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February 14, 2013 - 12:37pm

New Wiss supporters come forward, put pointed questions to trustees opposed to saving 200-year-old building

posted by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy, Wiss Hotel.

Louis Buono, top photo;
Chris and Chandy Kemp; Bill Kettle

Even Louis Buono thinks the Wiss Hotel building should be saved.

Buono owns the McDonald's franchise in the Village of Le Roy. Buono is concerned that tearing down the Wiss will hurt the character of the village and do nothing to bring more people downtown.

That outcome would hurt his business.

"I am the last person that wants empty storefronts, that’s for sure," Buono said. "I stare at them regularly and it is frustrating."

When speaking of the Le Roy, NY, LLC, Buono used the word "we" a lot and indicated he is planning to invest in restoration of the Wiss if the LLC can persuade at least one more village trustee to approve the sale of the building.

In all, five people who have never spoken up before on behalf of saving the Wiss spoke at the trustees' meeting Wednesday night.

Even Police Chief Chris Hayward, who never comments at village meetings about anything not directly related to the police department, had something to say.

Hayward doesn't favor apartments for the building -- there are enough apartments in Le Roy, he said -- but he doesn't understand why the LLC group isn't being given a chance to try and save the Wiss.

"When the mayor asked me back in March to stay on and not retire, part of our discussion was about what my motivations were for leaving and what would motivate me to stay," Hayward said. "One of the motivations I talked about for leaving was that in almost 30 years we’ve turned from a community that always worked together to get things done to a community that always looks for reason not to do things.

"Robbins Nest," he added, "we came up with reasons not to do it. The pool. We came up with reasons not to keep it open. I think we need to turn back into that community that looks for reasons to get these things done.  ... I just think we’re coming up with reasons not to do something that might have a positive impact on the community."

Another downtown property owner, Bill Kettle, said he thinks tearing down the Wiss would hurt the value of his own investment.

Kettle owns the buildings at 10 and 12 Main St. He said he's put a lot of money into restoration of those buildings and considers them the bookend -- with the Wiss being the other bookend -- to Main Street.

"My focus and concern with the Wiss is maintaining the character of Le Roy," Kettle said. "I’m very concerned about the Wiss being the fuse that will ignite a larger demolition of Main Street."

Mayor Greg Rogers, later in the meeting, pretty much confirmed what a lot of preservationists fear -- that once the Wiss goes, other buildings will be on the chopping block.

The Wiss property by itself is not big enough to attract a developer for the kind of new commercial construction that attracts investors.

“I’m not going to blow sunshine up your Kool-Aid," Rogers said. "It’s going to take more than one or two. It would take that whole corner. That parcel over there isn’t big enough for basically anything by itself."

Keeping the character of the village is also what brought Chris and Chandy Kemp to Wednesday's meeting.

The professional couple -- he's a math teacher in Rochester, she's an attorney in Buffalo -- moved to Le Roy because they were charmed by the village atmosphere.

Chris Kemp said he and his wife had never heard of Le Roy before a real estate agent drove them into town, heading east into the village on Route 5.

"We came in under the train trestle, and before that it was like, ‘yeah, whatever. It’s like Lancaster. Woopie freakin’ do,' and we came under it and, no lie, it was like the sun came out, the flowers were swaying, people were walking hand-in-hand up some kind of main street, which you can’t get anyplace else," Kemp said.

The village sold itself immediately to the couple and one of the first things they did was visit the Wiss for wings and hockey while a biker gang was hanging out there.

Both Chris and Chandy said that they worry tearing down the Wiss will start exactly the kind of domino effect described by Kettle.

"I don’t want to live in Generica," Chandy said. "I could have built a McMansion in a suburb anywhere in America. I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years. I don’t have to live here, but I want to and this is why: It’s the character. It’s the village. We don’t want to be where there’s some major development on every corner."

Many, many young professionals want to live in communities that are true communities and have character and charm, Chris Kemp said.

"We’re the people you want to have here," Chris said. "We’re the people who pay your taxes. We keep the place running. We’re the people with a little money, a little ambition, a little drive and a little common sense."

Bob Fussell Jr., spoke out, too. Of course, he said, he agrees with his dad, who is heading up the LLC effort.

"I think you would make a big mistake to tear that down," Fussell said. "I don’t want to see a Tim Horton's or some commercialized garbage sitting on that corner.  When I take my daughter on her bike down Main Street, I don’t want to take her by a Tim Horton's. I enjoy main street. I’ve lived here most of my life, and that’s just how I feel."

As the conversation became a little more free flowing, with some back-and-forth between citizens and board members, Chris Kemp and Louis Buono tried to draw out of the three trustees who oppose saving the Wiss just exactly what their thinking is.

Mike Tucci, Robert Taylor and Jim Bonacquisti, have all raised concerns about safety, the viability of saving the Wiss, and for Bonacquisti, the idea that the corner is "screaming out for retail."

Buono countered that once the LLC takes possession of the building, the safety issue is resolved. There is a contractor ready now to shore up the building and even install a fire wall, though it's questionable whether it's needed.

If safety was the issue for the three board members, he said, there would be a scaffolding and yellow tape around the building already.

Getting to the point of tearing down the building will take a lot longer than it would take the LLC to resolve the safety concerns, Buono said.

As for Bonacquisti's suggestion that the corner is "screaming out" for retail, well, Buono said, the LLC's plan includes retail on the first floor.

"It can't be safety," Buono said. "It can't be retail. The LLC takes care of both of those issues."

Kemp turned to asking trustees what they envision for the corner and Tucci said, "grass."

He said, "I see grass and picnic tables."

An idea Chris scoffed at, suggesting it wouldn't be used much with Trigon Park just down the street and Chandy noted a park there wouldn't generate tax revenue.

By the end of the meeting, neither Tucci nor Bonacquisti really answered the question of what their real objections are.

Tucci seemed to reject the idea that taking down the Wiss will lead to more buildings coming down.

"I’m not for demolishing Le Roy," Tucci said.

Taylor said he remains opposed to saving the Wiss because he doesn't believe it can be saved.

In a back and forth with Fussell Sr., Taylor admitted that he's previously said he's not an expert in construction and restoration. Fussell noted that all the experts who have looked at the building say it can be restored.

"It's just my personal opinion," Taylor said, "but I think it's the ugliest building I've ever seen."

Lisa Compton has been at every village meeting on the Wiss and supports the LLC, though she said she can't afford to invest. Just as Taylor hasn't been convinced by anything he's heard, nothing Taylor, Tucci and Bonacquisti have said changes her mind.

"I’m coming at it from a taxpayer," Compton said. "I just haven’t found a good enough reason to drop it. It makes good financial sense. I haven’t been persuaded, kind of like the other board members who are against it. I haven’t heard anything to persuade me yet that it's a bad idea."

Perhaps the most hopeful word for preservationists came at the end of the village board meeting.

Tucci said the idea of the LLC putting in office units upstairs instead of apartments appealed to him. A change in business plans could change his mind.

Taylor said he agreed with Tucci.

Lorie Longhany
Lorie Longhany's picture
Last seen: 2 years 10 months ago
Joined: May 2 2008 - 10:33pm

A new buzz word is 'repurpose'. It is part of a growing trend to save instead of throw out or destroy. I hope the trustees will see the value in that trend and allow LeRoy NY LLC to purchase, remodel and repurpose the Wiss Hotel.

Beth Kinsley
Beth Kinsley's picture
Last seen: 2 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Aug 22 2008 - 9:43pm

Grass and picnic tables? Really? It's a busy intersection. Not exactly where I'd want to have a picnic.

Dave Olsen
Dave Olsen's picture
Last seen: 6 hours 25 min ago
Joined: Oct 12 2008 - 11:48am

I was thinking the same thing Billie. Probably wouldn't be allowed to drink beer and smoke cigars there either. LOL

I mean Beth. sorry

Chad Zambito
Chad Zambito's picture
Last seen: 3 months 5 days ago
Joined: Jul 14 2010 - 1:30pm

Lost in this story is one of the greatest lines I have heard in local politics.

“I’m not going to blow sunshine up your Kool-Aid"


Douglas Hill
Douglas Hill's picture
Last seen: 4 years 1 month ago
Joined: Jan 27 2013 - 7:39am

This report on the Village Board meeting is the most encouraging yet for the future of The Wiss. I urge all village and town residents to call the Village Trustees, Jim Bonaquisti, Mike Tucci, Bob Taylor, Greg Rogers, and Jennifer Keyes and tell them what you'd like to see happen to The Wiss. Would you like it sold to a private concern, The Le Roy, NY LLC, who wants to make the building safe, to add busines to Main Street, and to pay property and sales taxes there or would you like to see the Village of Le Roy pay to have it torn down? Would you agree or disagree that more buildings will need to be bought and torn down on Main Street to allow enough space, along with the space now taken up by The Wiss, to accomodate a new larger development? Would say, approximately $9,400 a year paid in property taxes (as I understand the Industrial Development Agency pays the Village for Walgreen's property taxes) be something you'd like to see if there is to be a new development taking up the space where several Main Street buildings currently are? Would you like to see a park on The Wiss site, or would you like the village, if it has extra money for parks, to invest that money in our existing parks instead of tearing down The Wiss?

How much would you like the Village Board, village taxpayers, to spend to tear down The Wiss if demolition is what you'd like to see? Would spending $148,000 to $250,000 of your tax money on demolition be about right for you? How many years would it take for property taxes and sales taxes from a new development, where The Wiss is and several other buildings adjoining it are, take before the Village would recoup $148,000 to $250,000? And the alternative is for The Wiss to be taken off the Village's hands and renovated thus paying property and sales taxes once again, and the other stores not torn down continuing to pay their fair share. What do you want to see village and town residents, and village residents in particular? Please consider calling the Village Trustees and have your voices count. Thank you. Douglas Hill, Le Roy Village Resident

Brett DeKruger
Brett DeKruger's picture
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Nov 27 2012 - 8:34am

Has anyone actually knocked holes in walls and examined any of the structural framing? In my humble opinion an EXTENSIVE structural assesment should be done before anyone invests another dime. I would hope that Mr. Fussell and the others putting their own funds into saving the building had done this first, but I haven't heard of that happening. Now, I'm not talking about an architect walking around, looking, and saying things should be ok. I mean a REAL structural inspection. I see that the west facing wall is really starting to bow. Is it due to load bearing members failing, or is it that the facade is failing ? Is there water collecting in the basement? Are footings failing? Again, in my opinion only, these questions need answers before moving forward in either direction.

Dave Meyer
Dave Meyer's picture
Last seen: 3 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Feb 4 2009 - 5:37am

I live in Batavia, so I don't really have a horse in this race, but all any LeRoy resident would need to think about is Main St. in Batavia, before "urban renewal" and after.

We could still have a Main St with character like LeRoy has, but instead we have the 'mall'.

Lorie Longhany
Lorie Longhany's picture
Last seen: 2 years 10 months ago
Joined: May 2 2008 - 10:33pm

I totally agree with Chris Hayward's points about the pool, Robbins Nest and now The Wiss.

A friend of mine -- one of the newcomers who picked LeRoy -- has coined a phrase to describe the vocal naysayers -- he calls them "Community Killers".

He actually is pondering a move out of the community for this very reason. He explained to me that while he loves this community, he has the resources to move any where he wants and watching these issues play out has weighed heavily on him making a decision to leave.

kevin kretschmer
kevin kretschmer's picture
Last seen: 1 year 4 months ago
Joined: Jan 26 2010 - 9:32pm

I can't imagine why some on the Village Board are proceeding with caution.

"The Oatka Festival in Le Roy yesterday may have been the place for all the fun, but the former Creekside Inn -- soon to be the Creekside Tavern & Inn -- was where you heard all the buzz.........For those who think entrepreneurs won't invest in Genesee County, Farmer will have sunk more than $1 million into the project by the time the restaurant and tavern opens next spring."

It is now almost 3 springs later and the building still sits unfinished. The project was obviously bigger and vastly more expensive than he thought. Nope, I'm at a loss as to why every single person in LeRoy and the surrounding area isn't "buzzing" about plans to renovate the Wiss. .

Jason Crater
Jason Crater's picture
Last seen: 4 days 5 hours ago
Joined: Aug 25 2009 - 10:01am

I'll pass on the high fructose corn sunshine anyway.

Brett DeKruger
Brett DeKruger's picture
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Nov 27 2012 - 8:34am

I see that my comment above got 2 negative votes. I'd love to know, why ?????

Jason Crater
Jason Crater's picture
Last seen: 4 days 5 hours ago
Joined: Aug 25 2009 - 10:01am

you're not drinking the right koolaid. I think the appropriate mix is 1/3 sunny delight, 2/3 koolaid.

Joseph Langen
Joseph Langen's picture
Last seen: 1 year 2 months ago
Joined: Jun 23 2008 - 3:37pm

The Wiss controversy brings back fond memories of passing through Batavia on our frequent family trips between Dunkirk and Rochester. I begged to stop in the quaint downtown every time. It had a charm which fascinated me even as a young child. Later, when I came to live in Batavia, I found in place of the downtown slab walls which reminded me more of Attica prison than the town I remembered from my childhood.

Downtown Le Roy is now at a crossroads. We can return Main Street into the barren fields which existed before civilization arrived or we can revitalize our community center again giving Le Roy a focus for our life as citizens of Le Roy.

During my recent stay in Florida, I saw Punta Gorda rebuilt from the ground up after hurricane devistation. I also saw Old Englewood restored to honor the traditional way of life in Southwest Florida.

No one here has the money to build a new Le Roy. We can plow it under and hope for the best or we can preserve and enhance the charm strangers find here when they drive through our community. We have something special here which seems to have evaporated with the hustle and bustle of cities.

I know that long term residents of any community tend to lose awareness of what makes their surroundings special. Western New York residents fail to appreciate the wonders of Niagara Falls. New York City residents may never have been to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty.

We may not have landmarks on such a grand scale, but we do have the makings of a small community of which we can be again proud rather than one where we shake our heads and recall what once was.

Change always takes courage and the willingness to take chances. We should be glad that there is a group willing to work on restoring Le Roy. If you don't want to be part of it, at least get out of the way while others get to work.

Tom Frew
Tom Frew's picture
Last seen: 7 months 1 day ago
Joined: Nov 25 2009 - 12:26pm

It sounds to me like the LLC has gotten a reasonable level of support. Possibly people with enough colateral to support the project. The Village Board should accept the LLC's offer with a stipulation of a firm time drop dead date. If the LLC doesn't have their colateral in order to execute the project (ie have $1,000,000 in cash or service contributions) by a predetermined date, then demolition goes forward. I would think the village's counsel Larry Boylan and Bob Fussell could get their heads together and craft such an agreement that leaves space for the LLC to get their act in order or the Village pulls the plug and on with demo. I'd like to see the building saved, I think everyone would. There is the issue of safety. And we don't need another park (Bunnell, Pool, Trigon). Let's remember a park failed miserably next to the old Smoke Shop. Became a cluttered mess.

Is anyone with a bit of creativity thinking on this Village Board? And, LLC get your ducks in order quickly so you can execute. The clock continues to tick and nothing happens except bantering on the topic. Make this happen for the good of the community.

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