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Letter from Bob Fussell regarding the Wiss Hotel building

By Howard B. Owens

Submitted by Bob Fussell:

It’s a mystery.

On 3-13-13 three trustees voted “no” to sell the Wiss Hotel to the Le Roy LLC for $10,000, and “yes” to pay a Grand Island demolition company $132,000 to destroy the building. The Board also paid almost $4,000 for an asbestos removal study, and will pay between $5,000 and $10,000 more to another company to monitor the air quality during the demolition, making a hit to the taxpayers of at least $151,000, and that’s only what they’ve committed to spend so far.

But it seems that only those three know why they cast those votes. (One of the “no” voters is a member of the Conservative Party, and another is a Republican - parties that say they strongly oppose spending taxpayer dollars.)

One of the three said, about his community, “we’ve gotten better” after other Village buildings were demolished. But, he didn’t tell us if Village taxpayer paid for those demolitions, or present any proof that Le Roy actually got “better” because of the demolitions.

Many Le Royans disagree with that trustee. They believe the demolition of those older buildings is, instead, directly related to our economic decline that’s been spiraling downward at an ever-increasing rate over the last 50 years. This decline, many believe, began decades ago when a mansion was demolished and replaced with what is now Save A Lot.

All three of the “no” voters said they gave the issue “a lot of thought” -- one claiming he “lost sleep over it.” Others claimed they spoke to a lot of “people” about the issue.

But what “people” did they talk to? And, what expertise and knowledge did these people have that convinced the three to vote to demolish?

Taxpayers don’t know the answers to those important questions because the three won’t answer them. (I specifically asked them and they refused to disclose the names of the people they spoke to, as if they were members of a secret club, instead of elected officials in a free and open democracy. I asked them to tell me who they spoke to, because all three admitted they aren’t experts in demolition or rehabilitation, so they had to get their knowledge and information from others.)

All three admit they “respect” the “hard work” done by the LLC. But, of course, that’s because the LLC earned their respect by doing much hard work, such as:

Hiring an outstanding architect to do a study to answer important questions, such as  - (1) Is the structure of the Wiss too far gone to save? And (2) Can the restored building be profitable for investors?

That architect, Rick Hauser, could be the best person in Western New York to answer those questions. He not only obtained a master's degree in architecture from one of the top three architectural schools in America, the University of Virginia, after graduating from Cornell, and teaching architecture at Hobart University, but also, most importantly, has rehabbed buildings that were in much worse condition than the Wiss, and did it in a way that revitalized communities.

Former Le Roy mayor Jim DeLoose said in a comment on The Batavian that, “Le Roy has a very low-median income …. What a developer is willing to spend in Le Roy is much different than what they’re willing to spend in Fairport where the median income is approximately 3 times that of Le Roy’s.” This is an admission that Le Roy has reached such a sorry state of financial decline, that we can’t stand up to Walgreens and get it to construct an architecturally appealing building in our community –the kind of pharmacy stronger communities would require it to build. Our squat WALGREENS building, with its huge, bright neon signs, tells potential newcomers that Le Roy is too weak and poor to have an attractive pharmacy and encourages people, who might otherwise want to live, and pay taxes in Le Roy, to move elsewhere. (I doubt that Fairport’s median income was 3 times that of Le Roy’s in the past. If so, why has Le Roy declined while Fairport prospered? Is it possible that Fairport is better managed than Le Roy?)

And despite what some Le Royans claim, Mr. Hauser doesn’t need the Wiss, or Le Roy, to make a fine living. He’s got plenty of work elsewhere. Unfortunately for Le Roy, we need Rick Hauser, much more that Rick Hauser needs Le Roy.

After conducting his study, Mr. Hauser answered "no" to the first question the LLC asked him and "yes" to the second, so the LLC moved forward in its attempt to save, not just the Wiss, but Le Roy itself.

The LLC then consulted four highly respected local contractors, to investigate the issue -- Joe Condidorio, of Whitney East, Jerry McCoullough, of Ryan, Bryan Colton, of Master Care, and Jim Sickles, of Sickles Corporation. All investigated and agreed the project was doable, and showed interest in the restoration project.

The LLC also prompted research into the question of the owner of the land where the Wiss is located and learned that the State owns part of it, and that once the Wiss is demolished the size of the portion of land left for the construction of a new building will be smaller.

When the LLC asked the architect and contractors what it would cost to rebuild the Wiss after it was demolished, they said it would cost much more because, even though the building is a filthy, moldy mess, the building’s “shell” is still intact, meaning the new (smaller) building would have to be rebuilt from scratch. One contractor said that about 25% of the rehab work is already completed, because the foundation, and the rest of its shell are sound and straight.

One of the three “no” voters said he hopes the community can “respect” their decisions.

But respect is earned, and it takes more than just “thinking” and “talking” to unnamed “people” to earn the respect of the taxpayers – those who will ultimately pay the upcoming huge bills.

Maybe if the three would give us details of the “work” they performed before deciding to cast their “no” votes, they might earn respect.

Maybe if they told us, for example –

  • What studies they relied upon when making their decision? (The Village engineers did a study, but that study doesn’t help them, because it concluded the building can be restored.)
  • The names of the “people” they talked to?
  • The backgrounds these “people” have in building restoration and/or community revitalization?
  • The studies these “people” conducted on the Wiss building, or on the economic condition of Le Roy?
  • The biases or prejudices these “people” might have about the restoration plan?
  • Any agendas any of these “people” might have that led them to hope to make sweet profits for themselves after taxpayers pick up the demolition tab for them?
  • Any facts showing these “people” had no confidence in Le Royans to restore the Wiss. “People” who believe Le Royans aren’t smart, driven or community-minded enough to take care of themselves or their community. ”People” who instead, hope a “Big Brother” corporate power from far away will save us. (“Corporations, who, of course, care only about enriching themselves while impoverishing us -- that is by whisking money out of local pockets and slipping it into their faraway pockets.)

Just think –What if the three “no” voters worked for an independent businessman (instead of the taxpayers of our community) whose building was in serious need of repair and had the choice of accepting an offer to sell it for $10,000 or spending a bare minimum of $151,000, to demolish it. And this boss trusted the three to study the question, and to make the right decision. And what if the three came back to him several months later reporting only that they had, “thought about it to the point of losing sleep” and had talked to a lot of “people” and that based on this thinking and talking they rejected the offer to sell, and signed a contract to pay $141,000 of the boss’s money to destroy the building. And when the boss asked the three to tell him the names and qualifications of the people they spoke to before making their decision, the three refused, claiming the names were confidential. How, do you think that boss would react?

In this case, we taxpayers are the bosses of those three. What should we do with them?

It’s great that Le Royans are very concerned about their History.
But, don’t you think it's time we get as involved in our future as we are in our past?

Tim Miller

Maybe we have a case of "Dueling Boards" going on - with Le Roy and Corfu combating to claim the "Most Dysfunctional Governmental Body in Genesee County" prize.

Apr 14, 2013, 3:27pm Permalink
Timothy Hens

Pretty sure the decline of Le Roy did not start with the demolition of a mansion. I think a more likely culprit was the evaporation of the manufacturing base that once supported the community. The current downward spiral is driven by a decreasing tax base that has created what amounts to one of the highest property tax rates in the United States; as well as the price of gas which makes Le Roy no longer an affordable bedroom community.

We either need to revitalize our industrial base or do something to attract tourists to sustain Le Roy.

Le Roy needs something to hang its hat on besides the Jello Museum. East Aurora has Roycroft; Canandaigua has wine; Saratoga has historic horse racing. Without a community theme or "schtik" I doubt there will be many girls or couples weekends to visit Le Roy that could support local retail and dining.

I always thought it would be cool to let downtown grow full of hunting, fishing, outdoor and other sports stores, and make Le Roy an outdoor sports "destination"; taking advantage of our location on the creek with proximity to fly-fishing, good hunting and Letchworth. But where do you start? Having nice buildings is one thing, but you have to have a committed retailer take a big chance on business. It would need more than one retailer to sustain itself and it would need to be marketed regionally to take hold.

Probably pie in the sky dreaming, but without an outside draw you can save all the buildings you want--they'll just remain vacant like the other dozen or so in Le Roy.

Apr 14, 2013, 8:54pm Permalink
mark jackett

Every one knows that there is a big kickback to the politicians"POCKET" that's the way it works and will always work . local,state,federal they all get money in their pocket.

Apr 14, 2013, 9:05pm Permalink
Douglas Hill

Bob Fussell's writing and ideas are very well thought out and I think he's being fair to the Village Board members who voted against selling The Wiss Hotel to the Le Roy, NY, LLC for $10,000. Instead they have voted to contract all total at least $151,000 with a demolition company to tear it down. I don't think our Village Board has done a dumber thing since it built a compost facility to take care of not only our compost waste, but the waste of surrounding communities. Of course, we know that was not cared for properly possibly because the Village, in desperation began to accept materials to compost that corroded the machinery our hard earned tax dollars were spent to purchase. And it was closed years ago to prevent us from losing any more money on it, yet we still are paying for what it cost to build that facility. And think of this. The Village Board, all the ones who voted to use our tax dollars to tear down a building who had a buyer, and a building that could be renovated, were adults living in Le Roy at the beginning to the bitter end of the compost facility debacle.
I don’t think the answer about what our village could have expected from Walgreen’s as far as expense they could have gone to for a design for their building more in keeping with Main Street, can be known. I do know that it’s much too late to investigate because their building is completed. I have heard that Walgreen’s spent a lot of money to buy up many houses and buildings to establish themselves on the corner of Routes 5 and 19 and one would think they're doing very well there. But another example is the Bank of Castile, who told us that they did not have enough market share in Le Roy to warrant the expense of building a two-story bank that would have fit in better with the character of Main Street. And McDonald’s, which may have been the more contested change to Main Street, didn’t replace a two-story building. It replaced a gas station that probably was not in keeping with existing buildings surrounding it. Therefore, it fits as well on Main Street as what it replaced.
And there are other facades on old buildings on Main Street that are out of character with their own buildings and buildings that surround them. There are also more than a few Main Street buildings built in the last 50 years that have broken up the height of what the original buildings there reached. So, while we like our Main Street and want to preserve it, it has undergone many changes since the era that most of the older buildings were built. I don’t see how all of Main Street could qualify for the National Historic Register, while probably buildings here and there could.
The building that is now Save-A–Lot probably was the beginning of the change in character of Main Street, as Bob has written. But in each of these cases it was Le Royans who were willing to sell their houses or buildings for these developments.
What is puzzling to me is why three self-avowed life-long Le Royans who were elected to the Village Board, chose to vote for demolition of the old Wiss Hotel that could cause a cascade effect affecting what remains of some historic buildings on Main Street. The Village (us)own The Wiss, and have elected officials who have complete control over its fate, unlike the parcels that I have mentioned that were privately owned. It’s too bad we have a representative
government and not a direct vote when things like this happen.
And how it is, or even why it is, that our three Village Board members wouldn’t agree to reveal who they talked to and what research they went to to make their decisions, suggests that they didn’t seek out knowledgeable people and probably did no research. The only research I heard one to say he did was to find out what taxes Walgreen’s pays, and how many employees they have.
But I would caution us who want to preserve the historic buildings that are left on Main Street, not to advocate the Village Board passing laws restricting the private owners of building that remain. None of them are making a killing by owning these buildings, they are flat-roofed buildings that take a lot of expense to maintain, and offer many square-feet that goes unused. We should be just thankful that these building owners are paying their taxes, trying to make a go of it on Main Street, and not walking away from their buildings only to leave them in the hands of the Village Board. We should provide incentives (voluntary ones) to help them stay in the fight.

Apr 14, 2013, 9:51pm Permalink
Jennifer Keys

Tim, I imagine there are a number of factors that have contributed to the decline of Le Roy. We do need a new hook since we do not have industry. We would make an excellent destination for sporting goods, but we don't need a big retailer, we can do it ourselves, just as they have in Perry.

I have been traveling all over the state recently and have been all over the east coast and parts of the west coast in the past, as well as doing research online. I have yet to come across a community that has revitalized after destroying its character. I have asked this question over and over and have yet to get an answer to who has?

Apr 15, 2013, 10:08am Permalink
Kyle Couchman

how about a good old fashioned protest. If enough people feel strongly about this some CIVIL ( keyword civil) disobedience like blocking equipment and workers access. The media would blow it up and the big ole Public scrutiny on the Village Board might be a little much heat for them to stand. After all look at how contentious the tic thing got when just the appearance of steamrolling over the general public's wishes got. Until the first cut it made it's still as salvageable as it was before all the meetings. Mules and asses can be stubborn when you try to get them to do what you want. When the carrot doesnt work, jump up on their backs and kick em in the direction you want. I guess it really depends on how much passion those who believe this is a mistake and really want to save it have.... Nowadays just being sensible or justified isnt enough, you have to be just as pigheaded and stubborn as your opponents are, but do it publicly to get those that slink around in the dark doing shady deals to change. Got to make it cost them some embarassment and ridicule to get them to see things the right way.

Apr 15, 2013, 10:55am Permalink
Gary Spencer

I went by at about 8:00am, there was a RG&E truck with a back-hoe in front and the sidewalk is blocked off.....just wondering if it was coming down today.

Apr 15, 2013, 12:41pm Permalink
Douglas Hill

You have a point Tim. It was our industry, and jobs in Le Roy that made Le Roy what it is. And the heads of industry for the most part lived in Le Roy. And churches and civic organizations flourished here. And when I was growing up in the 1970s Main Street was very busy with customers. Development of our corporate park at the Thruway is essential to increasing our tax base. I know there's talk of connecting the sewer lines from there to Rush, but if they were to go south from the corporate park along Route 19 to our own sewage plant, there would be the possiblity of development along there coming into the village. This would not only increase our tax base yet again, but may offer businesses, such as future Walgreen's types of businesses, more opportunities to establish themselves in Le Roy, and lessen the chance of further destruction of Main Street. Also, if a hotel established itself at our corporate park, those staying in Le Roy, may drive into our village and shop in our shops on Main Street. We cannot grow without incurring some public debt, but we need to stay far away from going into business schemes that have failed us in the past. That's no way to spend public dollars.

Apr 15, 2013, 1:36pm Permalink
Douglas Hill

Now what you have done is research. If one doesn't leave the village and town limits of Le Roy, and find out what other communities are doing, one can only have an insular view of the way the world works.

Apr 15, 2013, 1:43pm Permalink

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