Some think the old county building on East Bethany Road is a dilapidated relic that invites mischief making. Certainly, it's got a sterling reputation for creepiness, which is exactly why a California couple sees gold.
Sharon and Jerry Coyle of Huntington Beach met with local officials two weeks ago to discuss buying the now-closed Rolling Hills Paranormal Research Center and turning it into a place that could attract tourists worldwide.
Bethany's town council talked about the broad outline of the ideas at Monday night's meeting.
"It's where ghosts go to square dance," said Clerk Debbie Douglas.
"It's paranormal all right," said Justice Tom McBride.
The 19th Century building was once Genesee County Poor Farm and an insane asylum. Its dank catacomb-like recesses have welcomed cable TV film crews scouting for ghosts. Purportedly some firefighters get creeped out by the place.
Lynn Freeman, president of the county Chamber of Commerce, said he knows folks who won't even drive by it.
But Freeman says the Coyle's plans are clever, elaborate and multifacted. He was briefed on them by the Coyles when they met here with the Bethany Town Supervisor and Economic Development Council members.
"Any new business that enhances Genesee County is good," Freeman said.
The Coyles' wish list includes:
- Renovating the building and bringing everything up to code;
- Getting it listed with the Governor's Office of Film and Television so it can be widely available for media exporsure;
- Lobbying for its placement on the National Registry of Historic Buildings;
- Opening the old poor house section as a museum;
- Working with historians, archeologists, college students and others to research the property, including doing high-tech ground probes in search of paupers' graves;
- Cross-promoting the supercenter with other local businesses such as Darien Lake Theme Park and Resort, Batavia Downs Casino and Racetrack and parks and forest authorities;
- Building audio and video bays to enable the study of paranormal activities;
- Having a 24/7 Web cam set up in some areas to capture paranormal activity for study and research;
- Offering tourism activities such as a wine-and-cheese festival, kite festival, harvest festival with "haunted hayrides," movie showings, picnics, concerts, art shows, seminars and tours for youth groups;
- Creating an English garden for weddings and the like and planting lavender, sage and rosemary to harvest for essential oils and other products;
- Having a hostel for men and one for women who are traveling the region, like on a trip to Niagara Falls;
- Offering tours and learning opportunities for youth groups;
- Selling a variety of things like food and beverages, coffee mugs, T-shirts, flashlights and audio/visual equipment.
The complicated project would be expensive, but no one has talked dollars and cents yet. The supercenter would be the Coyle's primary source of income. The couple is researching grants, low-interest financing, tax incentives, Empire zone benefits, etc.
"It has the potential to increase tourism to the area, thus generating revenue for regional and statewide businesses and additional tax revenues," writes Sharon Coyle in a letter distributed to key people.
But to make any of it reality would take local, county and state support.
"It's better than letting it deteriorate and have kids breaking into it," said Bethany Town Clerk Douglas.