The Vacancy Vortex – In a Nut Shell.

I will be presenting at TED X Buffalo tomorrow about preservation, the vacancy vortex and heart bombs.

I wanted to write a simple post to explain the Vacancy Vortex to you… although it is one of the most complex issues I have ever experienced and trying to explain it is very hard.

If you see a house that is vacant, I want you to assume that it is wanted. Then realize that it is just stuck in the “process” which we call the Vacancy Vortex.  The process is often so difficult to navigate, it can push potential owners away very quickly – if you are lucky enough to get that far. Often times it take knowing someone like Jason or I just to understand how to begin to navigate this process  – there is no “FAQ” sheet or a simple 5 step process. If you want a building that is vacant, it will take time and resources to track down the owner, figure out what the issues are and to finally, purchase it. BUT! When you succeed, you will find yourself owning a great house that you probably bought dirt cheap. 

A great example of the vortex is this. in 2012, I tried to buy a dollar house on the West Side. It was a beautiful Italianate house with great historic detail (windows, doors and staircase). It was owned by the City of Buffalo and had someone just put up a tarp or put tar on the roof, it would have avoided the roof leak that basically destroyed the entire side of the house, causing thousands of dollars in damage. The house was uninsurable, not financable and was trashed on the inside – all hurdles that scared the hell out of me. Looking back on it, had I known what I know now, I would not have turned down the offer! But in the heat of the moment, we left it to someone else. (Good news, it has since been purchased! – You can read about the story here!!)

Some potential reasons the house is vacant may include one or many of the following reasons:  back taxes, liens, owner death, owner is holding on because it is cheap to hold and wants to do nothing with it, housing violations, city owned, not City owned but the owner is no where to be found, no financing for rehab available, no housing insurance, no phone number or address for the current owner on file… and the list goes on and on. The longer the house sits – the more damage it gets. The vacancy crisis is real in Buffalo but the more we all know, the better advocates we become for getting the houses back on the tax rolls – not turning them into vacant lots that become havens for trash and are worth pennies. 

BYP (Buffalo’s Young Preservationists) is focused on many initiatives however, the vacancy vortex often takes the prime spot. We are always boarding up buildings, cleaning out community buildings and repairing doors/holes/windows for owners who cannot afford to do so. Our few hundred dollars goes pretty far – far enough to buy materials and get the job done simply. Every couple hundred dollars we spend, we save building owners thousands. It is a simple step that we take to be proactive and to help out our neighborhoods. 

Lastly, I want to thank many people (David Torke, Jennifer & Brendan at the City, Puma, Chris, Jason & ALL) who have helped me understand this process a little better. This is by no means something new but now that the giant landmarks (FLW, Guaranty, Shea’s!) are saved, we can focus on understanding this process and helping to revitalize our neighborhoods!


BYPers gather together to clean out a house on the West Side of Buffalo.


Tuesday, Oct 15th – Ted X Buffalo 2013!

Ted X Buffalo is on Tuesday, October 15th!

If you were not one of the lucky 400 people to get a ticket, you can live stream it online at !

I talk between 9:24 – 9:36am. My ted talk is called “Preservation 2.0“.  In 12 minutes, I will hopefully educate the audience about the “Vacancy Vortex” and show people what the young preservationists are doing to help save these vacant houses from heading to a landfill.
Our vacancy crisis is real and houses are being demolished unnecessarily everyday. Rehabbing our vacant houses is our ticket to maintaining affordability, adding jobs, increasing neighborhood value (financially and socially) and also, they are inherently more sustainable – the old growth wood, crown molding and other details inside these homes trumps anything you can buy today.
This Ted X talk is in no way rocket science nor will it bring tears of joy but understanding the vacancy vortex it is important to the future our neighborhoods and to the overall well being of Buffalo. I hope you like it!


These West Side Houses are on the City Auction Block. (Quick Glance!)

I wanted to highlight a few west side houses in my neighborhood that are on the City of Buffalo In Rem Foreclosure Auction List. The auction is set for the end of October – it is about 3 weeks away!
There are literally thousands to choose from and many of them are true gems. For me, it is all about location and historic features. Location will determine your rehab budget, rent ability and return on investment – all things you should be thinking about before you buy.  Historic features such as clap board, unique doors, porches – those are important too!
Note – I would probably not by a vinyl victorian because of my dislike for vinyl siding – even if it was in a good location! (Unless clapboard was hiding underneath – that would be amazing!!) 
These three were found at just first glance by using google maps. They are in a great location – the fivepoints/mass ave area of the West Side – and easily walkable to Richmond and Elmwood. I bet these guys could be rehabbed quickly and would provide a great return on investment for whoever invests in them. Take a look!
You can read about Jason and I rehabbing our 2012 In Rem houses here.
455 W Ferry – Green & Yellow house, one block from Richmond.
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​394 West Ferry – Who doesn’t want a neat historic storefront?
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​346 Breckenridge – Simple, charming and in a pretty safe neighborhood!
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Buffalo: The Best Designed City !

I was one of the many folks who teared up last night while watching the premier of this film. The video highlights the some of the best parts of our city and provides aerial shots that are breathtaking.  The film covers our continued struggles with vacancies and declining neighborhoods but ends on a positive tone about how we are springing back and becoming great once again. Buffalo is a GREAT city to live, work and play and I am thankful to be a part of all of this amazing Buffalo madness. What an incredible video!!
Here’s the direct link to the video if you’d like to mention it in an email / tweet / facebook post.
You can also send people to the website, where the film is prominent and easy to view:


Photos By: Nate Peracciny

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Old Things.

Old Things.

Jason snapped this of me when we were in Albuquerque, NM in June 2013.
As many of you know, I like old things so this photo is a fun one to post. New Mexico is such a beautiful place – very red, brown and turquoise… all my favorite flavors of color. I picked up the best copper bracelet and beaded moccasins in Albuquerque – I just love the southwestern style. I would recommend checking it out sometime!

National Architectural Arts Center in St. Louis – A MUST SEE.

This week, Jason and I took a behind the scenes tour of the National Architectural Arts Center, also known as the  BUILDINGS MUSEUM (see link!) in St. Louis, MO.  I am still in complete awe on their extensive collection of building materials… I had to blog about this right away!

Imagine if we kept entire facades, unique building details and iconic pieces of almost every major demolition in Buffalo over the past 30 years.. this is what this demo contractor did in St. Louis!  He HAND CHISELED out every important piece – the terra cotta, brick, marble, stone..etc..  of every important building he could get his hands on and has it stored and now displayed in a foundry/warehouse just outside of St. Louis.

There are 1886 statues, hundreds of columns made out of all types of materials, slabs of slate, marble and granite, unique  lion faces, a terra cotta Jesus face, lots of unique bricks of all shapes and sizes, pieces of marble… all kinds of crazy amazing stuff! Over 125 cast iron store fronts!

It’s truly remarkable… must see.. totally worth the trip down there. St. Louis is very lucky to have such a dedicated person who has spent his entire life preserving these incredible pieces. Thanks to Michael R. Allen from Preservation Research Office for the incredible tour!

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About the National Architectural Arts Center
In 2005, the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation acquired the former Sterling Steel Casting foundry in Sauget, Illinois just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis. The 15-acre, 13-building facility is currently under renovation. Here, the Foundation is launching the National Architectural Arts Center, an unparalleled educational center housing our architectural artifacts collection and research library. The National Architectural Arts Center is envisioned as the nation’s premiere museum of architecture.

The Foundation owns large, unique collections of architectural artifacts and literature essential to its educational mission and crucial to the work of historians and scholars across the country. The Foundation’s artifact collection is the largest private collection in the United States and contains over 300,000 items. The Foundation also owns period working shops and production lines that will be used to demonstrate the process associated with the manufacturing of historic building materials, as well as the study and practice of materials conservation technology. The library encompasses an estimated quarter million rare and out of print books, periodicals, trade catalogs, historic photographs, drawings and other documents related to the building arts.

Through exhibits, tours, publications and other activities the Foundation engages the public on issues of architecture and design. Past exhibitions of Foundation artifacts have appeared at the Missouri Historical Society, Missouri Botanical Garden, Washington University, Sheldon Foundation for the Arts, the St. Louis University Art Museum, the First Street Forum and the Forum for Contemporary Art.

Outreach and Assistance
The Foundation provides assistance and advice to organizations, educational institutions, museums and government agencies that are undertaking preservation and conservation projects. Additionally, the Foundation aims to raise national awareness of St. Louis’ incredible architecture.

Preservation – 30 Years Ago!

While a bunch of us were cleaning out a house on the west side, we found this newspaper from 1984 laying in a pile of wood in the basement. It reads “Preservation District Called Bad Business for Downtown”. Take a look at the pic for the full read.

Finding this randomly really serves as a great reminder of what we do and why we do it. Without this preservation battle 30 years ago led by Sue and Joan, we would have lost the Webb building and so many others!


BYP Presents: Preservation Speed Dating! Monday, March 25th at 6-9pm.

Want to know how to get more involved with BYP?!!??!
Join us – Monday, March 25 – 6-9pm @ Sweetness & on Grant St.

We will be doing a “Speed dating” event where several key leaders of BYP will be giving “quick” short 5 min presentations about current & future initiatives that BYP is working on.
The goal is to “match”  YOUR skills and YOUR passions with the initiatives happening in YOUR community.

We hope you can make it. We need more people active doing cool things to save our grain elevators, historic theaters, churches and more.. and we have a lot of fun doing it! Jason, Dana, Danielle, Chris, Mark, Derek, Puma, myself and so many others will be speaking about things we are doing and things we want to do!

Email us at BYPTEAM@GMAIL.COM with questions.

Monday, March 25th. 6-9pm. Presentations start at 6:30pm! No beer… but lots of great yummy coffee and food to buy!


Trico Local Landmark Public Meeting – Tuesday at 2pm!!! Save Trico!

The day has come! Take off work! Cancel that meeting!
We need YOU to be at City Hall – 13th Floor Common Council chambers at 2pm on Tuesday, March 26th.

The common council legislative committee is hosting one public meeting before they decide on the fate of Trico’s local landmark status.

We need you there to show your support!
Why is this important??? If Trico becomes a local landmark, we will have more say in what happens to Trico (aka – your personal tax dollars). This gives us the right to have an open process about this nationally registered historic building.

Tuesday, March 26th. 2pm. Common Council Chambers.
Bring a friend, a co worker and a relative.



The Blissfully Ignorant in Buffalo

This is directly from the Preservation Exchange blog written by Derek King, a new Buffalonian who fell in love with Buffalo because of our buildings, people and unique spaces. This article is powerful. It gives hard facts and speaks volumes about the overall importance of preservation and the value it brings to our economy.

You can read it here or read it below.

The Blissfully Ignorant in Buffalo

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
-Aldous Huxley

You would think that Buffalo understands what is possible with preservation. You would think that with the successes of Shea’s Theatre, Hotel Lafayette, and Larkin Square, people would finally recognize that preservation is not the antithesis of progress. You would think that with so much wonderful architecture, Western New York would have some pride for the buildings that define this city.

You would think that, right?

A recent article on Buffalo Rising highlighted many of the region’s attitudes toward preservation, aired through comments on a WBEN Facebook Status that asked, “Do we try to save too much in this town?”

The response was overwhelmingly negative, and David Steele’s juxtaposition of the commenters’ callousness against photos depicting the city’s historic architecture is powerful and infuriating.

Photo Courtesy of The Buffalo News

It is infuriating not because of an “us/them” dynamic, but for the simple lack of informed opinions, replaced with vitriolic condemnation of preservationists as “stuck in the past,” or “stopping progress.” It is infuriating because it is not just an uninformed public, but elected officials like Lackawanna Mayor Geoff Szymanski, who allow local treasures to be destroyed and repeat the same misinformed ideas about preservation.

Rather than point any fingers however, preservationists should stop relying on emotional and ideological appeal to drive their argument. The historic nature and the aesthetic beauty of these buildings is clearly not enough to convince the people of Buffalo that its architecture is worth saving.

So, let’s lay out the facts: preservation IS progress.

Don’t believe me? Here are some points you may consider:

1) Historic Preservation Creates Jobs:
How many jobs does a demolition create? Would it create more work than a project that requires plumbers, electricians, carpenters, contractors, window specialists, roofers, and painters? Studies from around the country have proven that preservation related work creates more jobs than nearly any other industry in the country, including some of our nation’s staples. In Michigan, $1 million in building rehabilitation creates 12 more jobs than $1 million in car manufacturing. In West Virginia, that $1 million creates 20 more jobs than coal mining, and in Oklahoma, $1 million worth of building rehabilitation is 29 more jobs than pumping oil.

This is because labor accounts for 70% of the cost of historic rehabilitation. Unlike manufacturing, which can move its production to wherever a cheaper workforce is, historic preservation is limited to the labor near the buildings being rehabbed, meaning that a large portion of money spent on these projects stays within the community. Between 2009-2010, 145,000 jobs were created merely through rehabilitation projects that utilized tax credits, not even counting projects that did not pursue any federal assistance. Those same tax-credit deals have generated over $6.2 billion in income as well.

This invariably leads to one of the next most vocal complaints, that historic preservation is a “tax-payer money trap,” but, if we actually look at the numbers…

2) Historic rehabilitation tax credit programs actually increase tax revenue.
The same 2011 Rutger’s study found that between 2009 and 2010, Federal and State tax credit programs allocated $1.5 billion in tax credits, and received $1.6 billion in tax revenue.  Between 1978 and 2011, the federal government’s allocation of $23.4 billion in tax credits has resulted in $90.4 billion dollars in economic activity, creating over 2 million jobs the last three decades.

In 2011 alone, the historic tax credit program created 64,000 jobs, 23,000 of which were in construction and 15,000 of which were in manufacturing. The program lead to $1.2 billion of investment overall to construction, and $1 billion to manufacturing, accounting for $3.7 billion overall to the GDP, and $2.7 billion in income.

But, since this is a federal program, it must be bloated and inefficient, no? Well…

3) Historic preservation is one of the most effective economic development tools there is.
Dollar for dollar, no program is more efficient than historic preservation. Since 1981, 1,600 communities have revitalized their downtowns using “Main Street” principles of preserving historic nature of the neighborhood, investing $16.1 billion. The 89,000 building renovations led to 56,000 new businesses, and 227,000 new jobs, largely because every dollar of public investment lead to $40 of leverage for private funds (Federal and local funding help investors secure more loans from banks, who have more confidence in the financial tenability of the project). As a result, the amount of public investment per job created is only $2,500, compared to the $50,000-$100,000 for other publicly funded programs.

This efficiency goes right back to point #2: if the government subsidizes these programs, how can they be making profit? As a former Philadelphia Mayor Edward Randell noted however, “$1 million rehabilitation expenditure would cost the Treasury $200,000 in lost tax revenue, it would at the same time generate an estimated $779,478 in wages. Taxed at 28%, the investment would produce $218,254 in federal tax revenue.” Not only does it create jobs, but it actually increased total tax-revenue.

As many anti-preservationists say, “preservationists should put their money where there mouths are,” but I’ll take that one step further: municipalities should put more money into historic preservation funding, because…

4) Historic Preservation is Sound Public Policy
This is not just because of the aforementioned job-creation from downtown-revitalization projects, but because the current model of sprawling suburban neighborhoods, moving further away from the central core, and continuing to neglect our already-built housing stock, is unsustainable.

For many, “sustainable” has become a dirty word, associated with hybrid-driving hippies and hipsters, but it is not just environmental sustainability we should be concerned with, but economic sustainability. Did you know that new-construction actually contributes 31.5 million tons of construction waste annually? Often containing hazardous materials, this represents almost 24% of the country’s total municipal solid waste, and contributes to the shortage of available landfill. Disposal costs for construction and demolition in the Northeast now ranges between $60 and $140 per ton, and is even being shipped across the country to find available space.

Since 1950, the urbanized area around Buffalo and Niagara Falls has grown three-fold, but the population has remained the same. This is unsustainable growth, and the patterns around the country already show how this kind of development is harmful to public expenditure. Sprawl requires infrastructure, including roads, sewer and water, firehouses, and schools, and the Urban Land Institute estimates that the cost of suburban development is 40 to 400 times greater than compact urban development. The cost of roads around Baltimore will be in excess of $3.6 billion by 2020, and Minneapolis-St. Paul is expected to spend $3.1 billion on water and services by 2020.

There are many arguments for continuing the sprawl outwards, including that these houses will last longer than historic structures, but…

5) When it comes to life expectancy, energy efficiency, and cost-effectiveness, sometimes Old is better than New. 
The life expectancy of a new building is between 30 and 40 years. The hardiness of 100 year old buildings means, properly maintained, they will last at least that long, if not longer. Part of this is the stronger building materials, but it is also connected to better building practices, including load-bearing walls on the exterior rather than the interior of the building that carried a majority of the weight. Historic buildings often have thicker walls, not only making them more expensive to demolish, but actually giving them excellent thermal insulation.

Demolishing a historic building doesn’t make much sense, even it is being replaced with an environmentally friendly and energy efficient new build. The cost to demolish one 2-story masonry building in a Washington neighborhood is equal to the entire environmental benefit of 1,344,000 recycled aluminum cans, not to mention the landfill issue noted above that comes with it. Without demolition, a rehab project for a commercial building will cost between 12 percent less to 9 percentmore than a comparably sized-new build, but for a new-build with demolition, rehabs would cost between 3 and 16 percent less. Even when demolition costs are factored, they are often underestimated: the fact that a building is old does not mean that it will come down easily. These buildings were designed to last.

This post is merely an introduction to help clarify some of the glaring misinformation regarding historic preservation. These five points summarize a handful of ideas from Dovovan D. Rypkema’s book “The Economics of Historic Preservation. The book details 100 points in total, and I have excerpted quite liberally from points #1-14, 22, 39, and 81-84. Dozens of other sources repeat the same things, however, including Rutgers Third Annual “Economic Impact of the Federal Historic Tax Credit” report published in 2012. This post doesn’t even address the benefits for tourism, the misinformation regarding historic districts, or community participation, all of which make historic preservation even more important to consider.

The facts are out there, but more pertinent should be the examples around us. The rehabilitation of Hotel Lafayette has triggered a series of investments downtown, including this planned mixed-use adaptation of the Rand-Tishman building. The money pumped into the enormous Larkin Complex has lead to a thriving concert and event venue (Larkin Square will be hosting a St. Patrick’s Day event this Friday, March 15th) as well as precipitated the development of other buildings nearby, like 500 Seneca. The iconic Grain Elevators were the site of the inspirational and exciting City of Night last September, and have dozens of examples around the world of how they could be utilized.

The facts are there, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. Perhaps the same people who cheer when an iconic building gets destroyed simply don’t care what the facts say, preferring to be blissfully ignorant than accept that anything “old” could be a part of progress.

That choice is fine for someone commenting on a Facebook status, but not for elected officials who control the future of their cities and towns. Buffalo, Lackawanna, and Western New York deserve better leadership, because while it may be okay for internet commentators to continue living in ignorance, blissful as it may be, it is unfair to damage this region’s future when you don’t know the facts.

Written by Derek King, Architectural Historian at Preservation Studios.