By Joshua Maloni
The Village of Lewiston is hopeful it will receive two extra months to continue exploring its options with regard to the Frontier House.
As of press time Friday, village counsel Joseph Leone was trying to finalize an agreement with Joseph G. Makowski, an attorney representing Hastings Lewiston.
The municipality seeks 60 more days to complete the due diligence process that began when former Mayor Terry Collesano signed an agreement to purchase the Frontier House on June 18. Following an executive session on Monday, trustees tasked Leone with obtaining an extension to the now-expired 120-day initial review period.
Mayor Anne Welch has been looking for a private developer to take ownership of the 194-year-old building, which includes a parking lot and sits atop an almost one-acre prime parcel of Center Street land.
"We've had a couple people that are interested in it, and we're just going to try to pursue a private buyer," she said Tuesday.
"This is my third (potential) buyer I'm on," she added.
Welch reiterated a position she took prior to being elected this past summer: The Village of Lewiston should not take ownership of the property.
"I don't want the taxpayers to ever have to pick up the tab on that place," she said. "And I don't think they should."
"It's not going to be public," Welch explained. "And I'm pretty sure that my board (agrees). They are not in favor of the public (purchase) either."
Deputy Mayor Claudia Marasco said Welch has been diligently reaching out to potential suitors.
The mayor said, "I think there's somebody out there that has the money and has the passion to restore (the Frontier House), and that's what I'm hoping for."
Welch said the challenge in finding the right private buyer is that, "Once they crunch the numbers, it's obviously going to be a very expensive project. We're talking millions (of dollars in repair work), and time, and return of investment."
The prior Village Board, which included Collesano and then-Deputy Supervisor Bruce Sutherland, voted 5-0 to allow the former mayor to enter into the agreement with Hastings Lewiston to buy the Frontier House and grounds for $800,000.
At that time, Leone said the municipality would seek upward of $400,000 in outside funds, possibly through Greenway money via an intermunicipal agreement with the Town of Lewiston.
He indicated the Village Board could opt-out of the deal if trustees couldn't obtain financing, weren't satisfied with the property, or didn't have public approval.
Residents attending a board meeting in July were steadfastly opposed to the village completing the transaction.
"When the public hearing was held ... the message from the public that (the mayor) and the board represent (was) loud and clear: They wanted no part of this purchase," Marasco said.
She added, "They're not interested in paying their taxes for that, when they need other things."
Welch said, "The taxpayers do not want to own that building, and I'm sticking to it. They're not gonna. I am not going to say 'OK, now I've changed my mind and we're going to do the public anyway.'
"Is there grant funding for public? Absolutely. But the people don't want it. And once you go public, it never goes back to private. Because all that grant funding that you get, you have to pay back. So, if you pay $800,000 on it, and you get a million dollars of grant funding, you can't sell it then. Because now you're selling it for almost $2 million. Nobody's going to buy it."
Since the public hearing, board support for a purchase has waned.
Welch and Marasco have flat-out said they won't vote to complete any deal that makes the village permanent Frontier House owner.
If a deal cannot be completed, and if the property reverts back to Hastings Lewiston, Welch said she would work with Richard Hastings in finding ways to restore the building.
That said, she noted, "The village is not going to put a dime into it. It does need a roof, and I've talked to Mr. Hastings. I talked to the other perspective buyer, who said they'd like to put a roof on it before winter (if purchased). ... Mr. Hastings ... said if it does go back to him, he'll work with me and develop it."
Welch added, "Don't get me wrong: Everybody wants to restore it, and we don't want to see it fall down. But the village isn't in the real estate business."
Interested developers can meet with Welch at the Red Brick Municipal Building on North Fourth and Onondaga streets.
"I never give up; I will find somebody for that place, or I will work with Hastings," Welch said. "I can be like a dog with a bone: I will not give up."
Marasco said the board would "welcome anybody that has been on the sidelines to this point that wants to be involved in the sale of it."
"I have researched every bit of funding that I can get a private developer," Welch said. "Through the (Industrial Development Agency); through National Grid; through Empire State Development. I have talked to everybody. There's tax credits available - 40 percent tax credits, state and federal. There's so much available to help that private developer do this.
"Just give me the chance here, and I will help you."
"I have a picture on my wall (of the Frontier House) that reminds me every day that I need to sell that," Welch joked.
The Frontier House closed to the public following the end of a tenant lease with McDonald's Restaurant in 2004.
Through the years, Hastings Lewiston made offers to restore the building and add to the grounds; the Town of Lewiston, under former Supervisor Dennis Brochey, considered buying the building; and a private company from Texas signed an agreement to purchase almost one year ago. To this point, the right deal has yet to be completed, and the four-story building is sealed off to the public.
•Also at Monday's monthly board meeting, trustees voted to repeal section 11-46 of the municipal code. This law pertained to 15-minute parking on village streets.
The board tabled a motion to remove section 11-37, which deals with two-hour parking on Center Street, until receiving additional feedback from the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce's Lewiston Advisory Committee.
Welch said the board doesn't want to rush patrons who may be eating or shopping in the retail district. Moreover, she said these laws are unenforceable by the Lewiston Police Department.
The LPD, presently, does not have money in its budget for an officer dedicated to chalking tires and writing time-related parking tickets.