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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Snow removal during harsh winter remains a challenge for city

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown, weather

At least one Downtown business owner doesn't think the city is doing enough to address snow removal and he's not convinced the city cares.

Snow piled up on sidewalks and in parking lots costs bars, restaurants and retail shops money, said Derek Geib, owner of Bourbon & Burger Co. on Jackson Street, and the city loses sales tax revenue.

He thinks the city could be more aggressive about finding a solution.

Geib, along with other business owners, met with city officials earlier this winter and were told city work crews act as quickly as possible to remove snow, but there's only so many workers and so many hours they can work.

That isn't a good enough answer, Geib said.

"Accepting this as just the way it is is not an option," Geib said. "It is directly affecting just about every business Downtown. It needs to be addressed and something needs to be proposed as a solution. Reallocate BID funds, raise taxes, cut something else. Jason (City Manager Jason Molino) needs to sit down and address this. That's my only request. We can't just 'deal with it.' This is 2015. I'm sure someone has some solution somewhere."

Molino said, actually, snow pile-up this winter is something every municipality in the Northeast is dealing with this winter.

Unrelenting cold, near record snowfall, and storms spread out at a pace that keeps workers tied up and makes it impossible to keep up with the mounds of frozen water.

"This February has absolutely been challenging to say the least when it comes to snow removal," Molino said. "From Buffalo to Boston, everyone is having the same conversation. It's not just us with this problem. It's the circumstances of the type of weather we're having, and now we're about to get hammered with another snow and ice event, which means our guys will be out far into the night and perhaps into the morning, which means they're not going to be removing snow tomorrow."

The "not enough workers" answers isn't a good one, Geib said.

"We shouldn't as a city accept that things are just the way they are," Geib said. "If there aren't enough employees to actually do the task at hand then people should be made aware of that and budgets should be adjusted. If garbage wasn't getting picked up, it would be an issue. Snow removal is no different. There is a solution, but the City Manager has to recognize there is a problem first."

Molino said he does recognize there's an issue, but without unlimited resources, there's only so much the city can do.

"I understand and sympathize with the frustration business owners feel over snow accumulation," Molino said. "When there's manpower available, we remove the snow from the parking lots and then from the sidewalks. We do the best we can with the manpower we have."

This has been an incredibly difficult and challenging winter for the city's DPW and Water Department workers, as it has been for municipal employees throughout New York, he said.

The constant use of snow-removal equipment also puts a strain on city resources because inevitably, equipment breaks down and needs to be repaired, Molino said.

Under the circumstances, he said, he thinks they've done an incredible job.

Batavia has also been plagued by a series of water line breaks. Typically, those are handled by the Water Department, but the night of the River Street break, Water Department employees were already out helping with plowing and salting, and with the break, the city's already overextended DPW workers had to help with that nasty and complicated break.

"They went from plowing roads to jumping into a water-filled hole on the coldest night of the year," Molino said. "We've had a series of water line breaks in very poor weather and some of these have been large, deep digs that make the job very challenging. Throw on top of that, sub-zero weather, that makes the job very challenging."

Saturday, February 14, 2015 at 11:22 pm

Photo: A cold Downtown Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown, weather

Yes, it's cold, and getting colder.

The overnight low is expected to be two or three degrees below zero with wind chill dropping it down to -24, then in the morning, the temperature will fall even more.

And it will snow. A couple of more inches tonight and another an inch or two tomorrow.

The winter storm warning is effect until 6 p.m., Sunday.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at 12:52 pm

City crews begin massive task of downtown snow removal

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown

In a winter of unrelenting cold and regular, periodic snowstorms, the snow keeps piling higher and the frustration of Downtown merchants has been mounting.

While merchants might be expected to shovel their own walks, there's nothing they can do, realistically, about the mounds of snow that gets piled up between parking spaces and sidewalks. It takes the city's heavy equipment to move that much snow.

At Monday's City Council meeting, Director of Public Works Sally Kuzon addressed the issue.

"We certainly understand (the complaints)," Kuzon said. "We would love to have a 24-hour operation, but we just can't do it."

This season so far, 90 inches of snow has fallen, including 52 inches in the past 13 days.

That has kept public works staff busy plowing and salting, often in 10-hour, overnight shifts.

That leaves at most two public works employees on the clock during the day.

"That's a little scary if something happens," Kuzon said.

Crews that are plowing and salting aren't available for the tedious, time-consuming, manpower-intensive task of snow removal.

Snow removal needs to be done at night when there is less traffic, fewer parked cars and no pedestrians to interfere with the operation. The project takes from 10 to 12 public works employees at a time.

And it ties up all of the city's loaders and trucks.

It so happened that crews started working on snow removal for the first time this winter last night.

The project was scheduled to start at 10 p.m., but before the workers could hit the streets, the plows and salters from the trucks needed to be removed. It also turned out two trucks had flat tires.

The work started just before midnight.

Crews cleared the south side of Main Street, Court Street and the parking lot near Jackson Street (where we caught up with them for photos at 5:30 a.m.).

Tonight, they will work on the north side of Main Street.

Weather permitting, they will work on Ellicott Street the night after that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Naysayers aside, BDC gave city a return on its investment in 2014, coordinator tells council

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bdc, downtown, economic development

The City of Batavia has realized a 500-percent return on its $360,000 investment in community development, Julie Pacatte, economic development coordinator, told the City Council on Monday night.

The Council has authorized $90,000 a year over four years to the Batavia Development Corporation- that's $360,000. In return, the BDC has generated more than $2.1 million in public-private investment in Downtown.

Several of the projects managed by BDC were building owners constructing renovated apartments, all of which rented immediately.

But perhaps the biggest win is the renovation of the old Carr's Warehouse in Jackson Square.

The property sat vacant and deteriorating for three years. The city marketed the building as a revitalization project and eventually found a developer.

With the help of a $115,000 state grant, Paul Thompson and his partners invested more than $500,000 in constructing four apartments and a first-floor office area.

The vacancies were filled as soon as construction was completed.

The property was assessed at $30,000, but since it was a city-foreclosed property, it was generating zero tax revenue. Now it's assessed at more than $200,000 and on the tax roles. (The developer has the option to apply for a tax abatement by March under a municipal program that works like a PILOT, offering tax relief on the increase in assessed value).

The nine new residential units, using current economic models, are worth about $5,000 each in extra consumer buying power Downtown, Pacatte said.

Pacatte's job has been funded in the past through the use of revenue generated by Batavia Downs and transferred by the state to the city on an annual basis.

Since this is not general fund revenue, it doesn't have any impact on local property taxes. Even so, there is some question as to whether the current council is willing to once again use city money to fund the development coordinator's position.

Pacatte's Monday presentation could be seen as a pitch to save her job, but that didn't stop her from getting a little feisty. She was full of energy during her presentation, and when she spoke about negative attitudes, Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian challenged the remark and Pacatte shot right back with her own view.

The topic of the exchange was the mall, which Pacatte had already called a travesty and an embarrassment and one of the factors weighing down economic development in the city.

"I think maybe people have a negative attitude because they have heard the same old thing year after year," Christian said. "How many years have we heard we're going to do something with the mall. I've sat on this board for 24 years and I've heard year after year we're going to do something with the mall."

Pacatte responded that she didn't say the BDC was going to do something with the mall, just that the issue needed to be resolved.

The negative attitude discussion harkens back to a consultant report from three years ago, which Pacatte referenced, that said one of the things hurting Batavia is a persistent, nagging culture of antagonism to new proposals.

From the report (pdf; page 29):

... many residents and business leaders alike are quick to say what is right about the place, but only after they or others have said how it is not the community it used to be. This habit goes to the core of the challenge for Batavia. Regardless of how effective the city government is, or how successful the schools are, or how homeowners keep up beautiful homes, there is always the perception that things used to be better. This sets up an impossible goal: Batavia needs to be as good as its finest past features, but without any of its previous problems, and certainly without any of yesterday’s resources. It allows critics to say, “see, I told you so.” It lives on phrases like “that can’t be done,” and “we tried that,” and “here’s why that won’t work.” Until the community addresses this problem, Batavia won’t achieve its full and substantial potential.

Pacatte has succeeded in helping to bring new development to Downtown Batavia despite the naysayers. Each new apartment development was met by a wave of criticism and endless predictions that nobody would rent such high-priced units.

Yet, there are no vacancies. Landlords rent the apartments as quickly as they become available.

The Carr's project was roundly criticized, yet it's successful.

The negative attitudes are just something to try and work though as a professional, Pacatte said after the meeting.

"I think it's important to listen to what the community is saying, but we also have access and in our profession we understand that these projects do happen and happen a lot in other communities and there's no reason it shouldn't happen in Batavia," Pacatte said. "We bring the folks to the table who can make it happen.

"It's important to hear some of the negativity at the time to maybe rethink how we approach a project," Pacatte added, "but it's important to be a professional and understand that it is possible and persevere to that end. I was hired to impact the economic community in Batavia and I believe that's what I'm doing when I push those projects forward."

In 2015, the BDC will look to advance the Batavia Opportunity Areas, such as the Della Penna property on Ellicott Street, and right next to it, the Santy Tires property.

The mall fits in there somewhere, as well, though that is a much stickier problem with all of the competing interests and ancient animosities. Pacatte believes there might be an opportunity to apply for funding in 2015 through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council to pursue some sort of long-term solution.

She also sees as her job in 2015 an effort to foster a greater entrepreneurial spirit in Batavia, to coordinate and implement a new micro-enterprise grant program, and support an industry-specific incubator.

The BDC will also apply for more redevelopment grant money from the state.

Saturday, January 17, 2015 at 2:30 am

Crafter gets off of festival trail and opens store in Downtown Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown

In the craft business since 1998, Andre Gliwski Jr. thinks it's time to settle down.

Rather than setting up a booth at a different community festival each weekend, Gilwski has opened a craft store in Downtown Batavia, at 220 E. Main St. and is hosting an open house this Friday and Saturday.

Working out of a single location isn't just a better lifestyle for a young father (Gilwski and his wife have children ages 1 and 2), it's better for building relationships with customers.

"You have a better following when they know where you're at rather than trying to chase you down," Gilwski said.

Currently his shop, A.J.'s Crafts, stocks only items that he has made, or his mother or wife have made.

Among the kind of things Gilwski enjoys making are jewelry, clothes, blankets, bean bags, hair stretchies, catnip toys, tooth-fairy pillows and scarves.

He said he can make or have made pretty much any custom item a buyer might want.

His mother has been slowed by arthritis, but there's a table in the store filled with her handmade needlework items.

Gilwski's wife also makes jewelry and helps with some of the product finishes on Gilwski's work.

"I like crafts because they're all handmade and not made in other countries," Gilwski said. "It's something I enjoy doing and I enjoy the look on a customer's face when they buy something I've made. It's something different than what you'll see at Walmart or Kmart or some other Big Box store."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Council meeting features discussion on downtown mall frustrations

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, city centre, downtown, genesee country mall, mall

There was a degree of frustration on all sides in council chambers Monday night over the long-simmering dispute over the state of the downtown mall after a resident raised the issue during public comments.

Some council members initially joined in the call of Richard Richmond to have the state's comptroller's office audit the city's legal fees associated with the city's dispute and the current lawsuit with the Mall Merchants Association.

Molino noted, however, that the city was audited last year and no irregularities related to legal bills were found.

He also asked what the goal of such an audit would be. The legal fees are public record and have been released before.

Richmond said he would like to see an itemized list of attorney fees for the mall, even suggesting audio go back six years to check for any inadvertent double billing.

The city's financial statements are scrutinized every year by an independent accountant, Molino told the council, and "they report any fraud or inconsistencies."

There have been no such reports.

Last year, resident John Roach issued a public records request and received documents showing the city's legal fees related to mall litigation, but some material was redacted if it could reveal information covered by attorney-client privilege. 

An audit, Molino suggested, would not necessarily uncover the kind of information perhaps some think it might.

"The comptroller is not going to provide you with guidance on what you pay for what services," Molino said. "They're not going to come in and tell you you're paying too much for police services, you're paying too much for fire services or you're paying too much for this."

Council members such as John Deleo expressed concern about how much was being spent on mall litigation and compared the years-long conflict with the mall association to a messy divorce that has gone on too long.

More than just the legal fees, perhaps, Deleo said, "people are concerned about the mall and the 57 buckets and how long does this divorce will go on."

After the meeting, Molino hinted at his own frustration with five or six years of disputes over the mall, but also expressed hope that a once-and-for-all solution can be reached during legal negotiations.

The condition of the mall and the disputes over the mall create a perception problem, Molino said, that could hold back redevelopment and brownfield development.

"It does not help the long-term success of the city nor the long-term success of the businesses and the redevelopment potential downtown, so, yes, it does hurt," Molino said. "It hurts everybody. I think everybody's business involved is going to benefit when it's resolved, and the city as a whole, and the community, will be able to get through this, and I hope it's a milestone that we can get past and say we were able to get past that hurdle."

There is an openness, Molino believes, to finding a solution to the disputes that led to the lawsuit, the involves negotiation and not further litigation.

"I think both parties want to resolve this issue and it's just a matter of coming together to find common ground that is going to meet everybody's needs," Molino said.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Photo: Memorial to former owner of Caito's Liquors

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown, The Yngodess Shop

The family of Samuel J. Caito placed a memorial today to the former liquor store owner in front of the YNGodess Shop on Main Street, Downtown Batavia, the location of his former shop.

His father, Augustino, opened the store right after the end of Prohibition in 1933. It was the first post-prohibition liquor store in Batavia.

Samuel owned the store until 1985.

He was also a teacher at Notre Dame and Batavia Middle School.

Click here for his full obituary.

Monday, December 29, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Construction on 30-unit apartment complex Downtown could begin in February

post by Howard B. Owens in Bataiva, downtown, housing

Sometime soon after the first of the year, Vito Gautieri expects to get word from at least one bank on funding for his planned apartment complex atop of Save-A-Lot at 45-47 Ellicott St. in the City of Batavia.

Gautieri is planning a four-story structure with 30 quality apartments with rents ranging from $800 to $1,100 per month.

He expects to begin construction on the "Casa Mia" complex in February. Completion will depend on arrangements with another contractor, but could come as early as the Winter of 2015.

"It’s a nice project and we’re working like mad on it to see if we can get it going as soon as the financing is done," Gautieri said.

If it comes through, Casa Mia will be a nice boost for the Downtown economy, said Julie Pacatte, coordinator of the Batavia Development Corp.

"Our marketing reports have told us there is a need for quality, urban housing in Downtown Batavia," Pacatte said. "There is a boom in Rochester and they're taking full advantage of the demand from millennials and empty-nesters for more quality apartments. We're excited about it. It brings more disposable income Downtown, more shoppers, more diners, which is what we're looking for."

Gautieri has not applied for any financial assistance from the BDC nor the GCEDC, he said, though he may seek a tax break through the city's 485(A) program.

The BDC has worked to spur development of several apartments on Jackson Street and Jackson Square, all in the $800 to $1,000 per month price range, and every unit was rented as soon as it hit the market.

That, and the marketing studies, gives Gautieri a high degree of confidence that his 30 units will fill up quickly.

"There's a lot of advantages to living downtown for young people and the elderly," Gautieri said. "It will be a good compliment to the Save-A-Lot and within walking distance you've got seven or eight restaurants. That should really make it attractive for people."

He anticipates from 70 to 80 people, including children, will live in the apartments.

Sav-A-Lot occupies only half of Gautieri's property there. He's been unable to find businesses willing to rent the other half of the building, so he's planning to convert that space into covered parking -- 32 spaces -- for the residents of the apartments.

The building was originally constructed by Gautieri for Montgomery Ward and the second floor was intended to be a warehouse, so it was engineered to hold a lot of weight.  

That construction is what enables Gautieri to now add two more floors of apartments.

The second floor will be flats. As soon as funding is approved, crews will get busy opening windows and erecting interior walls.

Gautieri is negotiating with companies in Buffalo and Clifton Springs for pre-fab apartments for the planned third and fourth floors.

If an appropriate deal can be brokered, he anticipates finishing the project by the end of next year.

If his own crews have to build the structure, then it will take well into 2016 to finish.

The apartments on the fourth floor -- Gautieri doesn't call them penthouses, "there are no penthouses in Batavia," he said with a chuckle -- will rent at the higher rates, but the first tenants will be able to customize their spaces.

The project is exciting, even if the BDC isn't directly involved, Pacatte said, because more people living Downtown will drive economic growth, help fill retail spaces and bring in more people.

Studies show that each downtown housing unit drives $19,000 in demand for retail goods and services.

"Investment into Downtown that responds to the market findings will be another win for our efforts toward community renewal," Pacatte said. "The Jackson Street owner investments in recent years have already proven successful -- reaching 100-percent occupancy within weeks of becoming available."

The Ellicott Street project isn't Gautieri's only apartment plan Downtown. He's also planning a project for his property at 45 Liberty St.

The project will consist of small, single-occupant apartments aimed at young people just starting out in life or elder people on fixed incomes with minimal residential needs.  

"There's companies doing some of these in Rochester and they're rented before they even start construction," Gautieri said.

He's also planning to convert one of his office buildings on Liberty, where he already operates storage units, into storage units.

Friday, December 26, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Karen's Yarn, Paper, Scissors wins Downtown holiday window display contest

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown

Karen's Yarn, Paper, Scissors, at 39 Jackson St., Batavia, won this year's window decorating contest sponsored by the Business Improvement District. The business receives a $250 cash prize.

Second place was WBTA, 113 Main St., and The Insurance Center, 50 Main St.

The judges were impressed not only with the creativity of Karen's display, but the use of paper, which is, of course, related to her business.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Photo: Snowfall arrives during evening commute

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown, weather

The predicted snowfall for this morning didn't really materialize, but it's coming down pretty good right now, with a prediction of up to two inches by 7 p.m.

Here's 60 seconds of what it was looking like at Main and Center a few minutes ago:

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