US. Buffalo Developer seeks Erie Freight House remnants for brewery project

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A group led by developer Earl A. Ketry is interested in acquiring the remnants of the Erie Freight House and using them in a new building across the Buffalo River that would become a riverfront event center and brewery.

Ketry has been in negotiations with developer Samuel J. Savarino over a possible deal in which the nearly 150-year-old Erie Freight House would be torn down, with the timbers and other material from the building saved and used in the construction of a new building, likely on Ganson Street, on the other side of the Buffalo River.

“It’s a little premature,” Ketry said Wednesday after an event to promote tourism by marketing the downtown area as a Buffalo Brewery District – one or two of which could be located in the Erie Freight House. “There’s a lot of negotiations going on.”

Savarino Cos. and FFZ Holdings plan to knock down the crumbling Erie Freight House building along the Buffalo River and replace it with a $15 million project centered on a new five-story building with 48 riverfront apartments.

Savarino said he would like to be able to reach a deal that would allow Ketry and his partners to use the material from the Erie Freight House building as part of a new project. The two sides, however, have not been able to reach an agreement on the cost.

“Our goal is to try to save that property,” Ketry said. “The potential is to take it apart and put it back together.”

If a deal is reached, Savarino would end up paying Ketry and his partners, which include Jon M. Williams, chief executive of the OSC Group, a Buffalo construction and demolition firm, to tear down the building and allow them to use any of the materials in the construction of their new building. The two sides are about $200,000 apart, Savarino said. “The idea was to save whatever could be saved,” he said. “There’s scrap value and value in saving some of the timbers.”

Savarino’s proposal to demolish the Erie Freight House has raised the ire of preservationists, who say the metal-clad building, which dates to the 1860s, is the last surviving example of the type of freight house that played a key role in the city’s development as a hub for waterborne commerce.

Savarino has countered that the building, which incurred a partial roof collapse, has deteriorated too much to be worth saving and has lost much of its historic character through a series of alterations over the years.

Ketry declined to say where the Erie Freight House Event Center and Breweries would be built, other than to say it would be less than a quarter-mile from the freight house’s current location on Ohio Street.

Preliminary plans envision as many as two breweries on the site, which also would feature summer riverfront concerts, a kayak club and winter pond hockey leagues.

Doug Swift, a developer, preservationist and past president of the Roycroft Campus Corp., also has been working on the project with Ketry.

Savarino said he has not applied for a permit to demolish the building, although he has agreed to some modifications to his original plan to meet concerns of groups such as Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. As part of those changes, Savarino said he agreed to move the building 25 feet back from the Buffalo River.