All the experts agree, as Bob Fussell pointed out Wednesday night, the Wiss is structurally sound, but that doesn't mean it's not on shaky ground.
Wednesday, the Village of Le Roy trustees took two key steps that all but guarantee the irreplaceable building's destruction. The board failed to vote on a motion to make a counteroffer for a group of local residents to buy the property and then passed a motion to seek requests for proposal to have the old hotel demolished.
"You're being given an opportunity to have this $250,000 -- maybe half a million -- headache taken off your shoulders and you're asking us to pay $10,000 to boot," Fussell said. "We're probably willing to pay you that $10,000 just because we care about the community.
"We're willing to do something for you that's a huge value and every expert who's looked at it said it's remediable, even Clark Patterson has said you can remediate that."
The reference to Clark Patterson goes back to a three-page letter trustees discussed to kick off the meeting. Trustee Robert Taylor, according to Mayor Greg Rogers, was concerned about the condition of the Wiss and asked engineers from Clark Patterson Lee Design Professionals in Rochester to inspect the building.
Their three-page report, as discussed by trustees, said the building is currently a danger to the public. Youths have trespassed on the property and there are several potential safety issues that need to be addressed immediately.
But as Trustee Jennifer Keys pointed out, the engineers didn't say the building needed to be demolished, and on a merely visual inspection, they found no structural defects.
A more thorough inspection might be required to find any serious problems.
Trustees Taylor, Jim Bonaquisti and Mike Tucci all seized on the report to call for the building's immediate destruction.
"Obviously, this report kind of opened my eyes to a lot of different things," Bonaquisti said.
He noted that his family once owned the building so he knows the roof has been leaking for 30 years and that there have been no tenants on the third floor, because of the leaks, for those three decades.
He said the report noted that youths have apparently been playing beer pong in the vacant building.
"A great concern of mine is that somebody is going to get hurt," Bonaquisti said. "Now there's talk of somebody signing a release from liability and going in and putting a tarp on the roof. Even though we might not be legally liable, it sure would not make me feel very good if somebody went in there and got hurt."
Taylor said one of the things he learned from the report that makes him more comfortable with tearing the Wiss down is that the neighboring building and the Wiss don't share a common wall, so destruction of the Wiss won't harm the other building.
"And the very last paragraph of the report says that some major structural problems may have eluded detection because of limited access to some areas of the building," Taylor said.
Tucci said the report, in his mind, cements the idea that the Wiss needs to be demolished.
"It needs to come down and it needs to come down now," he said. "The report talks about the danger it poses to life and proprty and the surrounding area. If we continue to let it sit there and collect snow that melts and freezes and does it all over again, it's putting the assets of the village at risk."
Fussell, an attorney with experience in liability law, was taken aback by the sudden concern over liability for the village by Bonaquisti, Taylor and Tucci.
If there was such a concern for the danger of the building, Fussell asked, how come the insurance company for the village hasn't been demanding a cover on the roof or a scaffolding around the building or otherwise pushed the village to ensure the safety of the building?
"We've put in a lot of money and a lot of effort to do something for this community and all of the sudden these bogeymen concerns about liability," Fussell said. "You know I know a lot about liability.
"I'm a trial lawyer. I've been doing it for 40 years. I know a great deal about it. I know that this baloney that you've got about liability is nothing more than that. I'll be very blunt in telling you that."
Former Mayor Jim DeLooze -- who owns a building on Main Street that he said he's invested $250,000 in -- said he's very concerned about the fire danger presented by the Wiss. The first fire wall on Main Street isn't until 60 Main St. The fire department said six years ago, it won't fight an interior fire in the Wiss, but will only fight it from the outside, according to DeLooze.
"The number one responsibility of you five people is the safety of the people of this community," DeLooze said at the start of his statement, and concluding, "I have a very big concern that if that thing ever did catch fire, my building is possibily going to be in danger also. So I'm asking you as a former mayor, please do the right thing and have the thing taken down as quickly as possible."
DeLooze also questioned the historical value of the Wiss, and fellow Main Street property owner Jack Hempfling questioned its esthetic value.
"Most of the younger generation I talk to would feel like Walgreens and the Bank of Castile are the best looking things on Main Street," Hempfling said. "They're certainly not historical, but they (replaced the) eyesores that were taken down. Regardless of what anybody is talking about doing with the Wiss, it's still going to be one of the remaining eyesores in Le Roy.
"They say they're caring for the community. Some of us would think caring for the community isn't keeping it looking like it was in the 1930s. Some of us would say caring for the community is bringing it down and widening the intersection."
Lisa Compton said that since talk of saving the Wiss made the news, it's drawn interest from members of the Genesee County Landmark Society and the NYS Landmark Society, that even a trustee in Bethany has expressed an interest in investing in the project.
While the Wiss itself isn't historical, the structure could play an important role -- and losing it could diminish the chances -- of declaring the village a historic district.
"It's a significant part of the district," Compton said.
Mayor Rogers said he was only looking at the Wiss as a business proposition, which is why he put considerable time into drafting a counterproposal for the LLC to purchase the building.
"While their vision for the Wiss Hotel is nowhere shape or form what mine is, but from what I'll call a business standpoint, we always hear from people who tell you what they can't do, but very seldom do you hear from people who tell you what they can do," Rogers said. "We have people here who are the latter, who are willing to take a chance, who have invested their own money already and, quite frankly, if successful, would save the village $200,000.
"I don't believe they are looking to renovate the building to have the building be the eyesore it is now," Rogers added. "If somebody were to look into the future and think that's their vision, just to have the doors open over there, I would like to think in no way shape or form that's the ideal they have coming."
Rogers' counteroffer included a specific timetable for the LLC to meet, such as being legally formed, securing financing, taking possession of the building, shoring up safety issues and beginning renovations, as well as paying the village $10,000 once a certificate of occupancy was issued.
One of Tucci's objections to the project was that he didn't think the LLC could successfully rent the apartments. Fussell said there would be more market research done before the final floor plan was completed and if the market couldn't sustain five more expensive apartments, then seven could be put into the space at a lower monthly rent. Rogers pointed out that what the LLC did with the building once it owned it wasn't really a matter of village business.
When he called for a motion to approve the counteroffer, Jennifer Keys made the motion, but there was no second, so it died for lack of support.
Talk of possible ground contaminates that could drive up the demolition costs, perhaps to $500,000, almost had Bonaquisti convinced to back the sale to the LLC, but others pointed out that there is no evidence of ground contaminates under the Wiss.
With the counteroffer killed, Tucci made a motion to have the building demolished. This was amended to see requests for proposal to find out exactly how much it would cost the village to tear down the Wiss.
This motion passed 3-2, backed by Tucci, Taylor and Bonaquisti.
Photo: Bob Fussell.