Petition encourages support
Article and photo by Joshua Maloni
News broke Sunday that the Village of Lewiston created a petition seeking support for restoration of the historic Frontier House. Throughout this week, residents visiting the mayor's office in the Red Brick Municipal Building have been encouraged to sign the document. To date, more than 500 have obliged. In doing so, they asked one question: What's going on with the Frontier House?
"What we're trying to do, basically, is to purchase the property," Mayor Terry Collesano said Tuesday.
Since May, the Village Board has met at least three times in executive session to discuss acquiring the Frontier House, which was built in 1824 and has sat vacant since 2004. Trustees have spoken with building owner Richard Hastings, attorney Maxwell Coykendall, and with Hormoz Mansouri, who is Hastings' partner on a planned adjoining condominium complex.
Collesano said the village is hoping to obtain a Transportation Enhancement Program reimbursement grant from the state Department of Transportation. The village is looking for $3 million, which would include funding to complete the purchase and to renovate the property.
"The $3 million would handle the restoration of the exterior of the building, as well as most of the interior of the building," Collesano said. "There's two other sources that we're going to go after, as well. There's the coastal zone management, which we are now in the process of doing the coastal zone management from the waterfront all the way up Center Street. That way we can include the Frontier House in it, and try for that grant. There's one other (source) that we're also going to go through, for immediate funds, through Greenway. We're going to try that one, as well."
The U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's coastal management program is described on the NOAA website as working to "preserve, protect, develop and, where possible, restore and enhance the nation's coastal zone resources." Greenway funding, meanwhile, comes through the New York Power Authority relicensing agreement.
"The petition is for the (DOT) grant," Collesano said. "In order to receive the grants, it's imperative that we have signatures of support of the people."
"What we're trying to do is, we're trying to roll the purchase price into the grant," he added. "In order to do that, there's certain criteria that we have to follow for the grant. We went to Buffalo yesterday, the state of New York's Department of Transportation, hoping that we could roll that into it. We can do it, but in order to do that, we have to wait for about a year. It takes about a year for procedure. We have to do a SEQRA; we have to write a letter of intent. We still believe that we can have everything done by the deadline for the grant, which is Aug. 15. That gives us a month to work on it.
"We still need to have an open meeting, which we plan on doing on the 15th of July, for the public - we have to have public input on it."
Collesano said the village, financially, could purchase the property right now. However, "we'd have to float a bond for it. And to do that, then we're holding ourself back."
"If we have to buy it outright, then the village people are going to lose out on it," he added. "So, we're trying to do everything proper and, in order to do it proper, there's so many hoops that we've got to jump through and hurdles we've got to go over in order to do it properly. But that's what we're doing. We're going to pursue it."
The DOT grant would require the village to give back 20 percent through in-kind funds - in this case, most likely "in-kind contributions of labor or materials that are an integral component of the project (DOT website)," and would come from the village's Department of Public Works.
The grant will likely be awarded in the fall and dispersed next summer or fall.
Mansouri, who is president of the Buffalo-based E.I. Team, said the Village Board and Clerk Anne Welch "are doing a tremendous work. They have been behind the project, to revitalize the Frontier House."
"The opportunity has presented itself to own the Frontier House and promote it, and refurbish it and promote it to its glory days of the 1800s. I think that is tremendous progress for the Village of Lewiston," he added.
In 2011, Hastings, Mansouri and former Frontier House partner John Bartolomei, a Niagara Falls attorney, proposed adding a multi-story condominium development above the property's parking lot. Last year, Hastings' son, Alan, who operates The Silo Restaurant, expressed interest in converting the Frontier House into a microbrewery similar to Buffalo's Pearl Street Grill & Brewery.
On Tuesday, Mansouri said, "we have come up with an agreement in principle to go forward with the Frontier House, as well as the condominiums. So both of them are going forward."
He said it's going to cost a lot of money to refurbish and reopen the Frontier House. At the same time, "Utilization of public funds for private use is prohibited," he said. So, "to secure the necessary funding for the village, it is essential for the village to have a right to decide (what goes into the Frontier House)."
In other words, the Village of Lewiston would need a controlling interest in the property and have an idea of what it will be used for in the future.
Mansouri said, "Yes, absolutely, we are working with the village on that route. We are working diligently with the village, and we want to support the village and village trustees and the mayor (in any way) to promote that idea."
In return, Hastings and Mansouri would be granted permission to build condominiums. The most recent design showed a J-shaped complex sitting kitty-corner to the Frontier House and facing Ridge Street. It would be between three and five stories, with between 25 and 27 units. Targeted tenants would be baby boomers.
Traffic would enter via Center Street and enter and exit on Ridge Street. There could be as many as 27 covered parking spaces, and an additional 37 parking spaces surrounding the development.
"There have been some people in the village that they are opposing a massive building," Mansouri said. "We're trying to find a way to work with the village ... to ensure everybody's thoughts are incorporated into the new building, the condominiums. Under no circumstances do we want anybody to be offended by a big building, because we have that harmony built into (Lewiston), and a lot of people would like to hold on to it, and we want to accommodate them."
Mansouri said there is "strong support" in the community for such a condominium development. "We also know the village trustees and the mayor, they have a strong position in terms of (ensuring) the public's thoughts are incorporated into the new project. For that reason, we are working to finalize the type of the building it will be, and the number of the condominium (units)."
"We have to come up with a middle ground that everybody's happy," he said. "You don't want to offend anybody. Bottom line. Offending the public is not a good idea in any project."
Leandra Collesano, vice president of the Historical Association of Lewiston (and Mayor Terry Collesano's daughter), was appointed to the Frontier House Restoration Committee. In a Facebook post, she wrote, "If you know me, you know about my passion for Lewiston and (its) rich heritage. ... Our first task is to see if there is community support in restoring the Frontier House at 460 Center Street in the Village. Once that support is confirmed through paper and online petitions, we'll have the ammunition we need to apply for grants to help with the restoration project.
"Built in 1824, The (Frontier) House is one of the oldest structures in the Town of Lewiston. It's been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. A slew of famous people have visited the Frontier House, including President McKinley on the day he was shot, The Marquis de Lafayette, King Edward VII, New York Governor Dewitt Clinton, Charles Dickens, Jenny Lind, Washington Irving and Daniel Webster. The building has been vacant and in disrepair for almost 10 years."
The online and paper petitions read, "We the undersigned support the Village of Lewiston in the restoration of the Historic Frontier House located at 460 Center Street, Lewiston NY. The restoration of this historic building will help preserve our history and heritage of our region. This great asset of The Niagara Frontier has served the world well, but it now needs help. Treasured properties should be passed on in good condition to future generations. The Frontier House deserves assistance."
Leandra wrote about the Frontier House committee's unsuccessful effort last year to have the building included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "11 Most Endangered Historic Sites" list. She said the committee "is now gathering petition signatures to show there is community support to restore the Frontier House."
Those wishing to sign the petition can do so in the mayor's office or by visiting http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/frontier-house/.
Hastings declined comment Tuesday, only saying he has not made up his mind as to what he will do with the Frontier House. His building has been closed since McDonald's opted out in December 2004.