Supervisor, Hastings not pleased with valuation
By Joshua Maloni
GAR Associates Inc. has delivered its assessment of the historic Frontier House to Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey. The 191-year-old building and almost one acre of land were valued at $750,000.
That number is lower than what Frontier House owner Richard Hastings and his son, Alan, expected.
Both of them declined comment. Their business consultant, Stacey Sheehan, released a statement to the Sentinel that expressed the family's disappointment in the assessment.
"We have had such a range of opinions on what the value is; we have consulted a number of appraisers and real estate professionals, and the valuations received go from $999,000 to $1.8 million," she said. "The Hastings - like any normal businessmen would - are taking those recommendations into account and are following the professional guidance they are getting from these sources.
"It's not an office building, or a mini-plaza. It is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It's a place where President McKinley spent his last days alive. It's a place where Freemasons held secret meetings. Mark Twain was among the long list of honored guests and temporary residents of the Frontier House. ... It's a piece of American history."
Last month, Brochey suggested the Town of Lewiston use Greenway money to purchase the Frontier House, which he called Center Street's crown jewel, and then apply for grants to fix it up. The Town Board agreed to pay GAR $2,200 to evaluate the property and determine a net worth.
Of the appraisal, Brochey admitted, "(The Frontier House) is probably worth more than the assessed value. How much more I couldn't say."
"The appraisal probably did not take into consideration the historical significance of it," he added.
The Frontier House
Sheehan said the report also neglected the property's physical attributes, which are unique to the village.
"In addition to its history, it's a double lot, and the last place on Center Street with ample parking," she said. "What is that worth? That's the tough question."
The Frontier House has been vacant since McDonald's left in late 2004. Though Richard Hastings has put time and money into fixing the building's roof and stabilizing the structure so it doesn't collapse, the building has been deteriorating. The outside needs a complete renovation. Inside, there are no stairs connecting the ground level with the second floor, and the upper three levels are in desperate need of patchwork.
GAR Associates Vice President Ronald J. Rubino walked through the Frontier House earlier this month. At the time, he said the building would be evaluated on its history, age, size and condition.
"In this case, we'd be focusing more in the Village of Lewiston, since it's a very definable neighborhood," Rubino said. "We try to find what real estate values are for similar properties.
"Obviously, a unique property like this, it's unusual to find ones that maybe have sold that are similar to it. So, it makes it a little more challenging. Coupled with ... the condition that it's in - it's also larger with regard to land area and it has significant parking that's superior to a lot of properties in the village. That makes it unique. And the building, square-footage-wise, the sheer size of the building is larger than most buildings in the village. And that makes it unique, as well."
Rubino declined comment Wednesday, citing assessor-client confidentiality.
GAR is an Amherst real estate appraising and consulting firm.
Sheehan said it appeared GAR focused solely on real estate comparables.
"That's the trouble with these appraisals," she said. "They are just not an accurate measuring tool when it comes to value on historical properties. Sure, they take into account comparables by looking at other Lewiston properties that have sold recently. They compare the Frontier House to, say, Apple Granny (which recently sold for more than $1 million), and the Collins Childcare Center building (and) a mini-plaza. It's like comparing apples to oranges. They look at things like square footage, location, zoning, which are all acceptable in a normal real estate transaction, but this is no normal real estate transaction.
"The dollar value that the board requested (and) appraisal returned is lower than it should be, because it's not designed to reflect the value of a historical property. It's not the appropriate measuring tool - the math just doesn't apply to landmark properties."
Sheehan said she hoped politics didn't play a part in the appraisal process.
"It's my understanding that there are some people on the Town Board who understand (the value), and others who don't. There is a divide," she said. "Despite the fact that no taxpayer funds would be tapped to do this project, I've heard from residents who say that the town should not participate in restoring this building, because it is actually located in the village. I think that's backwards thinking."
"It's not Village of Lewiston-specific," she added. "It's not a Democratic concern, or a Republican issue. Restoring the building is of national benefit. (People) in general - for generations to come - would have benefitted from this acquisition. It would have been a source of pride for all of Lewiston, and for Niagara County, New York state and America."
Brochey said the Town Board members have not seen the appraisal, because he has not yet seen them. He expects to share the findings ahead of Monday's Town Board meeting.
With regard to purchasing the Frontier House, Brochey said, "A couple people are still thinking that Greenway money was tax money - my plan was to use Greenway money to purchase the Frontier House - and that is not tax money. That is New York Power Authority money."
In 2007, NYPA earmarked $450 million for Greenway projects to be funded over the course of its 50-year relicensing agreement. The Town of Lewiston receives $510,000 each year, which can be used on projects in keeping with the Greenway Plan's mission to build and promote a series of "interconnected parks, river access points and waterfront trails along the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario at the site of Fort Niagara."
In 2013, Alan Hastings announced his intention to convert the Frontier House into a brewpub. Since then, he has looked for funding sources, but to no avail. Various Village of Lewiston officials have speculated it will take between $1 million and $10 million to fix and then reopen the Frontier House.
"I have spent two years looking for grants to assist the Hastings family with development, and it's disheartening," Sheehan said. "They know how much people want to see the Frontier House up and running, and preferably in a retail capacity, but all of the grants we've explored are off-limits to projects containing retail."
Brochey said, "I'd like to think that we're still negotiating" with Richard Hastings, but he's not going to push the issue.
"If Mr. Hastings wants to come and talk to me ... I'd be more than willing to sit with him any given time of day," Brochey said. "But that's got to be his call. I know how he feels. I know he's upset about the appraisal. There's not much I can do. I can't force the people of Lewiston, or force the board, to pay what Hastings wants for the building. But, hopefully, somehow, we can come to terms."
Sheehan said, "I know that the Hastings really appreciate the town looking for ways to work on this, especially Supervisor Brochey, who has really displayed his patriotism and leadership in this, and other town matters. They are also thankful for the encouragement we've received from the current Village Board, as well.
"As for what happens next? The Frontier House is still for sale and will be listed with a local agency this week."