Greenway funds sought to obtain property from Hastings family
By Joshua Maloni
"We finally did it," Mayor Terry Collesano said Thursday night.
"It" is a whopper: The Village of Lewiston has reached an agreement with Hastings Lewiston to purchase the 194-year-old Frontier House.
After more than a decade of working with Richard and Judith Hastings to save Lewiston's most famous and historically significant property - closed since 2004 - a plan is "finally" in place to save the building and grounds.
On Friday, attorney Joseph G. Makowski said, "I can confirm that my client, Hastings Lewiston Inc., and Richard Hastings, have executed a contractual agreement offering to sell the Frontier House and its adjoining land - more specifically, the parking lot - to the Village of Lewiston for $800,000."
In a prepared statement, Collesano said, "The Frontier House is the symbol of Lewiston's character and culture. It is part and parcel of our rich heritage and embodies the hopes and dreams of our citizens. Some may look at it as just a building, but it is our touchstone to the past that will shape our community's future.
"This is the big news we've all waited years for. Finally, we have a plan that will move us forward to our goal of complete and total restoration, so the Frontier House can be revived to its original glory."
Makowski said the contract needs to be approved by the Village Board. Trustees will meet at 6 p.m. Monday in the Morgan Lewis Boardroom inside the Red Brick Municipal Building.
"We have an offer on the table - we have signed a contract; we have signed a rider," Makowski said. "We have indicated in doing so the desire for the Frontier House to be sold by the Hastings' interest to the village. We look forward to the village trustees reviewing this and approving it on Monday, and then moving forward to the due diligence phase of the contract."
In the press release, Collesano stated, "Our intention is to turn the Frontier House over to a new nonprofit organization called the Frontier House Restoration Corporation, an accountable 501(c)(3) organization that will be led by experienced and capable volunteers who have the best interest of the Frontier House and Lewiston at heart."
FHRC's mission, as outlined, is:
•To issue a request for proposals from private developers who may wish to purchase or lease the building and to begin the rehabilitation process.
•To get the building back on the tax rolls as soon as practical.
•Manage, and hopefully retain, a portion of the parking lot for public parking.
•Maximize the village's return on investment.
•Work with county, state and federal officials to secure additional resources in the effort to restore the Frontier House.
Collesano added, "One of the goals of the FHRC will be to create a business-friendly approach in attracting potential private developers by accommodating proposals that make it financially feasible for them to undertake the expensive process of rehabbing and restoring the structure. For example, the FHRC will be open to the idea of a 'lease to buy' arrangement that would offer developers control of the property for a nominal cost for several years. This would allow them to make improvements without having to make a substantial down payment in acquiring the property.
"The FHRC will use proceeds from the lease to assist in the repayments of funds to the village, along with any legal or other engineering costs it may incur.
"All proposals will be carefully vetted."
It is anticipated the FHRC will have five directors, including a chairperson.
Collesano said, "Our immediate goal right now is to re-open the parking lot for public use. The Village of Lewiston has the manpower and equipment to improve the parking lot quickly, and we'd like to do that before the summer season. That parking will be a major shot in the arm for visitors and local patrons."
Makowski called the agreement "fairly sophisticated" and noted "there is a financing contingency."
He explained, "The purchase price is $800,000. The deposit is $5,000. $400,000 at the close. My client will hold paper for an additional $400,000 up to two years. And then there is a balloon payment that requires the $400,000 mortgage to be paid within two years."
Makowski said he expected quarterly payments on the mortgage with a 10-year amortization.
"The idea is to give the village the time it needs to put together the back end," he said.
Collesano said, "The Village of Lewiston will be requesting Greenway funding to help purchase the Frontier House from the Hastings family for $800,000 - a figure that is a million dollars less than the original asking price, and very close to the appraised value of the property."
The village would need the Town of Lewiston to sponsor a Greenway Plan project application.
On Friday, Supervisor Steve Broderick said, "The town has not taken an official position yet. We haven't voted on anything. Obviously, we're in support of saving the Frontier House. And if it means a nonprofit is established and is going to manage it and run it and restore it, we would be interested in supporting that effort. If it goes private, though, it would be strictly a private venture then."
He explained, "If they did develop a nonprofit - sort of like the land conservancy with Stella Niagara, where the town gave the land conservancy (group) a certain amount of money and had no ownership interests at all, just basically supported the acquisition of the property. It's maintained and run by the land conservancy (group). That would be our position."
Broderick stressed, "There would be no interest in (town) ownership, whatsoever."
In terms of Greenway support, he said, "It would have to go to (Town Board) vote, but I think that would be reasonable to, not assume, but to reason with."
The village would ultimately need to convince the Host Communities Standing Committee the project is worthy of funding. That entity receives a total of $3 million each year as part of the New York Power Authority's 50-year federal relicensing agreement signed in 2007.
In Town of Lewiston Justice Court on Wednesday, Makowski, counsel for Richard and Judith Hastings, told the Hon. Thomas Sheeran a resolution was pending.
"Your honor has been gracious in allowing myself and (village counsel) Mr. (Joseph) Leone time to see if it was possible to work out a negotiated resolution and resolve the charges pending before the court," he said. Hastings Lewiston is facing charges related to the village's assertion the building's exterior is in code violation. "I have, on behalf of my client, with the assistance of (attorney) Mr. (Maxwell) Coykendall, made an offer to Mr. Leone, in his capacity as attorney for the village, to address the issues that, frankly, are before the court. Mr. Leone needs to communicate that offer to his client and see if it is acceptable. If it is acceptable, then he's advised me that he'll so notify me and I'd like to ask for a two-week continuance to determine whether we can dispose of the charges before the court, consistent with the offer made to Mr. Leone that he needs to communicate with his client."
Leone said that was acceptable.
Sheeran agreed. He said, "It's my understanding we have a control date, and that control date is going to be on the 27th, where any resolution will be put on the record. But my understanding is that a resolution is imminent. And that, at this point, as you've indicated in your comments, Mr. Leone, in his capacity as attorney for the village, needs to discuss this matter with the Village Board."
Sheeran said Leone and Makowski would have to return to court on June 27 to deal with the alleged zoning violations that have been charged against Hastings Lewiston.
"We anticipate that that will be resolved at that time - those legal elements," he said.
Makowski explained his goal is to have the charges disposed.
The first floor of the Frontier House was occupied by a McDonald's Restaurant when it closed in December 2004. Over the course of the next 10 years, Richard Hastings sought to build a hotel in the parking lot (he declined upon the creation of the Barton Hill Hotel), and twice proposed housing complexes. He was taken to court, along with the village, after the first attempt - which had gained traction with the Board of Trustees. An agreement couldn't be reached on the second proposal.
Other attempts to restore, refurbish and reopen the Frontier House included (2013) an idea by the Hastings' son, Alan, to open a microbrewery (grant money couldn't be found); (2015) former Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey's desire to purchase the building (a funding source was unclear, and a price couldn't be agreed upon); and interest from United Renovations of Texas last fall (an agreement was signed, but the potential purchaser opted out following due diligence and the rejection of a counter offer).
In recent years, the 4,300-square-foot, four-floor building and almost one acre of land - which includes that hard-to-find Center Street parking lot - were for sale at prices ranging from $1.7 million to $850,000. The Frontier House property was assessed at $750,000 three years ago.
"My client's actually selling this property at a loss on investment," Makowski said. "Because of his age (80-plus), he thought it was appropriate last fall to sell it, and did receive an $850,000 offer. But even at that price, I believe he has approximately $1.3 million, $1.4 million into the building.
"That being said, he either wanted to develop the property or get the property into the hands of a third party who could develop it. He was disappointed when the transaction with the private buyer did not go forward late last fall/early winter. (He) has continued to attempt to either secure the funding necessary to develop it directly or with a third-party developer, and/or sell it."
"The village ... I think they recognize the strategic importance of the Frontier House to the economic development of the business area ... and made a determination it was in the best interest of the village and, more specifically the commercial area, that they undertake the purchase of it and then begin to think through and act upon finding a third-party developer who will assist them in going forward," Makowski said. "I think it's a win-win from the point of view that Mr. Hastings is able to procure a sale of it - although it is less money than he's invested in it. But he recognizes the historic significance of the Frontier House. He recognizes its importance to the village, in terms of its history; its historical significance. And he's worked very hard for many years to try to develop it and maintain the residence."
In the early days of the Frontier House, when it operated as a hotel, the building was considered one of the finest lodging destinations west of the Hudson River. Its guests included Gov. DeWitt Clinton, James Fenimore Cooper and Charles Dickens.