There has been much discussion about the Wiss Hotel on the corner of Routes 19 & 5 in the Village of Le Roy for a few years, but lately the level of discussion has increased. As I did with the pool 2 years ago I would like to try to outline where we are at right now.
About 15-months ago the Village acquired the building known as the Wiss, including the two store fronts on Route 5 that lead up to the tattoo shop, Blood Money, Inc. We advertised it as make an offer and hoped to have the situation resolved (sell the building or demolish it) by one year after acquisition, November 2012. A few potential buyers have gone through it, but no offers were made.
As demolition appeared imminent in August 2012 a concerned group of local citizens put their money together to hire Rick Hauser, of In.Site :Architecture, an expert in the field of rehabilitation and revitalization, to go through the building to evaluate it and produce a feasibility study. He went through the building along with his associate, Mayor Rogers, Bob Fussell, representatives from the DPW, and me (Trustee Keys). Rick and his associate went through the entire building from the basement to and including on the roof. The first hand knowledge they acquired from going through the structure combined with some research conducted about surrounding properties allowed them to put together a feasibility study that first determined the building was worth saving, and second, that with about $1,000,000 in investment (in kind services, cash, and loans) it was likely to break even relatively quickly and turn a profit in a few years. Rick also made drawings of a restored Wiss, showing commercial establishments, and several gorgeous apartments, most 2 stories, taking up the second and third floors of the building. Because the report was favorable and people surfaced who said they would be willing to invest in the project – including Bryan Colton, a local owner of a company that restores buildings that suffer severe damage from fire and water and who will bring it back up to code - the group submitted an offer to purchase the Wiss on November 2, 2012. By this point the Village Board had been told that it would cost between $178,000 and $250,000 dollars to demolish the building, so the purchase offer was worth discussing and delayed decision.
The original offer included a $1 purchase price and request for a loan from the Village in the amount that would have been expended for demolition. There was a great deal of discussion around this and it was decided that tax payer money would not be loaned to anyone to do this. The group then came back with another offer 0n December 7 that excluded the loan from the Village and increased the amount to be raised by investors.
After the second offer was received Mayor Rogers put together a counter offer that was believed to be palatable to both the Village Board members and the group of people who wanted to purchase the building. At our January 9th Board meeting this offer died. By January 9th the Village Board had been presented with a written engineering report that was requested from Clark Patterson Lee after their engineer went through the building that in addition to outlining every detail that needs to be taken care of in order to stabilize the building, also stated that the building is “not in imminent danger of collapse” and stabilization with rehab is a legitimate option. Different interpretations of the report raised concerns over safety and by a vote of 3-2 it was decided that the Board should seek bids to demolish the building. In addition to the safety concerns, several board members wanted to see more action taken to make the LLC an officially recognized entity, and wanted $10,000 upon closing (rather than 1 year of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy).
As a result, before the January 23rd board meeting the group filed with the state and became a legally recognized LLC, Le Roy NY LLC, and submitted a new offer that set closing at on or before four months after acceptance of the offer, $10,000 upon closing, and no contingencies for anyone going on the roof prior to closing (which was part of previous discussions). The offer was submitted on January 23rd and discussed at the meeting, though no decisions were made as not everyone was present and we had not had time to review it in its entirety. At the same meeting a local businessman verbally offered $125,000 cash for the empty lot after the Village demolishes the building. This has subsequently been put into writing.
What we have before us now is an offer from a group of people who have leapt over every hurdle placed in their way and who have been negotiating transparently in the open with us for several months and gives the Village extra money to potentially use for safety concerns in other areas of the business district versus an offer that was recently made that requires the Village to first expend money to remove the building and does not break even versus tear it down without a plan. By the way the demolition bills keep racking up-we must first pay for an asbestos survey before we can put it out to bid for demolition. When combined with the verbal estimates prior to the survey we are now looking at about $182,000-$254,000 to demolish and we do not have an answer yet about the need for asbestos abatement.
There has been a great deal of discussion since the original offer was made by the group of people in November. The arguments against selling and for demolition have included; it is an “eye sore”, it is ugly, the corner needs to be fixed, why this building, why now, it is a hazard, it has no historical value, we have too many apartments, there is not enough parking, young people do not like old buildings, there are other buildings worth saving, what will happen when the LLC does not succeed. The arguments for selling have included; every building is worth saving as long as it is sturdy (especially on Main Street), it is a better economic deal for the Village tax payers (to sell), there is a group of people who have stepped up and already used their own money to get this far, it is time to stop demolishing Main Street.
I think it is important that people know that the Village is not able to fix the corner for truck traffic. It is owned by the State and that the DOT has been taking money away from our area of the state, so there is no guarantee that it will be addressed if the building is gone. In addition, there may be another way to address the problem that has not yet been discussed. The rest of the arguments against are really all a matter of personal opinion. For example, many people who look at the building see its beauty and what they can do to tie it into Main Street, such as painting the wood and adding cornices to match Bill Kettle’s building on the other end of the block.
At this point the bottom line may not even be the need to save old buildings, but to do what makes the most business sense for our community. One scenario makes us, in effect, $192,000-$264,000 when you combine the $10,000 purchase fee along with keeping the demolition and asbestos survey fees, the other two cost us money without a clear plan as to what to do next.
You are now up to date. I tried to stay brief. If you do not feel comfortable commenting/discussing in this open forum please feel free to email me privately at [email protected]. Thank you for taking the time to read this and discuss it. Your opinions are appreciated. As always, Howard Owens, thank you for hosting this blog.