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May 10, 2010 - 11:04pm

Mancuso: Destruction of Wiard Plow building is set back for redevelopment

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, fire, Masse Gateway Project, Wiard Plow.

wiard_inside01.jpg

The destruction of one of the Wiard Plow buildings in a massive fire Saturday will have the Mancuso Business Development Group going back to the drafting table, said owner Tom Mancuso on Monday night.

The very structure that was destroyed, despite its deteriorated condition, was a key building in redevelopment plans, Mancuso said.

"There's a lot to sort out and I still haven't processed it all yet," Mancuso said. "We need to understand what steps we need to take. We'll need to take some time and re-evaluate the viability of redevelopment."

Mancuso and the City of Batavia received a grant from RestoreNY for the Masse Gateway Project last year, which is the first phase of redevelopment of the million-plus square feet of industrial buildings that encompass the Harvester Center, the Masse building and the Wiard Plow structures.

Masse Gateway is intended to open an attractive entryway, featuring renovated Masse buildings off of Masse Place, into the entire Masse-Harvester-Wiard complex.

While the fire won't disrupt the Masse Gateway plans, Mancuso said, the building that was destroyed would have been redeveloped as early as phase two, and certainly by phase three.

The building was included in a RestoreNY grant that was rejected by the state a few years ago, Mancuso said, stressing its importance to his redevelopment plans.

"Now we have to move forward," Mancuso said. "I just don't know as we speak what that looks like."

The Wiard Plow building loss was a stunning blow, Mancuso admitted. When the buildings were acquired by the Mancuso Group in the 1980s it was with the intention to eventually redevelop the property, he said.

Mancuso even turned down offers a few years ago from construction firms that wanted to recover the beams in the building. Those developers offered to take the building down at no cost just to remove the heavy timber, but Mancuso turned down those offers because redevelopment rather than destruction was the goal.

"We bought the building to keep it from being torn down, so it is hard," Mancuso said. "It's not the way we wanted to see it go."

As for the bricks, which some people have speculated have some value, he said those evaluations might be overstated, but he would certainly entertain purchase offers for the old masonry.

Even as he takes a look at the viability of redevelopment, Mancuso said he is hopeful there will be a way to move forward.

UPDATE: In a comment on another post, Dennis Wight posted a link to the Masse Swan Village planning document (PDF) available on the City of Batavia's Web site. It clearly shows that the building destroyed in the fire was not intended to be one of the buildings left standing in the renovated complex. When we spoke last night, Tom Mancuso said he was leaving town for a few days. I have, however, left messages for him. I'll try to clarify this issue with him the next time we can talk.

Photo: One of the last photos ever taken from inside the Wiard Plow factory. It was snapped by The Batavian following a 1:40 p.m. fire on Saturday -- six hours before the second, more destructive fire. For the other three final photos available, click here

Bea McManis
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I can see where this will set back the original plan, but the options are there. Make that area a greenspace, a park like setting where people can meet for lunch. I can see where the possibilities to make the area the keystone for social activity. Pave the park with the bricks, make planters with the bricks, use the bricks as part of the new scheme. Yes, it would have been nice to restore the building, but it is time to look ahead. If planning to make it that greenspace, but in keeping with the footprint of the original structure, why not build a pergola that would provide shade for those utilizing the space. Tom, I'm looking at the rubble and I see progress. I hope, as you process your options, you consider a greensapce.
John Roach
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Bea, Are you recommending that Mr. Mancuso pay taxes on a green space? Pure "green space" is nice, but as a place for people to sit and use as a park is going to cost him money for upkeep and liability insurance. Or are you suggesting he give the land to the City? Or that the City buy the land?
Bea McManis
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The taxes on a greenspace could be recovered by the businesses it would attract. Imagine an area surrounded by restaurants and shops easily accessed by those who work and/or shop - visit the area. Even an area with light industry needs a place that supports the needs of those who work there. I can see it as an asset that would pay for itself. John, I worked in an area that did a plaza in the middle of small shops, a few restaurants and even a gym. It was a pleasant place to spend a lunch hour. The businesses it supported ranged from a bank, to professional offices, light industry, retail stores, and it became THE place to go to look for home decor because of the small galleries that sprang up. The plaza/park was no bigger than the footprint left by the building that burned.
Bea McManis
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Bea, Are you recommending that Mr. Mancuso pay taxes on a green space? Pure "green space" is nice, but as a place for people to sit and use as a park is going to cost him money for upkeep and liability insurance. "The plan introduces separate structures of mixed-use light industrial, commercial and housing with an urban appeal and vibrancy that consists of lighting, pavement enhancements, pedestrian pathways, open space and streetscape amenities." It would seem that the urban appeal they hope to generate would be well served by a greenspace. Other private concerns have gone this route with great success and without the need of a city takeover of the land. I can't see why it can't be done here. Batavia Central Corridor Swan Masse Village Concept The project area consisted of over 40 acres of the Swan Masse Village between Swan Street and Harvester Avenue, vacant lands south of the railroad tracks to Colorado Avenue, and at the ends of Hall and Graham Streets. Also included are existing commercial properties between Hewett Place and Masse Place and lands north of the existing Mancuso Building along Harvester Avenue. Overall, the goal in this project area was to rejuvenate the Swan Masse Village, as it once was a renowned downtown industrial hub and “business incubator.” The plan introduces separate structures of mixed-use light industrial, commercial and housing with an urban appeal and vibrancy that consists of lighting, pavement enhancements, pedestrian pathways, open space and streetscape amenities. Central to the development was keeping the powerhouse intact for two important reasons: 1) to keep costs down by retaining the boiler system for the nearby structures that rely upon it 2) to strengthen the image as an industrial center as well as maintain the historical integrity and sense of place. Other historically significant structures to remain in the area are the Harvester Building, which includes the long, four-story, brick and masonry building along Harvester Avenue, and the two adjacent rear structures connected with a pedestrian crossover. Also to remain were the Mancuso Building and the two industrial structures, Batavia’s Prosthetics and Chrome Industries. These structures and businesses remain in use today. The existing brick structure that parallels the railroad tracks needs substantial renovation; it may retain most of its outward appearance but have numerous occupancies and partitions inside for leasable light industry space. The three brick buildings along Swan Street will also remain and may need substantial renovations. http://www.batavianewyork.com/new_forms/SwanMasseVillage.pdf
Karen Miconi
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The fire was a "Stunning Blow", Yah in the right direction. Just have to sit, and pray the insurance claim goes through. Very suspect, in my opinion. I hope the insurance company pulls out every stop to ensure this fire was not a set up, for financial gain.
Beth Kinsley
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Wow Karen. That's pretty harsh. Say what you will about the Mancusos but I don't think they're arsonists.
Bryant Tyson
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From teens to insurance it will be interesting on what the findings are. I was thinking maybe a fireperson or ex fireperson who has issues with the City Fire Dept. We'll just have to give them time to investigate.
Mark Potwora
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Sounds a little fishy..Way to go Dennis Wight...
Chris Charvella
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Gossip and speculation aren't good for anyone folks.
Bea McManis
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Stating that Tom Mancuso would pay to have his building torched for financial gain, without a shred of evidence to prove the point, could lead to defamation of character. Especially since we all use our own names on this site. If any of you have any solid leads as to how and why Tom would do this, then why haven't you gone to the police instead of making the accusation here?
Howard B. Owens
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It is worth noting that Tom's statement that construction firms offered to tear down the buildings at no charge in exchange for the heavy timber is a credible statement. The building material of old buildings are often highly sought for other restoration projects or by architects looking to re-create nostalgic looks.
Gabor Deutsch
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I do believe it was arson. I do not believe that it was a planned burn to collect insurance. When you are subjected to an insurance investigation you usually hire a professional arsonist that would have reduced that building to molten lava.
Mark Potwora
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I like Gabor do believe it was arson..I don't think Mr.Mancuso had it done...I don't believe that he ever intended to rehab that building..It was an eyesore and beyond repair..There has been a few other fires in the last couple of year that seemed questionable..Christina's and Paulie Pizza...This fire will just be another one...
Bea McManis
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Gabor and Mark, I think it was arson as well. But, the accusations flying on this site are over the top. If you look at the plan for the the rehab of that area, you will see that that building was one to be replaced. Financial gain could be realized by having the building razed, at no cost, by any number of companies that could salvage the material. As far as the other fires are concerned, I believe they said that the Pauly's Pizza fire was started by faulty electrical wires in the stairwell wall. I think it was also stated that faulty electrical was the cause of Christina's. Is it some perverse human nature thing to automatically think that every commercial fire is caused by some dubious action?
Bea McManis
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Posted by Karen Miconi on May 11, 2010 - 8:58am The fire was a "Stunning Blow", Yah in the right direction. Just have to sit, and pray the insurance claim goes through. Very suspect, in my opinion. I hope the insurance company pulls out every stop to ensure this fire was not a set up, for financial gain. Karen, who do you hope is "burned" by this? Just wondering.
C. M. Barons
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As pointed out in Howard's report on the initial fire, the building showed evidence of surreptitious use. Unfortunately vacant buildings have a tendency to become attractive nuisances.
Mary E DelPlato
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there are plenty more empty buildings that can be torched...it would add excitement to the echo I can hear from one end to the other...mmmmm vewy vewy suspiwous...
Mark Potwora
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Bea it was Mr.Mancuso that stated to Howard that it was to be part of the rebuilding of Masse Pl..Mancuso: Destruction of Wiard Plow building is set back for redevelopment.Why..If anything it should speed it up.. Mancuso even turned down offers a few years ago from construction firms that wanted to recover the beams in the building. Those developers offered to take the building down at no cost just to remove the heavy timber, but Mancuso turned down those offers because redevelopment rather than destruction was the goal. But yet the plans show that it be taken down..Which is it...Now that they have said it was arson,lets hope they catch these people..I find it hard to believe after the first fire in the afternoon,that the police didn't treat it as a crime scene and keep a closer eye on it until the fire dept could conduct their investigation..
Howard B. Owens
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Mark, I think the thought was after the first fire that the intent wasn't to burn down the building, but just somebody in there more or less playing with fire. There was no accelerant used in the first fire. There were those partially burned birthday candles sitting in the adjoining room. From all appearances the first fire was just kids screwing around. I say kids, because everybody I talk to acknowledges there's been a problem recently with teen-agers going into those buildings. Hindsight is 20/20, but I don't think anybody conceived of the idea that there was a dedicated arsonist intent on starting a big fire.
Bea McManis
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Mark, I understand that the building was set to be removed for the redevelopment. I don't want to be a pollyanna, but plans can change as the redevelopment project takes shape. Perhaps there was a change. I agree with Howard. I see kids playing around there all the time. It could very well be kids playing with fire, or a homeless person trying to get warm - hopefully we'll eventually find out.
Timothy Hens
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The plan linked from the City Web Site is a "conceptual" plan from 2005. Things have changed in the redevelopment. I have been involved in the process and the Wiard Bldg was not one scheduled to be demolished. Most of the demolition is focused around Masse Place as to create an entrance into the site. Shame on folks for throwing around accusations.
Bea McManis
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Posted by Timothy Hens on May 12, 2010 - 12:35am The plan linked from the City Web Site is a "conceptual" plan from 2005. Things have changed in the redevelopment. I have been involved in the process and the Wiard Bldg was not one scheduled to be demolished. Most of the demolition is focused around Masse Place as to create an entrance into the site. Shame on folks for throwing around accusations. Thank you, Tim. I agree 100%,
Howard B. Owens
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Thanks for the clarification, Tim. Tom Mancuso called me back yesterday, but I was in the courtroom and couldn't take his call. By the time I could get back to him, he wasn't available. We'll talk eventually.
John Roach
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Mark, Only commenting on the police. That was a wild day for them, with the wind storm. If there was no evidence at first of arson, but of vandalism, you have to cut them some slack. The police were running all over the city with wires and tree limbs down (some times whole trees) and traffic problems, while trying not to call in overtime.

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