H. H. Richardson towers

Richardson Master Planning Process Under Way

Howard A. Zemsky, vice chair of the Buffalo State College Council and the Richardson Center Corporation (RCC), addressed the College Senate on February 13, along with Alex Krieger, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a co-founding principal of architecture and urban design firm Chan Krieger Sieniewicz. Their topic was the historic Richardson Olmsted Complex adjacent to the campus, on the south side of Rockwell Road.

Zemsky and Krieger, whose firm is one of eight working on the master plan currently in progress for the complex, discussed several current proposals and plans. For example, the administration building of the complex—marked by the twin towers that dominate its skyline—would house the architecture and visitors’ centers. Another proposal is to convert some or all 100,000 square feet of the buildings immediately adjacent to the administration building to a boutique hotel, with the lobby in the administration center.

Zemsky emphasized that the RCC is basing its work on fundamental research and extensive input from all interested parties—community groups, the college, Elmwood Village, the Grant-Ferry business district, and individuals—which has been solicited through public meetings held regularly since 2007.

Krieger told the Senate, “We would like your input and ideas.… Portions of this complex…can be used for educational, research, [and] academic purposes, especially to your growing hospitality program.”

Zemsky noted that the RCC does not yet own the land on which the complex stands, although it is charged by the state with developing the Richardson buildings and anticipates eventual acquisition of the land. The land belongs to the New York State Office of Mental Health, which designated it as surplus in 1997 and proposed selling it off, along with the historic state psychiatric hospital designed by America’s first architect to gain international acclaim, Henry Hobson Richardson. It is the largest example of his distinctive style.

Because of the site’s historic significance, preservationists sought to save Richardson’s buildings. Apart from a relatively minor effort to stabilize the complex’s deterioration, no significant progress occurred until January 2006. When the property for the Burchfield Penney Art Center was transferred in 2002, there was talk of the college’s acquiring the entire parcel of land, but that acquisition never took place.

In January 2006, the Buffalo News announced that a deal had been reached divvying up $100 million from the state: $76.5 million was designated for the Richardson complex; the new Burchfield Penney Art Center received $16.5 million; and the remainder supported the Darwin D. Martin House restoration. With money finally available, the Richardson Center Corporation (RCC) was formed, and President Muriel A. Howard was appointed to its board by then-Gov. George Pataki, bringing “a unique perspective in exploring the synergy between the community’s preservation and reuse efforts.”

The RCC is charged with guiding the rehabilitation of the National Historic Landmark H. H. Richardson Complex, envisioning it as “the crowning jewel of a mixed-use, multipurpose civic campus.”

The RCC promptly developed a 264-page document to be reviewed by the Urban Land Institute, which visited the complex in May 2007. That summer, the RCC hired Goody Clancy, a Boston-based architectural firm, to prepare the “Richardson Olmsted Complex Historic Structures Report.” The report laid the groundwork for the current phase: developing a master plan.

As part of the master planning process, an active community advisory group was formed that includes representatives from the adjacent neighborhoods, business districts, cultural institutions, Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and Buffalo State College.

The RCC continues to seek input, and invites comments at its Web site. Interested parties can sign up to be informed of upcoming meetings.