Preservationists in Le Roy are making a last-ditch effort to save the Wiss Hotel building at the corner of Lake Street and Main Street, the gateway into the village.
Trustees gave Wiss Hotel supporters very little reason to believe during the course of Wednesday night's village hall meeting that they will accept this new offer.
"I'll reserve judgment until I read the proposal, but I have a mind right now that it needs to come down," Trustee Robert Taylor said.
Only Trustee Jennifer Keys is clearly a supporter of preservation and Trustee Jim Bonacquisti, who two weeks ago almost wavered on his opposition to saving the Wiss, came out strongly in favor of getting rid of the building.
Trustee Mike Tucci, who was adamant two weeks ago that the building come down, was absent.
Mayor Greg Rogers said this week, as he did two weeks ago, that accepting the offer is a sound business decision, but once again expressed a level of disagreement with the idea that the building should be saved.
Rogers said the board will discuss the offer in closed session at a time when all five members are present and vote on it publicly afterward.
Attorney Bob Fussell, who has been leading the citizen effort, told village trustees last night that the new offer addresses some of the apparent objections raised two weeks ago, when trustees failed to adopt a proposed counteroffer to the group.
The key points:
There is now officially a Le Roy LLC;
The group would pay $10,000 to the village at the close of escrow;
The time line for taking over the building and ensuring its safety is accelerated.
Even with these changes, a number of residents who attended last evening's meeting raised objections to the trustees selling the property to the LLC.
"We’re sitting here waiting for somebody to really get hurt, and the liability you’re going to incur is going to be a hell of a lot more then the cost of tearing it down," Jim Nielsen told the board.
Later in the meeting, Fussell countered Nielsen, noting that it won't be possible for the village to get the building demolished any faster than the LLC could take it over.
Resident Tom Spadaro offered $125,000 on the spot for the Wiss lot once the building is down and the hole is filled in. He said the lot is worth at least $250,000.
New estimates for tearing the building down range from $146,000 to more than $200,000, but it's unclear if that includes any liability for asbestos abatement or any possible contamination remediation.
Rogers said if the building is torn down, the village will actively seek a buyer for the lot at a market rate, even if takes a couple of years to find such a buyer.
"If we go through with taking it down, we're going to sell it and try to come out ahead," Rogers said.
Residents in opposition called the Wiss an eyesore, dangerous and a fire trap.
Eve Hens, who owns the adjoining building and has residential tenants, said she's constantly in fear of a fire at the Wiss.
"It scares the heck out of me that if there’s a fire in that building it could travel not only into our building, but all the way down Main Street," Heus said.
She called destruction of the Wiss an "urgent issue."
(CLARIFICATION: Possibly because of my misunderstanding, but Hens e-mailed to say that she isn't opposed to saving the Wiss, just that something must be done immediately because of the fire danger, whether it's demolition or restoration; it's an urgent issue.)
Fire Chief Tom Wood agreed it's an urgent issue, and stressed that something be done. But whether that means tearing it down or restoring it, isn't an issue the fire department takes a position on.
“There’s no possible way I can justify putting guys into this building during a fire situation," Wood said. "Absolutely not. Somebody would get hurt. I hate to say this, I would be lucky to save two building (if there was a fire). This building needs to be torn down or something needs to be done with it right away. We’re dragging our feet. Something has to be done either way you go."
Bonacquisti said he's done some research since the last meeting, and in reaction to those who called construction of the Walgreens in the village a mistake, he noted that the former buildings at that location generated only $4,3100 in
sales tax revenue in their final year, whereas last fiscal year, Walgreens generated $9,400 in sales tax.
The store employs 23 people, including 16 Le Roy residents, he said.
People don't move to Le Roy, he said, just because of a beautiful village. They also like the fact that Le Roy is affordable, it is safe and it has good schools, and he considers Walgreens one of the village's businesses as well.
"I do a lot of my business here and I'll tell you, you won't find better customer service than Walgreens," Bonacquisti said. "I know profits go up the corporate chimney, that was a statement that was made, but that’s not a concern of mine. We’re making money here and people are working there."
For preservationists, destruction of the Wiss is more symbolic than a matter of saving a historic or elegant building, which nobody claims as descriptions of the Wiss.
"When demolition becomes the easy way out, we may be looking into a future that does not include a business district at all," wrote Lorie Longhany, who could not attend the meeting, in an e-mail to Fussell. "A building here, another one over there and the historic nature of this community is gone forever."
Doug Hill said tearing down the Wiss could just unleash a domino effect that would eviscerate the business district.
“When you take that building down, then you’re talking about the building next to it and the building next to that," Hill said. "That’s where you are going to change this whole community. Not with tearing down the Wiss, but the fact that the Wiss property is not big enough probably to develop and you’re going to be going to the next building and the next building and tearing down.
"Pretty soon this is not going to look like a community that is attractive to live here. It’s not going to be historic any more. It’s going to look like off Mount Read Boulevard in Greece."
Candace Bower said her family goes back in Le Roy for 200 years and she for one thinks it's time for Le Roy to stop destroying its heritage.
“We need to stop wringing our hands and putting up more what ifs in the way," She said. "Just dream. This board can be the group that finally decided to look to the future of this village and see what it can be if we dare to dream.”
It's also just practical to save the Wiss, some preservationists argued.
Lisa Compton cited studies that show density equals greater economic benefit to a community.
Terry Keys, husband of Trustee Jennifer Keys, said that once the Wiss is gone, it can't be brought back and the LLC is the only group that has come forward with any kind of plan to do something productive with the building.
"The issue is are we willing to write a check and wait to see what happens or are we willing to take a check and watch what happens?" Terry Keys said.
Dennis Melander said he was initially opposed to saving the Wiss, but after reading Rick Hauser's report, he realized saving the Wiss isn't just a pipe dream, but a practical response to a real problem.
"I would object to any taxpayer money being used on demolition when you have a viable offer right here to take it off your hands and save the cost of the demolition," Melander said.
Fussell said that Hauser has estimated saving the Wiss will cost the LLC $400,000 and he already has verbal commitments for $200,000.
“There are people who are interested," Fussell said. "We may not be able to get it for a week, we may not be able to get it in a month, I don’t know. We may not be able to get it at all. But we’re already half way there.”