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Bohn's Restaurant

July 12, 2019 - 1:13pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Bohn's Restaurant, batavia, GCASA, news, notify.

johnbennettgcasaplanningboard.jpg

After encountering community resistance for a planned recreation center for people in drug and alcohol recovery on South Swan Street in Batavia, GCASA has turned its attention to a former restaurant location on Clinton Street Road in the Town of Batavia.

And the Town officials have been more than encouraging and supportive, said John Bennett, executive director of GCASA, following a County Planning Board meeting Thursday evening where the board recommended approval of a special use permit for 5258 Clinton Street Road -- site of the former Bohn's Restaurant.

GCASA is in the process of acquiring the property.

Bennett said the community center will have a community garden, a basketball court, TVs for viewing sports, a pool table, space for other recreational activities. And, of course, since there's no place for a tavern in a building dedicated to recovery, the former bar area is likely to become a coffee and sandwich shop.

"We went into Rochester and went to this place called out Coffee Connections and it's a roasting business, a coffee-roasting business, run by recovering women," Bennett said. They run two coffeehouses and they serve lunches and breakfasts and we were kind of scoping that out, seeing how they did that. We're seeing if we can partner with somebody who might want to run a small little coffee shop."

People in recovery want to lead normal lives -- watch big sporting events together, play pool, eat some wings and pizza, socialize, but in an environment without drugs or alcohol, Bennett said.

"This is the new norm in urban areas," Bennett said. "It's what they call sober bars. And that's exactly what they are. They actually have mixology stuff but it's all alcohol-free and it's very much like going to any other bar that you would go to where they're having either karaoke or live music or dancing or whatever it is. I think just people in recovery are looking to be normal without having to worry about drugs and alcohol."

The most notable downside of opening up a social center for people in recovery on the outskirts of the City is that it won't be in walking distance for most people, like the originally proposed South Swan location. The upside is the square footage of the Clinton Street Road property is twice as much as the South Swan location. 

The asking price for the property, being sold by Mike Bohn after buying back the property in a foreclosure auction, is $250,000. Bennett said he can't disclose the actual sale price since the deal hasn't closed yet and the price is still being negotiated.

A presale building inspection was completed two days ago.

Much of the floor plan of the former restaurant will remain the same, Bennett said, but the interior, which probably hasn't been updated since the 1970s or early '80s, will be modernized.

There is also some equipment, furnishing, games and TVs to buy.

Bennett said GCASA has a modest $75,000 budget for the upgrades.

The property will be open to the community -- if there is a coffee shop, that will be open to everybody. If a community member isn't in recovery but wants to host an event -- say a birthday party -- for a friend or relative who is in recovery -- or isn't but perhaps should be -- the facility will be available for those reservations as well.

And there will be events for people in recovery, whether it be an open mic night or for big sporting events.

"Let's just say we're going to do a March Madness night or a week of March Madness basketball and we're gonna show games -- it's just a sober place to come down and watch basketball," Bennett said. "We'll have a little sports area and you can watch the Super Bowl or watch the World Series, things like that."

Bennett is a little exasperated by the community outcry over the proposed South Swan location but he said he understands it.

"It's really too bad that the South Side saw this as something that would threaten the community instead of benefit it because if you check out ROCovery in Rochester," Bennett said, " ... there's a whole thing around fitness and recovery. I went up and I met with them and they were amazing people and the community now has just enveloped them.

"Their community gardens are open to everybody in the community. Everybody gets to come down and pick some tomatoes or some peppers or lettuce or whatever they need. And everybody is also allowed to use the recovery center.

"So so I think that's where we want to head to. We want to say, 'hey this is open to you, too. You just have to be willing to be drug-free while you're here.'

"I think they were shortsighted but I understand that people have fears and the work we do is stigmatized."

June 20, 2019 - 1:06pm

bennett.jpgRebuffed by the City of Batavia, the leader of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse is “moving in a different direction” to find a location for an activities gathering place for recovering addicts.

GCASA Executive Director John Bennett said today that he is looking at sites in the Town of Batavia, specifically mentioning the former Bohn’s Restaurant on Clinton Street Road, to house what he calls a “recovery recreation center.”

“It would be a place where those dealing with drug and alcohol addiction would receive support through social, recreational, fitness and sober living activities by connecting with peers, friends and family who both accept them and understand their situation,” Bennett said. “It all fits in with our pledge to try and save lives.”

GCASA’s attempt to place the recovery center in the former North Pole Restaurant (prior to that, the St. Nicholas Social Club) at 241-243 South Swan St. was met with strong opposition last month, both from City Council members and people living in that neighborhood.

Subsequently, City officials sent a letter to Bennett stating that since the area is zoned R-2 Residential, it would not be a good fit for the recovery center.

Bennett said GCASA has decided against any further action involving the City, other than asking City Manager Martin Moore if he could find another use for the building or help the agency find a buyer.

“We had to buy the building – there is no 'out clause' – so we’re hoping that it could be used for something else, maybe for teens,” said Bennett, noting that the Swan Street property does have variances for philanthropic and restaurant uses.

Contacted by phone today, Moore said that he will be talking to members of his staff, primarily those involved with economic development, about the use and/or sale of the building, but had “nothing definitive” to report at this time.

With South Swan Street out of the picture, Bennett has turned to the Town of Batavia. He said he met with the Town Board on Wednesday, and came away encouraged -- looking forward to getting something done sooner rather than later.

“The Town Board was amazing; very insightful and kind, and displayed an understanding of addiction,” Bennett said.

He said that he has looked at a couple commercial sites and the industrial park (in the Town). The former Bohn’s Restaurant is zoned Commercial, a plus for this type of project.

A sign on the wall has the selling price at $250,000, but GCASA has not put in an offer yet, Bennett said, adding that the agency’s goal is to purchase a building.

Bennett provided this reporter with a flier listing examples of events and activities at the proposed recovery center.

They include community cleanup and community garden projects; fitness activities (yoga, hikes, runs, biking, basketball, martial arts); art classes; peer support; cooking and nutrition classes; mutual aid and self-help meetings; games and live music, and special events during holidays.

“We have set up a CRPA (Certified Recovery Peer Advocate) program through the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and currently have 18 of them trained (to assist recovering addicts),” he said. “We also have relationships with hospitals in both counties and with the jails through the PAARI program (Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative).”

Statistics offered by Bennett show that Genesee County has one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the state and is high on the list of deaths due to drug/alcohol abuse with 34 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017.

OASAS extended a grant to GCASA for the recovery center, and is working with the local agency to push back the deadline, which originally was set at July 1, Bennett said.

While disappointed in the City’s stance regarding the South Swan Street location, Bennett said he's more upset by comments made by some residents about those afflicted with serious alcohol and drug problems.

“The unfortunate thing is how they painted a picture of people in recovery … things like they will lower our property values and we won’t be able to let our children out,” he said. “These are people like you and I. Some of my closest friends are in long-term recovery and they’re great people.

“Since then, I have received a lot of phone calls from people in recovery on the Southside – and they want their neighbors, who aren’t aware of their situations, to know they are good people.”

Photo: John Bennett, GCASA executive director

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