The City of Buffalo has sued a Niagara Falls construction company and two surety bond insurers for failing to complete a city contract to restore and expand a historic Michigan Avenue building that is supposed to serve as the new home of WUFO Radio but remains unfinished.
According to documents filed in State Supreme Court in Erie County, city attorneys allege that Sicoli Construction Services Inc. was hired in 2021 to complete work on 509 Michigan Ave., next to the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor arch that spans the street.
Instead, two years later and more than 18 months after the work was supposed to wrap up, the project is only 20% complete, and the structure may have been damaged by a failure to properly shore up the building during a partial demolition.
“Sicoli did not perform its required work in a good and workmanlike manner, and did not properly shore or protect the job site, but carelessly and negligently performed the services required of it under the contract,” the lawsuit said. As a result, “the city will and has been compelled to expend money to cure the defects.”
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The city is accusing Sicoli, along with New York City-based Sompo International and Endurance Assurance Corp., of breach of contract, negligence and default, and is seeking to collect on a $1.56 million performance bond issued by the insurers.
Sicoli did not respond to requests for comment.
The legal battle illustrates a temporary setback in the city’s efforts to revitalize a historic property that it owns while supporting the growth of the heritage corridor, which is designed to highlight Black history and culture in Buffalo.
City officials had announced plans three years ago to renovate and rebuild the two-story brick building just south of the Michigan Street Baptist Church. The 1,100-square-foot former home was part of a stretch of historic Victorian and brick-front residences but was converted in the 1920s to a mixed-use building of first-floor retail and a home on the second floor.
The city – working with architects from Carmina Wood Design – planned to restore the storefront to its heyday, reconstruct the interior floors and construct an addition to the south that would enable them to re-create the original historic façade. The two main wings of the building would be connected in the rear, with a courtyard in front, so that it would have a 1,910-square-foot first floor and a 1,100-square-foot second floor.
After issuing a request-for-proposals in 2021, the city selected Vision Multi Media Group, parent of WUFO Radio, as its anchor tenant. And it selected Sicoli as the construction contractor in July 2021 following a public bidding process.
According to the lawsuit, terms of the $1.56 million contract called for Sicoli to furnish all the labor, services, materials and equipment, and to follow the contract documents, including the construction plans, specifications and drawings.
It was also responsible for “the design, provision and maintenance of shoring, bracing and structural supports as required to preserve stability and prevent movement, settlement or collapse of construction.” And it was responsible “for the means and methods of construction, as well as the inspection, maintenance, protection and securing of the job site, to ensure that no damage occurred due to their work or the work of their subcontractors.”
The city authorized Sicoli to proceed on Dec. 1, 2021, with expected completion by March 31, 2022. However, the work was not completed. A year later, Sicoli or a subcontractor tried to do partial demolition on Feb. 6, 2023, “without the proper shoring in place, potentially causing damage to that structure.” That damage “has not been addressed or repaired by Sicoli,” the lawsuit said
And while the city has asked the bond insurers to pay up, neither has done so.
Reach Jonathan D. Epstein at (716) 849-4478 or [email protected].