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Old Engine House

December 5, 2017 - 8:22pm

Batavia City Manager Jason Molino admits that a communication breakdown has resulted in the confusion surrounding a proposal to redevelop the Old Engine House on Main Street with help from a Restore New York Communities Initiative grant.

“Maybe we all could have done a better job communicating,” said Molino, speaking by telephone tonight.

Ever since Molino’s memo to City Council dated Nov. 22 – a report that apparently wasn’t read by all council members prior to their Nov. 27 meeting (Thanksgiving came in between) – there have been numerous public comments criticizing the process.

Some of those comments placed the blame on the city manager for “jumping the gun” and others questioned the selection of Thompson Builds of Byron and Churchville as the developer.

A public hearing on the proposal to renovate the former restaurant into a commercial/residential building and to apply for a $1 million Restore NY grant to help fund it was scheduled for Monday afternoon, but was abruptly cancelled after Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell said the County Legislature wasn’t ready to declare the property as “surplus.”

This, as would be expected, cast a negative light upon all parties involved, especially Molino for bringing the project to City Council.

“(Cancelling the public hearing) caught me by surprise,” Molino said, noting that Gsell told him that the legislature needed more time to review the plan.

Currently, the Engine House, which is owned by the county, is the home to public defender offices and a facilities management shop.

Molino said he was aware that the county had been looking to surplus the property for some time – “a couple years,” he said – and that Julie Pacatte, coordinator of the Batavia Development Corporation, had referred a couple investors to the county.

“I know that Jay had people looking at it as well; multiple people already looked at it,” Molino said.

Molino said that Pacatte came to him with news that Thompson Builds was interested in renovating the building to have a commercial venture on the first floor and apartments on the second floor – and that he was excited by the prospect of putting the property back on the tax rolls.

“That was a few weeks ago,” Molino said, after the City submitted a letter of intent to apply for the grant and was accepted – matters that weren’t communicated to City Council.

“I could have done a better job of advising Council,” Molino said, adding that he also should have received confirmation that the county was ready to relinquish the building.

As far as the procedure to dispose of surplus property is concerned, Molino said the county had several options, including an auction, request for proposal (RFP) or “appraised value and straight deal contract.”

He said the City’s role was simply as a “pass-through” since the county was not eligible to apply for the Restore NY grant.

Molino said he knew of two interested investors, including Thompson Builds, but said that it was Pacatte who “worked with Thompson to develop it a bit more.”

Pacatte could not be reached for comment tonight.

For the record, Thompson Builds has done work at Genesee County Building 2, VA Medical Center, Genesee County Airport and Liberty Pumps in Bergen, and did major work at the Big Tree Glen apartment complex on West Main Street Road.

When it was pointed out that Pacatte reports to him, Molino acknowledged that “maybe I should have been involved more.”

Despite the setback, Molino said he hopes that City Council would consider applying for the grant in 2018.

“We need to come together and gear up for next year,” he said, “by communicating with the county on the disposal of the property and with the investor. By getting everybody on board, we should be able to move forward.”

December 4, 2017 - 4:01pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, genesee county legislature, Old Engine House.

Outgoing Genesee County Legislature Chairman Raymond Cianfrini today said he is "disappointed" by the decision to cancel a public hearing in connection with applying for a Restore New York Communities Initiative grant to possibly turn the Old Engine House into a tax-generating commercial/residential venture.

"I have been talking about disposing of property that we (the county) no longer needs for a couple years, and I had identified this property as one that should be sold," said Cianfrini, who is stepping away from the legislature at the end of this year.

"I am disappointed (because) this is a great opportunity for the city in that somebody is interested in redeveloping it, and a great opportunity for the county as it is an underutilized building. I wonder what impact this delay will have upon the developer."

Cianfrini said he was puzzled by the move to cancel the public hearing.

"From what I understand, (County Manager) Jay Gsell put it on hold by advising (City Manager) Jason Molino that the county needs more time to determine if it should be declared surplus property," he said. "It appears to have been his decision; I was not consulted and am not in the loop."

Cianfrini said that County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens has communicated to him that the facilities management employees and equipment could move to the highway department on Cedar Street.

"We've already moved the History department to County Building II and as far as the public defenders are concerned, I'm sure there is space in the courthouse," he said. "I don't see why we should continue to pay to maintain the building. Why is this happening now, at the last minute?"

December 4, 2017 - 12:33pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, genesee county, Old Engine House.

Update: Monday, Nov. 4 -- 2:15 p.m.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell said that county legislators want to take a closer look at the county's downtown facilities before making a decision about the future of the Old Engine House.

"They want further discussion and also want to walk through the downtown buildings," Gsell said. "At this time it is best to slow down a little bit, (cancelling) the public hearing and in the aftermath of the City Council's reaction (to the proposal to redevelop the Engine House). Now is not the best time to move forward and ask for a million dollars if we don't have all of our ducks in a row."

Gsell said that he believes that more Restore New York funding will be available in 2018, and also mentioned outstanding funds from previous state and regional economic development initiatives.

He said that should Genesee County move to relinquish the Engine House, public defenders currently working there would be relocated (likely to the adjacent Genesee County Court Facility) and that facilties management employees would "move to the highway department (on Cedar Street) eventually anyway."

As far as Genesee County holding on to the building, Gsell said that it would need much renovation, noting that there is no close-by parking, no access to the second floor and that it is not handicapped-accessible.

"It should be mentioned that when the county purchased the property, it was the parking lot that was important (to serve the courthouse buidling)," he said. "The Engine House was an afterthought; a building that was bought through a tax lien from the city for $250,000 in 1996-97."

Previous story:

"I spoke with the county manager and at the present time the county is not prepared to dispose of the property."

With that statement this morning by Batavia City Manager Jason Molino, the public hearing scheduled for 5 o'clock this afternoon to consider a proposal to redevelop the Old Engine House has been cancelled.

When asked if Genesee County's change of heart puts an end to the idea of turning the former restaurant into a commercial/residential site, Molino would not offer any more information.

A call to County Manager Jay Gsell has yet to be returned.

At City Council's most recent meeting (Nov. 27), board members voted to set the public hearing for the application of a $1 million grant to redevelop the county-owned Engine House on Main Street.

The proposal was not eagerly received, however, as some council members questioned the process -- stating that they weren't given enough advance notification -- and one questioned the selection of Thompson Builds of Byron as the developer.

In a memo to Council, Molino reported that a Restore New York Communities Initiative grant was available for the project, but it could only be applied for by a city, town or village -- not Genesee County. The city manager also stated that the county was willing to declare the property as "surplus" and was on board with its redevelopment.

The plan, as outlined by Molino after discussions with the Batavia Development Corporation, Genesee County and Thompson Builds, was to convert the 14,425-square-foot buildilng for business use on the first floor and residential use on the second floor.

In the end, Council voted to set the public hearing, focusing on the prospect of returning the property to the tax rolls.

While it was reported that the building is vacant, it actually houses offices for the public defender (the Genesee County Court Facility is next door) as well as the shop for the county's facilities management divisiion, which also is in close proximity to key county-owned buildings.

November 28, 2017 - 7:50am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, Old Engine House.

Batavia City Council members on Monday night voted to set a public hearing for the application of a $1 million grant to redevelop the vacant Genesee County-owned Old Engine House on Main Street but several of them did so with a bad taste in their mouths.

Council members Robert Bialkowski and Rose Mary Christian questioned the process -- "this came out of the blue," Christian said -- while Kathleen Briggs sought clarification on the county's role in the matter and Al McGinnis said the City should be looking at providing more single-family homes.

All in all, the debate at times revealed the board's misinterpretation of and confusion over the proposal to let developer Thompson Builds of Byron turn the former restaurant (and historic building) into a commercial-residential building.

Christian said she was aggravated by "nonprofits that don't pay any property taxes and school taxes, and that I had to read (about this) in the paper before we knew about it."

Council President Eugene Jankowski corrected her, stating that the grant is "pass-through money" and doesn't come from city coffers -- and that the project puts the property "back on the tax rolls."

Molino pointed out that the Restore New York Communities Initiative grant has to be applied for by a city, town or village, but Briggs still wondered "why the county doesn't do something about it?"

To which, Molino replied, "I think they are ... they're disposing of it (by declaring it as surplus property) and putting in back on the tax rolls."

That prompted McGinnis' comment about the City needing "to concentrate our efforts" on single-family homes, and Bialkowski stating he had problems with the process.

"I didn't know about it until reading it (in local media) and I have not seen an RFP (request for proposal)," Bialkowski said.

He also questioned how Thompson Builds was selected and that he felt rushed into having to set a public hearing on the same night as Council's first discussion about it.

His comments prompted Molino to apologize, but the City Manager noted that his Nov. 22 memo to Council was "in the media packet" and he didn't have any control as to when it would be published.

"Also, the county doesn't have to dispose of public property through an RFP," he said.

The plan outlined by Molino, after discussions with the Batavia Development Corporation, Genesee County and Thompson Builds, is to convert the 14,425-square-foot buildilng for business use on the first floor and residential use on the second floor.

The project is in line with current zoning code.

"Mixed use (Commercial-Residential) is part of the planning processes that we have had for downtown property, and we have a developer that is interested in rehabiliating it," Molino said.

He also said that there is a huge demand for downtown apartments and that the project would have to go through all "proper approvals," including planning boards and the Historic Preservation Commission.

Council members John Canale and Patti Pacino backed up Molino's contention regarding the demand for living space, with Canale talking about the lack of "places to rent at a reasonable price range" and Pacino noting that there is a "whole generation (millennials) that we're trying to attract back to Batavia -- young teachers, professionals ... who aren't ready to buy a house."

Bialkowski said he was surprised that no one from Genesee County was at the meeting.

"The county is asking the city to give them $1 million so why don't they have someone here?" he said.

To which, Councilman Adam Tabelski countered with the fact the city has the opportunity "to team with the county and a private developer to make that (putting it back on the tax rolls) happen."

After Jankowski again said that state regulations require the City to apply for the grant and schedule a public hearing, Bialkowski still wasn't convinced.

"We're applying for the grant, and the county is getting a million dollars," he said.

Molino said that the money would go to Thompson Builds to help fund the $2.5 million project, prompting Bialkowski to say, "so we're giving it to the developer."

Jankowski tried to put the whole matter into perspective.

"The benefit is that we're taking surplus property and putting it back on the tax rolls," he said, moments before all council members voted to schedule the public hearing for 5 p.m. Dec. 4.

November 27, 2017 - 2:40pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, Old Engine House.

What can be done about the deteriorating masonry pillars, walls and lighting that welcome motorists and walkers onto Redfield Parkway from West Main Street?

Batavia City Council members are expected to learn more about that situation tonight when they meet at 7 p.m. at City Centre Council Chambers.

In a memo to the board by dated Nov. 8, City Manager Jason Molino recommends that the city seek funding streams to conduct a “condition survey” of the four structures that make up the Redfield Parkway pillars – two inner gateway-monument style pillars and two outer posts.

He wrote that a grant from the Preservation League of New York State is a possibility, along with historical preservation grants from the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo. The grant amounts range from $3,000 to $50,000.

One snag, however, could be that the pillars are not “historically or landmark designated,” Molino wrote.

Also, while the two monument pillars (equipped with lighting structures) are located in a public right-of-way and are owned and maintained by the City, the two outer posts are located on private property. All are showing signs of disrepair, with cracked and missing mortar.

“The condition of these posts varies, ranging from visible cracking of mortar to the removal of several stones,” Molino wrote. “After a review of the individual deeds of each property, it has been determined that the outer posts are individually owned and maintained, and are responsibility of each property owner.”

The condition of the pillars was brought to Council’s attention in September by Councilman Robert Bialkowski, who was responding to a letter he received. He proposed using $52,000 in funds earmarked for community development initiatives to fix them.

Tonight’s agenda also includes a proposal by Molino to apply for up to a $1 million grant from the Restore New York Communities Initiative to put toward the redevelopment of the vacant Old Engine House on West Main Street into a commercial/residential building.

Molino, in a memo dated Nov. 22, wrote that he has had discussions with officials from Batavia Development Corporation, Genesee County and potential developer Thompson Builds to rehabilitate the 14,425-square-foot historic structure.

Genesee County owns the property, but is “prepared to declare the property surplus should the project be funded and move forward,” Molino wrote.

Council will be asked to vote on a resolution tonight (during a special business meeting) to schedule a Dec. 4 public hearing for the project.

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