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Buffalo celebrates start of $69M redevelopment of Richardson site

Staff Reports Posted 21 October 2014 at 12:00 am

Site is one of great Medina sandstone structures

Photos by Tom Rivers – The twin copper-roofed towers of Medina sandstone rise high above Forest Avenue in Buffalo. The Richardson Olmsted Complex has been a massive Buffalo landmark since 1872.

BUFFALO – Medina sandstone is back in the news again. One of the greatest Medina sandstone structures, the former Buffalo Psychiatric Center, is the focus of a $69 million redevelopment in Buffalo.

A site that had been largely abandoned will be reborn as a boutique hotel, conference center and architecture center.

State and city officials, as well as project developers, celebrated the start of construction on the project on Oct. 10. Over the next two years contractors will turn the Richardson Olmsted Complex into an 88-room hotel, a 300-plus seat conference and event center, an architecture center for Buffalo in the three main buildings, and the re-greening of the site through a new landscape and roadway.

“The reimagined Richardson Olmsted Complex will create a new venue for business events and a new place in Western New York for visitors to explore,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We’re proud to have helped with the redevelopment of this complex, which is another great example of Buffalo’s continued momentum.”

The Richardson Olmsted Complex, the former Buffalo Psychiatric Center, is being renovated into a hotel and architecture center. The complex is made of Medina sandstone and was designed by Henry H. Richardson, the first American architect to attain international acclaim.

This National Historic Landmark is a masterpiece of the great American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, along with his partner Calvert Vaux. The 42 acres and collection of buildings known as the Richardson Olmsted Complex is nationally recognized as a great work of these two masters and locally admired for the monumental presence and iconic copper towers.

The not-for-profit Richardson Center Corporation has pursued a reuse plan for the complex since it was formed in 2006. For many years prior, committed preservationists, elected officials, and community members focused attention on the decades of neglect and deterioration.

The redevelopment will include opportunities for Western New York residents to enjoy the South Lawn, eat at the restaurant and visit the architecture center, which will celebrate excellence in architecture, landscape architecture and city planning as influenced by Buffalo’s outstanding architectural heritage. It will also include exhibits and programming that honors the mental health, architectural and landscape history of the site.

The Medina Sandstone Society named the Richardson Olmsted Complex as an inaugural member of the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame last December.

The two-year construction period will begin with exterior work on the windows, roof, ready the north entry for replacement entry, and masonry. Next year, the site work and interior build out will begin. The hotel, conference and event spaces, as well as the Buffalo Architecture Center, are all expected to open in Fall 2016.

Considerable effort also has been made to be true to the original landscape design intent by world-renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. Stabilization activities totaling $10 million have taken place to prevent further deterioration and vandalism of the nearly 500,000 square feet of buildings.

The Richardson Center Corporation is now undertaking the renovation as the developer of this first phase. The $69 million construction project is funded with $54 million in state support and will leverage $15 million in state and federal Historic Tax Credits. The Richardson Center Corporation’s investor for the historic tax credits is M&T Bank. In addition, Empire State Development provided grants for the preconstruction, stabilization and re-greening activities.

“The Richardson Olmsted Complex is the third jewel in the crown of Buffalo’s rich architecture, along with the Guaranty Building and the Darwin Martin House,” said Stanford Lipsey, chairman of the Richardson Center Corporation. “Its reuse will play a vital role in continuing the impressive growth of our region’s economic resurgence, and would not have been possible without the outstanding leadership of the board and the investment of New York State.”