by Phoenix Die Casting Co., which operated a machine shop in the front and a foundry in the back from 1950 to 1988.
The wrecking ball nearly came down on the properties in 2009, when then-Housing Court Judge Henry J. Nowak issued an emergency demolition. That order was later reversed on appeal.
“If Carr had had bulldozers ready to go after Judge Nowak’s decision, we wouldn’t be talking about it,” Carney said.
Instead, Carr and the city agreed to mothball the buildings, leaving them in limbo for several years. That changed after signs of deterioration for the patchwork fixes became evident by 2015.
Carr contends the buildings are not salvageable, and he has an engineer’s report that supports his position.
JEB Consultants in Grand Island, most recently in October 2021, found little if any of the lumber in the buildings salvageable. Most of the brick, the report found, is unusable or would need “cost-prohibitive treatment” if the property was rehabbed.
Concerns were raised about the contamination in the buildings from heavy metals used in kilns and furnaces. Doubts were cast on the foundation’s ability to support a new commercial building.
The report concluded “these buildings should be demolished.”
Instead of rebuilding them, Carr is pursuing a plan to erect a 55-story glass building on the site.