Village of Lewiston again considering fines
By Joshua Maloni
An agreement to purchase the Frontier House appears to have fallen through, and the Village of Lewiston's most famous property is, once again, up for sale.
Katerra Renovations (formerly Texas-based United Renovations) has not completed the transaction of the 194-year-old building and almost one acre of Center Street property from Hastings Lewiston following a due diligence period.
Richard Hastings and his wife, Judy, and son, Alan Hastings, had agreed to sell the Frontier House to United Renovations for $800,000. A contract stating an intent to purchase was signed on Nov. 4.
On Thursday afternoon, Great Lakes Real Estate associate broker Dian Ruta said, "My buyer was all set to go forward. But he wanted to renegotiate, and they (the Hastings family) thought they had another offer. So, they wanted to go with that."
Alan Hastings, who serves as Frontier House principal, said he was "incredibly disappointed" the deal wasn't completed. Returning from out of the country, he said he needed time to speak with his family before offering additional comment, or alternative plans.
Later in the evening, he sent an email that stated, "Although I have not actually spoken to Dian Ruta since the contract was signed in November, while I was in France this past week she sent me a text message notifying me that the buyer chose to opt out of our contract just a few days before the specified deadline. She advised they were still interested, but at approximately $400,000, which is 50 percent of the originally agreed upon price. At that time, I told her I was not interested in what I think is an unreasonable offer.
"Currently, there are others who are local and have expressed interest and have in mind some worthwhile projects. Since the buyer pulled out of the contract I felt it is best to return home and explore those other feasible options at this time.
"Anyone who is interested in owning the Frontier House is encouraged to reach out; we are motivated and interested in selling this property as soon as possible."
Richard Hastings also was reportedly "devastated" to learn the sale was off.
Ruta said, "In our opinion, it's not over. But they didn't want to discuss a lower offer, based on everything they've done (to renovate and move forward with the building), the designs and everything."
She added, "(Katerra/United Renovations) tried to renegotiate (the price), and I don't think it's going to be any different with anybody else who buys it."
Ruta, too, sent an email. In it, she wrote, "Following extensive on-site inspection, and having reviewed findings with estimators, construction team and design development group, the purchasers concluded that the reconstruction and development costs far exceeded any anticipated expectations. As a result, the purchasers were compelled to reduce the initial offering price. Although computations still showed negative results for some time, the purchasers, nonetheless, wanted to continue forward and are prepared to close and proceed with redevelopment.
"They have further indicated that they are willing to share their cost estimates for the redevelopment, if the sellers desire."
United Renovations was founded by Steven Bolos. On Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17-18, his son, Steven Bolos Jr., known as JR, was in the Village of Lewiston to walk through and inspect the Frontier House. United Renovations' president and chief operating officer was accompanied by Jim Croteau, company vice president/director of design services. They met with Mayor Terry Collesano on Friday, and were then joined Saturday by Village of Lewiston Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Harry Wright.
JR had subsequent conversations with Wright following his trip to Lewiston. Wright described those talks as positive, and said JR was intent to learn all about the building's history. Both Wright and Collesano expressed a desire to work with United Renovations, a Carrollton company they said had the wherewithal to refurbish the Frontier House.
At a Village Board meeting days later, Collesano said, "I feel more excited about (this prospect) than (anything) I've heard on the Frontier House in the past eight years."
On the business networking website LinkedIn, United Renovations is described as a privately held company specializing in full interior, full exterior, insurance restoration, asset repositioning, roofing services, pre-acquisition and due diligence.
"United Renovations was founded in 2001 for the purpose of providing multifamily real estate with a full spectrum of construction services," the website reads. "The majority of our projects are directed toward the redesigning and renovating of existing properties in order to extend their economic value."
The company's LinkedIn profile also states, "United Renovations has over two decades of experience culminating in more than 6,000 projects successfully completed. We are continuing to expand and are committed to being the best in the industry. Whether it is completing due diligence for an acquisition, renovating a property or re-positioning an asset, United Renovations has a skilled team of professionals ready to assist you in making your vision a reality."
JR has family in the Wheatfield area. He lives in the Dallas region.
United Renovations changed its name to Katerra on Jan. 1. This rebranding was the result of an April 2017 merger.
Katerra describes itself as "a technology company redefining the construction industry." Its corporate office is located in Menlo Park, California.
This past fall, Hastings Family business consultant Stacey Sheehan said the Hastings family was motivated to sell, as Richard had a series of health scares. Alan Hastings, meanwhile, has been spending the fall and winter months with his immediate family in Georgia, where his wife is employed.
Frontier House Fines
In October 2016, Building Inspector Ken Candella identified 19 building code violations at the Frontier House. He asked the Hastings family to begin repairs by the spring of 2017.
At the end of October 2017, the HPC members said they were not satisfied with the state of renovation, and asked Zoning Officer Ed DeVantier to begin the process of issuing fines.
DeVantier said he would go to court and request a municipal fine of $250 - and a state fine of $1,000 per violation, per day - until action was taken to repair the Frontier House's exterior and bolster the property for winter.
Soon after, it was learned Alan Hastings had found a potential buyer. The Village of Lewiston gave his family 45 days to resume efforts to fix up the Frontier House.
Following the Village Board work session on Nov. 6, counselor Joseph Leone, speaking on behalf of the trustees, said a wait and see approach would be taken in lieu of immediate court action and/or fines. He said the board was intent to work with a new Frontier House ownership in creating a plan to restore what many call the "crown jewel" of Lewiston.
At the Dec. 20 Historic Preservation Commission meeting - 46 days after the village's most recent repair request - the HPC said the Hastings family failed to take any renovation measures and, once again, instructed DeVantier to seek court remedies.
On Tuesday, DeVantier said he was waiting to speak with Candella, who was out of town, before requesting a court date. DeVantier said he wants to reassess the violations.
Sheehan said, "I have to wonder why the HPC would move to enact fines against the Hastings family when, by all accounts, the sale was coming to a close at the time that they made that decision. Unless maybe they knew before Hastings did that the deal was not going to come to a close?
"Moreover, it doesn't make sense given it's not exactly feasible to complete exterior repairs at the moment. Lew-Port kids can't go to school ... due to excessive wind chill, but almost-80-year-old Richard Hastings, who's been in and out of the hospital, should be up on a ladder fixing shutters?
"Once again, I am at a loss regarding the decision-making coming out of this committee. If it were spring and nothing was being done, I would understand, but, in the dead of winter, while the building is attempting to be sold? I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous."
The Frontier House was built in 1824 and is located at 460 Center St. It started out as a hotel - supposedly one of the finest in the Northeast - and welcomed guests including President William McKinley, Gov. DeWitt Clinton and Charles Dickens. The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places for more than 40 years.
As village residents have not set foot in the Frontier House in over a decade, many recall the building as a McDonald's Restaurant. Though Golden Arches weren't visible, the chain did operate inside the building from the 1970s until 2004.
When his tenant opted to leave, Richard Hastings proposed building a four-story, 60-room inn on the Frontier House grounds. He also would've opened an upscale restaurant and shops inside the Frontier House.
Hastings opted not to go forward with this idea once the Village Board approved the Barton Hill Hotel.
Sheehan, this week, said she was "disappointed" that plan didn't come to fruition. She stated Hastings' idea would've been "special." She suggested the Village of Lewiston backed the wrong project.
In recent years, Alan Hastings sought to turn the Frontier House into a microbrewery, but he and Sheehan were unable to find grant money for such a project.
Ruta said, "It's a whole new experience for me, and probably for most real estate agents, because we haven't dealt with anything like this before. ... It's a real challenge."
"Based on what I've seen in the building, it's going to take a lot of work," she added. "I think they have the right buyer (in Katerra). I just think that they didn't want to give it the opportunity."
Sheehan said, "We were really hoping this was the answer. Working with Alan, we've tried a lot of ways to get the building up and running again. Partnerships, grants, business plans, exploring subdivision, listed with real estate agents, listed for sale by owner, and the price has been reduced repeatedly from well over a million dollars down to $800,000 or best offer. It's hard to imagine a stone we've left unturned."
NFP attempted to connect with Katerra before its print deadline, but had yet to receive a response.
NOTE: Following the publication of this article, Sheehan said the Hastings family would consider offers under $800,000. She said the rejected offer was $450,000.
NOTE NO. 2: Another published report stated Lewiston developer and former Town Board candidate Jeffrey Williams is potentially interested in the Frontier House. Among his real estate holdings is 840 Center St., which is operated by Cask & Cow restaurant.