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North Tonawanda History Museum seeks assistance from council

Fri, Dec 23rd 2016 07:00 am

By Mike Pidanick

The future of the North Tonawanda History Museum remains in question as its Webster Street property faces possible foreclosure.

A California-based seller has filed for foreclosure on the property, which was sold to the museum in 2009. Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. heard the case on Dec. 8 and reserved judgment.

A decision is expected in coming weeks that will likely determine the fate of the museum. On Tuesday, the museum officials and supporters turned to the NT Common Council for help.

"What I would like the Common Council to do is to say to the judge, in a written letter or verbally, that you really appreciate the fact that the North Tonawanda History Museum is there and is acting as an escort for people to put their artifacts and the histories of their families and their businesses," museum board member Audrey Monkiewicz said.

"I know we have other museums ... and all of them are wonderful," she continued. "But this is North Tonawanda; it is not a company, it is not an activity, it is a city ... the people, the businesses. It deserves to be supported."

Monkiewicz said a contribution of $5 per property in North Tonawanda could help the museum move forward. For now, the biggest problem is keeping the building at 54 Webster St. The museum still owes nearly $300,000 of the $675,000 it admittedly overpaid for the property in 2009.

Several community supporters took advantage of the public portion of the council meeting to express the need to keep the museum going.

"We know that there are issues with finances; we know that there are issues with (the) tax base, we know that there could be a different use for that venue," museum volunteer Steve Ash said. "All of that withstanding, aren't we very glad that we have a very good beginning of what can be a wonderful, wonderful museum? The number of artifacts in that museum is just incredible."

Not all in attendance were in favor of keeping the museum going - at least not at the current location. City Building Inspector Cosimo Cappozzi said he cautioned Donna Zellner Neal, the museum's former executive director who died in March, that the site was not safe when the original purchase was made and recommended other locations.

Among his current concerns is the lack of a sprinkler system in the event of the fire, a situation similar to a converted warehouse that caught fire in Oakland, California recently during a holiday party, killing 36 people.

"This museum may be a wonderful addition to the city but, from where I sit, we have some serious safety issues," Cappozzi said. "Over the years, we've had an unsafe building. We've been very fortunate that nothing has happened like in Oakland."

Council members heard the concerns, but the museum may have waited a little too long before asking for assistance, officials suggested.

"When we are approached and we can communicate, we can get things done," Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka said. "We welcome those opportunities and we will help where we can. We all want to see it do well, but I think there are limits to what we can and can't do based on our current situation."

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