New offer from LLC to purchase Wiss Hotel meets renewed opposition to preservation
Preservationists in Le Roy are making a last-ditch effort to save the Wiss Hotel building at the corner of Lake Street and Main Street, the gateway into the village.
Trustees gave Wiss Hotel supporters very little reason to believe during the course of Wednesday night's village hall meeting that they will accept this new offer.
"I'll reserve judgment until I read the proposal, but I have a mind right now that it needs to come down," Trustee Robert Taylor said.
Only Trustee Jennifer Keys is clearly a supporter of preservation and Trustee Jim Bonacquisti, who two weeks ago almost wavered on his opposition to saving the Wiss, came out strongly in favor of getting rid of the building.
Trustee Mike Tucci, who was adamant two weeks ago that the building come down, was absent.
Mayor Greg Rogers said this week, as he did two weeks ago, that accepting the offer is a sound business decision, but once again expressed a level of disagreement with the idea that the building should be saved.
Rogers said the board will discuss the offer in closed session at a time when all five members are present and vote on it publicly afterward.
Attorney Bob Fussell, who has been leading the citizen effort, told village trustees last night that the new offer addresses some of the apparent objections raised two weeks ago, when trustees failed to adopt a proposed counteroffer to the group.
The key points:
- There is now officially a Le Roy LLC;
- The group would pay $10,000 to the village at the close of escrow;
- The time line for taking over the building and ensuring its safety is accelerated.
Even with these changes, a number of residents who attended last evening's meeting raised objections to the trustees selling the property to the LLC.
"We’re sitting here waiting for somebody to really get hurt, and the liability you’re going to incur is going to be a hell of a lot more then the cost of tearing it down," Jim Nielsen told the board.
Later in the meeting, Fussell countered Nielsen, noting that it won't be possible for the village to get the building demolished any faster than the LLC could take it over.
Resident Tom Spadaro offered $125,000 on the spot for the Wiss lot once the building is down and the hole is filled in. He said the lot is worth at least $250,000.
New estimates for tearing the building down range from $146,000 to more than $200,000, but it's unclear if that includes any liability for asbestos abatement or any possible contamination remediation.
Rogers said if the building is torn down, the village will actively seek a buyer for the lot at a market rate, even if takes a couple of years to find such a buyer.
"If we go through with taking it down, we're going to sell it and try to come out ahead," Rogers said.
Residents in opposition called the Wiss an eyesore, dangerous and a fire trap.
Eve Hens, who owns the adjoining building and has residential tenants, said she's constantly in fear of a fire at the Wiss.
"It scares the heck out of me that if there’s a fire in that building it could travel not only into our building, but all the way down Main Street," Heus said.
She called destruction of the Wiss an "urgent issue."
(CLARIFICATION: Possibly because of my misunderstanding, but Hens e-mailed to say that she isn't opposed to saving the Wiss, just that something must be done immediately because of the fire danger, whether it's demolition or restoration; it's an urgent issue.)
Fire Chief Tom Wood agreed it's an urgent issue, and stressed that something be done. But whether that means tearing it down or restoring it, isn't an issue the fire department takes a position on.
“There’s no possible way I can justify putting guys into this building during a fire situation," Wood said. "Absolutely not. Somebody would get hurt. I hate to say this, I would be lucky to save two building (if there was a fire). This building needs to be torn down or something needs to be done with it right away. We’re dragging our feet. Something has to be done either way you go."
Bonacquisti said he's done some research since the last meeting, and in reaction to those who called construction of the Walgreens in the village a mistake, he noted that the former buildings at that location generated only $4,3100 in
sales tax revenue in their final year, whereas last fiscal year, Walgreens generated $9,400 in sales tax.
The store employs 23 people, including 16 Le Roy residents, he said.
People don't move to Le Roy, he said, just because of a beautiful village. They also like the fact that Le Roy is affordable, it is safe and it has good schools, and he considers Walgreens one of the village's businesses as well.
"I do a lot of my business here and I'll tell you, you won't find better customer service than Walgreens," Bonacquisti said. "I know profits go up the corporate chimney, that was a statement that was made, but that’s not a concern of mine. We’re making money here and people are working there."
For preservationists, destruction of the Wiss is more symbolic than a matter of saving a historic or elegant building, which nobody claims as descriptions of the Wiss.
"When demolition becomes the easy way out, we may be looking into a future that does not include a business district at all," wrote Lorie Longhany, who could not attend the meeting, in an e-mail to Fussell. "A building here, another one over there and the historic nature of this community is gone forever."
Doug Hill said tearing down the Wiss could just unleash a domino effect that would eviscerate the business district.
“When you take that building down, then you’re talking about the building next to it and the building next to that," Hill said. "That’s where you are going to change this whole community. Not with tearing down the Wiss, but the fact that the Wiss property is not big enough probably to develop and you’re going to be going to the next building and the next building and tearing down.
"Pretty soon this is not going to look like a community that is attractive to live here. It’s not going to be historic any more. It’s going to look like off Mount Read Boulevard in Greece."
Candace Bower said her family goes back in Le Roy for 200 years and she for one thinks it's time for Le Roy to stop destroying its heritage.
“We need to stop wringing our hands and putting up more what ifs in the way," She said. "Just dream. This board can be the group that finally decided to look to the future of this village and see what it can be if we dare to dream.”
It's also just practical to save the Wiss, some preservationists argued.
Lisa Compton cited studies that show density equals greater economic benefit to a community.
Terry Keys, husband of Trustee Jennifer Keys, said that once the Wiss is gone, it can't be brought back and the LLC is the only group that has come forward with any kind of plan to do something productive with the building.
"The issue is are we willing to write a check and wait to see what happens or are we willing to take a check and watch what happens?" Terry Keys said.
Dennis Melander said he was initially opposed to saving the Wiss, but after reading Rick Hauser's report, he realized saving the Wiss isn't just a pipe dream, but a practical response to a real problem.
"I would object to any taxpayer money being used on demolition when you have a viable offer right here to take it off your hands and save the cost of the demolition," Melander said.
Fussell said that Hauser has estimated saving the Wiss will cost the LLC $400,000 and he already has verbal commitments for $200,000.
“There are people who are interested," Fussell said. "We may not be able to get it for a week, we may not be able to get it in a month, I don’t know. We may not be able to get it at all. But we’re already half way there.”
Hey, when you get done tearing down that whole block of buildings, maybe Batavia will sell you their mall plans so you can recreate that there.
* never a Club Member
I feel compelled to add a cautionary note for those who think that the Village can somehow make a profit by demolishing the Wiss, and then selling the land for development.
The Village has never successfully engaged in land speculation, profit seeking or progressive projects. I wish to remind you of the sewer plant and its unintended costs, the compost plant and its unintended costs, the water plant and the Le Roy Reservoir and their unintended costs and, of course, the Jello Plant and its unintended costs. These adventures are central to the debt burden that the Village carries to this very day.
While I have my doubts about the ability of Le Roy New York, LLC to turn the Wiss into a successful venture, I believe that it has a significantly greater chance of doing so than the Village does.
The example of Perry NY, LLC is something that I have a personal experience of, and I support. Perry New York, LLC has managed to return small businesses and residential rental units worth living in to the downtown community in Perry.
This is much like the Matla's renovated apartments on Main Street over the theater. They made them desirable places to live and attracted good tenants. Perry New York, LLC has similarly renewed the housing stock and commercial spaces on South Main Street in Perry.
I would ask the Trustees to consider the history of the Village, and its failures, before deciding that it can somehow "do it right" this time. It is better to let a group of committed, and invested, people give this a go rather than decide that you know best how to handle this just because you have access to the Village's tax dollars and bonding authority.
Over the years, I have been asked numerous times, by motorists that I had stopped, what the correctional facility a few miles back was called. At first I was confused, but I quickly figured it out: They had just passed through Batavia and had seen the mall on Main Street and assumed it was a prison...
Modern Architecture (Circa 1970) was a lifeless thing.
As an owner of a couple downtown properties in Le Roy, I am supportive of the LLC concept, but I think the timing is wrong on this venture.
The business owners on Main Street have been waiting three years for something to happen with this eyesore. Now at the eleventh hour the LLC steps in. The proposed rehabilitation plan may or may not work, but it will definitely add to the time where nothing gets done, further exposing all of Main St to possible damage.
I would like to know why the group first made their proposal in November, but have just now formed LeRoy LLC? Forming an LLC is a quick and simple process that is affordable and has no risk if nothing comes of it. I'd also like to know why the LLC has yet to approach the GCEDC with their business plan--especially since a property tax abatement is one of the core components to their business plan? The business plan required lending $400,000--has the plan been shown to any lending institutions? These are all processes that can consume significant time. We are going on four months since the original concept and we still have no more backup to the plan other than hope and trust. Why not get some answers to flesh out the assumptions made in the plan?
It seems to make sense to me that the Village could make a much more informed decision with these items answered. It would also give the LLC an idea whether or not their plan is viable as established or whether it needs to be adjusted in some way.
Re: Mr. Hens' comment
Why now? We have talked about this previously (see the time line in the comments section of an earlier Batavian article on the Wiss). All the people, information and tools came together how it did. It is also hard to get things done quickly when you have to wait every two weeks for something to happen. Even the bids for demolition will not even be opened until (late?) February.
Despite the plan for rehab not being developed earlier, it has been confirmed by that it is still not too late physically and financially for a successful project. We still think it a good plan and fiscally responsible. There were discussions with both banks and GCEDC back in September of last year. We wouldn't have gone ahead if there was no indication of securing needed funding. The LLC was not registered, because why waste money (even if it is a small amount) on it if the Village would not go for the idea? It seemed to be an issue, so it was registered.
Now all we really need is the political will. I truly believe the group can work very quickly to have things come together. There are a lot of people waiting in the wings for the go-ahead.
The Hens' are the ones that have suffered the most because of the condition of the Wiss building. It is much more than an eyesore to them. Personally, I believe that the Village was/is negligent for not securing and weather proofing the building better after it came into their possession. I realize it was seriously deteriorated by that time, but they still could've done a variety of things to mitigate impacts on the property next door. They still can now. (I would like to stress that this part reflects my personal thoughts, and this particular opinion has not been voiced within the LLC group).
With that being said, however, one of the potential investors has offered to try to solve some of the water problems by covering the roof properly, but the majority of the Village trustees will not allow it, even with a release of liability. There have been discussions within the LLC group to how to quickly go in and protect both the Wiss and the neighboring building from further damage if the Village accepts the LLC's offer.
Another couple of things I would like to speak to are in Howard's article.
First, I think it is a little too simplified and maybe a bit misleading to divide opinions into "preservationists" and "others opposed to preservation". The issue is more complex. Sure, some support the effort because they like old buildings, traditional Main Streets,etc, but others support the community LLC plan because it is a fiscally responsible, business friendly, environmentally responsible opportunity that goes along with the Village's comprehensive plan (or at least past plans). Some people go along with it because it is not a known entity and not some vague promise of a lucrative sale to some unnamed corporation. Some people like it because it is a locally directed effort.
The second thing I would like to comment on was Trustee Bonacquisti's comments on his "research" regarding taxes, and the nature of complaints about the Walgreens drugstore.
There was an interesting study done that showed a surprising result regarding taxes on different types of commercial development that I found out about through our County Planning office. The results of this study looked like it was an even greater reason to support the Wiss rehab plan. I sent this information to the Mayor as I think it is important for everyone to have the most information they can.
For some reason, it appears it was shared with Mr. Bonacquisti and he thought it was some kind of an attack on the decision regarding the Walgreen's. The Walgreen's is not a good example of comparison in this study, because you really have to compare "apples to apples" (commercial to commercial). The Walgreen's project is very large, and replaced a number of residential properties. It was not just the small 'block' on the corner. Residential properties do not get taxed at the same rate as commercial properties. So, really, the comparison cannot be made there.
The Wiss, however, is part of a block of commercial buildings and the situation lends itself very well to the example. I do think it is another reason to support the rehab. I do not know if Mr. Bonacquisti did not understand the analysis, or he was trying to manipulate statistics.
The other thing I thought he misrepresented was the opinion of some residents to the Walgreen's. He said people said that Walgreen's "was a bad idea". I have not really heard this so much. Yes, There are some who have stong feelings about local dollars staying in the community and local control. Mostly though, what I have heard is that the business per-se is ok, but that there were some aspects that people didn't like and made them angry or disappointed. I heard one woman speak at a meeting that said she had been part of a group that had worked hard on zoning design guidelines for the Main Street area, and these design guidelines were ignored for Walgreen's. Some people have expressed sadness about that a very beautiful house was destroyed for the project. But the majority of complaints I have heard reflect the woman at the meeting: that the project didn't try to 'fit in' with the look of Main Street - that has a more suburban/Henrietta look. I agree with this. It could've been a more thoughtful design. They don't think Walgreen's as a business was right or wrong, just that it could've been more 'right'. So perhaps this Trustee hasn't really been listening to what people say at meetings, or he hangs around with a crowd who doesn't like the drug store.
Oops. Two typos in my last loooong comment:
"Some people go along with it because it is not a known entity and not some vague promise".
- Make that - "Some people go along with it because it IS a known entity and not some vague promise"
"For some reason, it appears it was shared with Mr. Bonacquisti and he thought it was some kind of an attack"
Replace it with - "It appears it was shared with Mr. Bonacquisti, and it seems for some reason he thought it was an attack" (I would expect the Mayor to share this information!
Proofreading is good. I should do it more often.
Very ironic, as I parked my car in the lot at walgreens, picking up my mother's prescriptions, that an 18 wheeler, westbound on rt 5, attempted to turn right(north) on rt 19. He got caught up on the curb, and disrupted traffic. There was a trooper nearby, and he had to stop traffic to allow this truck to maneuver through that intersection. That corner needs to be redesigned to accomodate the level and type of traffic it will process. As much as I respect what Mr. Spadaro has done for Leroy, I would rather the village retain rights to that corner and fix the traffic issues. Once the intersection is completed, then figure out what to do with that corner.
Sounds like this is call for a traffic circle!!!!
Wow a future traffic circle and a mall next to a chain drug store.
Leroy will finally be on the map. Maybe Walmart will be so jealous and start their bandwagon up again.
* never a Club Member