Frontier House price has gone down as 'no stone unturned'
By Joshua Maloni
Discussions on the future of the Frontier House have picked up again.
On Thursday, the Hastings family revealed its intent to subdivide their 0.9-acre parcel at 460 Center St. - site of Lewiston's most famous building. This decision comes as the nearly 200-year-old Frontier House has yet to find a buyer after more than a year on the market.
This new plan, the family said, would improve the chances of selling the property and/or finding funding to fix the former 19th century hotel and turn-of-the-21st-century fast-food restaurant.
Stacey Sheehan, business development consultant for the Hastings family, said, "As we all know, the property has remained vacant for many years, and is in need of immediate repair, but what the general public may not be aware of is that we have been working very hard to make that happen.
"In just the last four years I have been working on this, we have submitted to approximately a dozen grants, sought support on local, state and federal levels, attempted to locate possible partners, were prepared to sell it to the village - who did not pursue it when funding fell through - listed the building for sale, reduced the price, attempted to trade it for other properties, were prepared to sell it to the town - whose board shut it down.
"We hired experts in the fields of engineering, hospitality, historical preservation and construction, but have just not been able to identify a plan that was feasible from a hospitality standpoint.
"It has been at the forefront of our minds every day. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a building that has been left behind or ignored."
The Frontier House was listed with Great Lakes Real Estate early last summer. Those with intimate knowledge of the building, including elected and appointed village leaders, concur there are two stumbling blocks to a straight-up sale.
The first is the price, which is currently $1,495,000. That is almost double the March 2015 appraisal from GAR Associates Inc. The second obstacle is the cost to refurbish the building, with professionals throwing out numbers from $1 million to more than $10 million.
There have also been discussions between the Hastings family and the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees to swap properties. The former would receive The Silo Restaurant grounds (the Hastings family currently leases space on Water Street), while the latter would receive the Frontier House. Those talks have stalled, however, as the Village Board presently will not entertain this option.
"Most recently, in July of this year, we brought in a consultant from NYC by the name of Robert Keon," Sheehan said. "Mr. Keon is the upmost respected consultant in the hospitality field, with a specialization and focus on historical projects. He came highly recommended and is a standout nationally in his field. We flew him here for two days, during which time he conducted a thorough site visit of the property, as well as gathered information from the Niagara Region in order to compile a feasibility study. We sought his assistance in hopes he could aid us in finding a way forward to develop the property.
"We wanted to be sure we had looked at every possible angle, and I can now say - with confidence - we have.
"We've left no stone unturned and, after considering all of the information we have gathered, we have devised this most recent plan to subdivide, in hopes it will achieve two things: (No. 1) Allow a pathway forward for a larger pool of buyers. Perhaps an individual or group, with either philanthropic motivations, or a nonprofit with access to grants we can't obtain, or maybe an individual with construction resources we don't have to draw upon, to make it possible for them to come forward and purchase the Frontier House?
"Where it is far too premature to commit to a list price for the subdivide at this time, I will say that the newly priced subdivided portion would be significantly reduced, making it attainable to a very large pool of buyers.
"(No. 2) Allow the ownership to obtain a portion of the property on Center Street for possible future development. There are no immediate plans to develop the parking lot portion of the property; there has been some discussion of making it into a green space for the foreseeable (future).
"We have already been approached by several interested parties who have expressed that the subdivide would allow for them the opportunity to entertain some viable and exciting restoration projects that would be very complimentary to the current village landscape.
"We have expressed our intention to members of the village government and are seeking their support and cooperation. The next step will be taking our proposed plans before the (Historic Preservation Commission) Sept. 26 to obtain a certificate of appropriateness, and then, from there, to the Planning Board to seek their necessary approvals.
"I sincerely believe this is the best pathway forward, which will meet the needs of the ownership and satisfy the community as a whole."
Sheehan said the property would be split from Center Street back to Ridge Street, and include some parking surrounding the Frontier House.
The HPC was scheduled to meet Thursday to hear from Hastings and Sheehan, but wires were crossed. The HPC cancelled, reinstated, and then again cancelled the meeting.
Deputy Village of Lewiston Mayor Bruce Sutherland said, "We're trying to move at a nice pace to allow them to put forward what they have in mind. They're waiting on a (subdivision) drawing. ... They haven't gotten the drawing back. That was ... the main reason that the meeting was cancelled.
HPC Vice Chairman Ken Slaugenhoupt said, "We wanted to talk to them about the configuration of the lot they want to split off there, because we want to be absolutely certain that we don't give a certificate of appropriateness for a lot that would need variances."
Model Landmarks Preservation Local Law for New York State Municipalities, Section 13 (Certificate of Appropriateness for Alteration, Demolition, or New Construction Affecting Individual Landmarks or Historic Districts) states the HPC "is responsible for the approval or disapproval of proposals for exterior changes to a historic property designated under this local law. No person shall carry out any exterior alteration, restoration, reconstruction, demolition, new construction, or move of a designated historic landmark ... without first obtaining a certificate of appropriateness that authorizes such work" from the HPC.
Furthermore, "The commission shall approve the issuance of a certificate of appropriateness only if it determines that the proposed work will not have a substantial adverse effect on the aesthetic, historical, or architectural significance and value of the individual landmark."
"As an advocate for the building, we want to make sure that the subdivision - I'm all for the subdivision, but the lot's got to be big enough to maintain a maximum capability for the new developer," Slaugenhoupt said.
When asked if he was aware of potential buyers, Sutherland said, "I've heard there are." He didn't elaborate.
Whether or not the building is sold, Sutherland said, "It can't be torn down," as some have speculated might ultimately happen if no buyer emerges.
"The outside has to look basically the same, and the Historic Preservation Commission has the authority on that, and they would rule on anything that (a buyer) wants to do to the outside of the building - they'd have to approve it," Sutherland said.
He noted, "We really want this to happen. ... We're basically monitoring it, and the HPC will rule on the certificate of appropriateness for the subdivision, and then it goes to the Planning Board, and then they approve it, or modify."
In August 2013, Richard Hastings gave operational control of the Frontier House to his son, Alan, who also runs The Silo. Alan sought to renovate the building and open a brewpub in the place where McDonald's operated until 2004. In March 2015, with Hastings and Sheehan unable to find grant money, former Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey tried to convince the Town Board to buy the parcel. That idea failed once the appraisal came back at $750,000 - about a quarter of a million dollars short of what Brochey expected.
The Frontier House and grounds were then listed with Bruce Andrews and Great Lakes Real Estate in May 2015. The asking price at that time was $1,695,000.