Richard Hastings hands off Frontier House to son Alan; family pledges to start making improvements to historic building, but Zoning Officer DeVantier still intends to file court papers
By Joshua Maloni
Despite efforts this week by the Hastings family to try and answer the Village of Lewiston's Frontier House inquiries, and to provide some renovation plans, Zoning Officer Ed DeVantier still intends to issue appearance tickets in Town of Lewiston Town Court.
"We've gotten some correspondence from the Frontier House principals, (but) we still have most of the same issues, with at least 17 building code violations," DeVantier said Thursday. Items in need of repair include the roof, windows and siding.
He noted, "I haven't taken any steps yet, but that's how it looks at this point. What the Historic Preservation (Commission) has requested, we just didn't get."
Business consultant Stacey Sheehan submitted a letter to the Village of Lewiston on Wednesday on behalf of the Hastings family, explaining what Richard's son, Alan, is looking to do to fixup the 193-year-old building's exterior. The letter specifically mentions gutters and downspouts.
DeVantier said the contents of the correspondence were insufficient in that they failed to address the specific violations and didn't include a detailed timeline.
Sheehan said a date was, in fact, included. She said a more definite timeline couldn't be provided by Nov. 1 without village input on qualified repair agents. The Historic Preservation Commission made a point last week to say specific historical property knowledge is required to properly repair the Frontier House.
DeVantier said a court date would be selected next week. He explained, "It's usually a week" before a judge will hear the two sides.
The plan, DeVantier said, is to request the municipal fine of $250 per day. On top of that, he will seek the state building code violation penalty, which is $1,000 per day, per occurrence.
"That's the first step we're taking," he said. "That's what we would ask for."
The HPC and the Village Board of Trustees commissioned Building Inspector Ken Candella to inspect the Frontier House in October 2016. He did and, following his review, he submitted a letter to Richard Hastings outlining more than a dozen-and-a-half village code violations. The property owner was given a spring 2017 deadline to begin work.
HPC Chairman Harry Wright sent a letter dated Oct. 10 wherein he said his board wanted firm repair plans in place by Nov. 1.
Last week, Sheehan said Hastings had initiated repairs inside the building, and performed some work outside, too, including on the porch. But it was the HPC's opinion that not enough exterior renovation was executed - or even planned for this winter, so as to ensure the Frontier House's sustainability.
At the Oct. 23 meeting, HPC members authorized DeVantier to be on the ready to file court documents Nov. 2, should the Hastings camp not respond to Wright's letter. Sheehan said Hastings did not intend to make additional repairs - which she pegged at $500,000 - or even submit a response to the HPC.
However, on the deadline date, a letter was sent on behalf of Alan Hastings. The younger Hastings, who operates The Silo Restaurant on Water Street, was named Frontier House principal on Wednesday.
In a letter from Sheehan to local media, she wrote, "Due to a decline in health, Richard Hastings has appointed his son Alan Hastings as Principal acting on behalf of the Frontier House effective immediately. As such, the property is currently for sale by owner, with a drastically reduced asking price of $850,000 or best offer.
"Richard Hastings needs to focus on his health, and deserves peace and privacy. Personally, I'm asking fellow community members to respectfully grant him that. He has no interest in real estate, or developments at this time in his life and is hoping for a quick sale. If someone wants this property, now is the time.
"Any offer at this price point would certainly be welcomed, and accepted."
The letter Sheehan submitted to the Village of Lewiston on behalf of Alan Hastings read, "Please be advised that in response to your letter dated October 10, 2017 we are committed to the following action:
"The Sale Price for The Frontier House has been drastically reduced to an asking price of $850,000 Or best offer. It will be sold first come first serve to the buyer who emerges with valid written offer. Verbal offers will not be considered. To reassure you of our commitment to a quick sale of the property we are issuing a Press Release announcing the reduced price and encouraging interested parties to come forward.
"Prior to December 31, 2017 we aim to complete repairs or replacement to the gutters and down spouts as requested. We are speaking with two qualified gutter companies regarding this work, and are awaiting more specifics on the cost and schedule for this repair but are committed to honoring the above specified deadline.
"Further to this, we are currently in discussions with three contracting companies and are awaiting quotes, and possible timetables from them so we are unable to commit to further specifics until we have had the opportunity to adequately examine these options. The companies we have reached out to thus far include Bison Construction, RE Kelly, and Freedom Restorations. In the meantime we would be happy to take into consideration any recommendations you have for other qualified contractors as we have been finding it very difficult to find contractors uniquely qualified for Historical Construction as you have requested in your recent letter.
"It is my hope that you will identify my good intentions to sell the Frontier House as quickly as possible, and that you will seek to work with me as I navigate the specifics involved in completing your extensive list of repairs for the duration of my ownership.
"Please note that going forward - Due to my Father's ailing health - I will be acting as principal on this particular issue. Please contact me directly, or via my representative, Stacey Sheehan should you have any questions or concerns.
In Wright's Oct. 10 letter, he wrote, "We now face going into another winter season with the exterior in poor condition and the building at significant risk."
DeVantier said that realty remains. He stated Sheehan's letters do not adequately address the problems at hand.
As the enforcement officer in the village, DeVantier said he feels the time has come to put feet to fire.
"We tried to work with the owners of the Frontier House (over the past year), and that just didn't work out," he said.
"You've got to decide when you're going to take action," DeVantier added. "The village has been more than patient. Ken Candella has been more than patient. And so have I. Now we want to see some progress."
On Friday, Wright said he agreed with DeVantier.
DeVantier clarified a statement made at the HPC meeting on Oct. 23 wherein it was mentioned state code violations would be dealt with at State Supreme Court. He said those fine requests could also be requested at the Town of Lewiston Town Court.
"It's up to the judge to determine what the fine is," DeVantier said. "It could be less. ... I think that's the one thing everyone needs to realize: We can't just arbitrarily fine anybody. We've got to bring the charges to court, and then the judge determines what the fine would be. And this is only after anyone was found guilty of the charges."
Sheehan wrote she "understands that the community has a big interest in the building, and why they want ... to see it restored and functioning as the centerpiece it once was. I want that, too. I know many people are angry about the building sitting empty so long. They see an empty building and they think no one cares, no one is trying, but there has been continual exploration - proposals, grants, potential buyers, multiple business plans, feasibility studies, proposed partnerships. Residents can't see all the efforts the ownership has taken behind the scenes, so the general assumption is they've not made any attempts to develop there, but there are a dozen file boxes filled with documents that attest to all of the attempts that have been made over the years. I'm just hoping for a quick sale, for the benefit of all involved."
Alan Hastings, Sheehan wrote, "has submitted a letter of intent to The Village of Lewiston in advance of their specified deadline pledging his commitment to the quick sale of the building, and outlining a plan to begin addressing the list of requested repairs. He has requested their cooperation as he works aggressively to sell the property."
She added, "The property is for sale by owner - so those with interest should reach out to either Alan Hastings directly, or myself to schedule a showing. If a person, or entity emerges today with a written offer in this range - They will be the new owner of the Frontier House. Time is of the essence."
In an email Thursday, Sheehan said the goal is to sell the building by the end of this week. Interested parties can reach her at 716-405-7411.
The Frontier House has been closed since Richard Hastings' former tenant, McDonald's, opted to leave in late 2004.
In 2015, the building and grounds at 460 Center St., almost one acre in total, were assessed at $750,000. Shortly thereafter, they went on the market for almost $1.7 million.
FRONTIER HOUSE TIMELINE
The Frontier House was built in 1824. At that time, it was considered one of the finest hotels in the Northeast.
In the 1970s, right through its shutting in 2004, the building housed a McDonald's restaurant - with a famous passenger-side drive-thru window.
In 2004, and again a decade ago, plans to reopen the Frontier House as a hotel or as part of an upscale housing development were presented, altered, changed or delayed by other developments and/or lawsuits, and subsequently dropped.
In 2013, owner Richard Hastings' son, Alan, was named president of the Frontier House. The younger Hastings operates The Silo Restaurant. He desired to turn the property into a microbrewery, but was unable to find grant monies.
Two years later, then-Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey attempted to find money for his municipality to purchase the building. Negotiations between Brochey and the senior Hastings broke down upon receipt of a lower-than-expected property assessment ($750,000).
The building sits on nearly one acre of land, in the middle of Center Street, and includes a parking lot. Despite the property's inactivity, those familiar with the Frontier House speculated the historic four-story building, coupled with dedicated parking, would be valued at $1 million.
Other Lewiston Realtors dispute that figure and have suggested it should be 25 percent less or more.
The Village of Lewiston has also floated a handful of proposals to purchase the building - for far less than $1 million or even $750,000 - but those bids have thus far been rejected.
"It's not an easy building to find a buyer for, and the village's solution is that he should just lower the price tag to $2," said Hastings family business consultant Stacey Sheehan. "Well, that's not going to work. He wants to get paid a fair price for it. The only offers he's received so far have been really ridiculous - like $200,000, $300,000. I would never recommend he take an offer like that."