Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

August 7, 2013

OUR VIEW: Kohl Cycle fire never should have happened

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The fire at the former Kohl Cycle building on Gooding Street was a disappointment on many accounts.

First, it's always upsetting to see a local landmark destroyed in the manner in which it was. Whether the fire was purposely set — as officials are inclined to believe — or a freak accident, it was an undignified death of the 140-year-old canal stone structure.

The City of Lockport took ownership of the Kohl building more than five years ago and had been seeking to demolish the building, which, to say the least, had seen better days. Standing in the city's way, however, was the state Historic Preservation Office, which has authority over municipalities’ plans for on old buildings.

From Albany, SHPO officials told the city that it couldn’t tear down the building based largely on age and location. They did so without close inspection and, apparently, without consideration to its condition or public safety. 

If the Kohl building were still privately owned, the owner would have been hounded and fined to the point of bankruptcy. But since the city owned it, it just sat, withering, a ghost of its former self. 

If the city had been allowed to demolish the building years ago, the property could be on its way to redevelopment today instead of being a pile of brick and ash. 

But some bureaucrat in Albany said no because, sight unseen, the building was deemed "historic" and valuable. 

If City Hall can’t fight City Hall, where does that leave the rest of us?

We're all for historic preservation, but at what cost? Fortunately, no one was hurt or killed in the fire or it would have certainly been a cost higher than we're willing to bear. 

There is one piece of good news in all of this. The city is aiming at saving as much of the old canal stone as possible, in hopes of using it in the future. That's not as good as the Kohl building deserved. But for now, it's what we've got.