by Joshua Maloni
Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano's Frontier House citizens committee met this week and is working on a plan to save the historic Center Street building.
He called the private meeting "informative," and said, "I think we're making some progress."
"The committee is coming up with some very good ideas," Collesano said.
One of those ideas is acquiring the Frontier House, which has been closed since former tenant McDonald's left in 2004.
"They're trying to figure out a way of purchasing the Frontier House, and then come up with a plan," Collesano said. "And then the village, what we would do, is we'd represent the committee as being the lead agency. If it did come to being purchased, then the village would purchase it. But we don't want to be in real estate."
The Village Board first floated the idea of buying the Frontier House last summer. Collesano and trustees said they would rather Frontier House President Alan Hastings secure funding to restore the 190-year-old building and convert it into a microbrewery (Hastings' idea), but public monies might not be available for a privately owned entity.
"For the past six months, Alan Hastings has sought funding for the Frontier House microbrewery project," his business consultant, Stacey Sheehan, said. "Various means have been explored, including grants, tax credits, property sales, trades, private investors, business partnerships and high-level meetings at local, state and federal levels.
"To date, he has been unable to secure the staggering level of funds required to break ground. He is aware the value of the building lies in its rich history, and has a comprehensive understanding that the community is looking to him to see that it gets developed."
Collesano said, "My board, I've told them that we don't want to be in real estate. But if it takes us to be the lead agency in order to purchase it, in order to get the grants and what have you, we would do that. But then we would turn it over to the committee."
Whether the building would then be used as a not-for-profit center, cultural hub or retail/restaurant space is unknown.
"It's still in the early stages," Collesano said.
The citizen committee is chaired by former Niagara County Legislator Lee Simonson and includes members of the Historical Association of Lewiston (including Simonson, Pam Hauth, Leandra Collesano and Lisa Ohanessian), businesswoman Margaret Toohey, the Lewiston Council on the Arts' Eva Nicklas, former Village of Lewiston Planning Board Chairman Ken Slaugenhoupt and, in advisory roles, Collesano and Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey.
"There are ongoing discussions and conversations regarding the future of the Frontier House," Simonson said. "A lot of people think that this kind of fell off the table and we forgot about it. We never forgot about it. This is Lewiston's No. 1 priority.
"There are a tremendous number of serious people who want to get this thing fully restored and operating, and we are doing everything we possibly can to make that happen."
The biggest obstacle is funding. Those involved in the Frontier House discussion estimate the cost to restore and reopen the building would be north of $10 million.
"We are working very hard to put all of the pieces together," Simonson said. "It's not easy. The fact is that because of the cost of the restoration, it is extremely difficult to make the numbers work in terms of making it economically viable for developers or for the owner."
"There are ongoing discussions and we're working hard," he added.
Hastings has asked the village for permission to subdivide the Frontier House lot at 460 Center St. He said he wants to keep all options open.
Sheehan said he "is considering all possible paths to development."
She revealed, "The concept of separating the side containing the structure, and the side containing the parking lot, is on the table. Of course, adequate parking for the new owner would still be included. He is considering selling the property to the right buyer. The right buyer would be someone with honorable intentions for the property. In order to lower the asking price, and encourage buyers who are in the position to develop the property immediately to come forward, he is considering subdividing the property.
"Although he would prefer to keep the property and continue working towards the brewery concept, he identifies it could take a very long time to achieve the financing and funding necessary for him to go forward.
"The dream for the microbrewery is very much still alive, but if the right buyer emerges with a plan that is a good fit for the Frontier House, he is indeed willing to sell it and pursue his own development in an alternate location - which, from my perspective, would be favorable, allowing him to do so at a fourth of the price, and in a much shorter timeframe.
"If there is a party out there who has the means and dedication to restore the Frontier House, I hope he/she will emerge. He is looking to explore any way to take care of the historically impressive building, and also allow him the opportunity to see his microbrewery through to fruition."
Hastings said, "I don't know where we're at, but we are prospecting hard."
"There's definitely lots of hope," he added. "There's lots of hope."
"I just don't know what's going to happen," Hastings said. "I really don't know what's going to happen. It would be foolish to make any predictions or any assumptions at this point. Everything we're working on right now is so new.
"I haven't thrown out a brewery. There's still a very good chance that I could end up with a brewery in that Frontier House."
Simonson said the committee is working as a "facilitator" between the village and the Hastings family. Alan's father, Richard, owns the Frontier House.
"The committee is working directly with the Hastings to create a framework for negotiations (with the village) - a conceptual framework that we can build upon to move this thing forward," Simonson said.
"We are volunteers. We have no self-interest here. Our interest as a committee is to see that Frontier House restored and operating, and bringing it back to its glory days," Simonson added. "That's our one and only goal.
"We're doing our best to get everybody at the same table on the same page."
Hastings said, "We're working hard - and I'm not the only one working on it, which is great. Which is wonderful. Very exciting to have other people working on it in a positive way, as opposed to a negative way.
"I can tell you that I'm very excited about that. Very, very excited. No negativity. Just trying to find something that works for everybody. And I really feel like that seems to be the way things are going. So, I'm very hopeful."