By Joshua Maloni
Frontier House principals have cleared a major hurdle, and now have a plan in place to share the Village of Lewiston’s “crown jewel” with residents and visitors.
On Wednesday, Ellicott Development Co. Director of Development Thomas M. Fox confirmed U.S. National Parks Service approved exterior and interior renovation plans for the site, which has been shuttered since former tenant McDonald’s ended its lease in December 2004. Such authorization was required because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Previously, owners considered a boutique hotel or bed and breakfast. They have now settled on “a mix of five market-rate units and then six Airbnbs” on the top floors, Fox said.
“We liked the fact that we had this additional mix in uses in there, on top of the commercial, to capitalize on a lot of the seasonal activity in Lewiston.
“We're also going through an effort to produce a marketing plan for this property, treating the property as more of a draw in and of itself, on top of the draw of Lewiston; but trying to draw up on the 200-year-old history of the building, the notable guests of the past that stayed there in the 1800s, 1900s. And trying to create, again, the building’s own draw; trying to tell a story around that and help bring guests in to take advantage of that history.”
On the ground level and basement, the developer is looking for tenants offering a mix of retail and restaurant options.
“We've gotten quite a bit of interest towards those spaces,” Fox said. “We're trying to keep intact a lot of the common-area circulation within the first floor, which divides the first floor into two different spaces. So, it creates a unique opportunity, and challenge I guess, to try and lease those smaller spaces, but we've had a lot of interest on the way we're trying to divide that floor up, and working towards a lease agreement on one or all those spaces as we move forward.
“We're hoping to be in a position to start construction maybe by the end of the summer here. We’re wrapping up drawings, and hopefully we'll be ready for occupancy sometime later next year, next summer.”
One first-floor rental unit will be available, too.
“Part of the rehabilitation into the property is going to include reconstruction of the rear porch, which is historic, and demolished many, many years ago,” Fox said. “We'll be able to have that one dwelling unit in the back be accessed from that porch area in the rear that will be reconstructed.”
Fox said the Airbnb model is appealing because, “When it comes to Airbnb, in my own personal experience, it's a great opportunity to not end up in a branded, cookie-cutter space, but to get right into the community, and feel community, and understand what it's like.
“And I think, obviously, an opportunity of a 200-year-old building and the character that is still within this building – despite its last use as a McDonald's, the upper floors are pretty well intact. It's something that really does still convey a lot of that character. And I think it will create a unique experience for people to be able to experience Lewiston.
“And I have seen those views … from those oval windows on the upper floor in the attic space. We do have one of the dwelling units going up on that level to take advantage of those views.
“And those two windows that are up there on the short ends of the building, those oval windows actually appear to be the only two original windows left. The others have been replacements that we're going to go through a new replacement on – historically accurate – for this rehab.”
Mayor Anne Welch said she’s in favor of the building having open spaces for the public to view – or stay in for a night or two.
“Absolutely. I’ve always wanted the public to go in it. Everybody wants to go in and see it all restored and beautiful again,” she said.
Welch recalled youthful memories made inside the Frontier House and said, “That (basement) rathskeller is beautiful, with all the stone and everything. It wouldn’t take a lot to put the bar back in it and make it nice. We used to go there years ago, and it was really a cool place to go for a drink or a sandwich.”
Excitement for the Frontier House’s future began to build last winter when those passing by the building saw crews from Abraxas Construction repointing and replacing mortar.
More recently, festival- and paradegoers noticed a new “Coming Soon” sign above the 198-year-old structure’s front porch, and again the Center Street site was top of mind.
“If there has been excitement so far for the work we've done, I think that it can only grow and get more exciting for people,” Fox noted.
“I think when people are going to be walking by soon, they'll be seeing a lot more work out there. What we've done, up to this point, has been really restorative – just kind of more about stabilizing certain conditions, trying to make sure that the areas that were deteriorated don't further put us in a bad position of further costs.
“There was a pretty substantial reconstruction of the front corner for some deterioration that was affecting the roof structure. So, we've taken care of that. But once we start additional exterior work and all the rehab to the front porch, and our construction of the back porch, you're going to see a lot of activity. The windows coming out, new windows go in, non-historic elements coming off the building, with historic roof rails and those things going back on.
“There's going to be a lot of activity, a lot of different trades out there.”
Fox said the Frontier House team is “Wrapping up the final drawings here, getting the financing in place, really. We're talking with the Niagara County IDA on some incentives to help out with the project.”
As far as estimates go, he explained, “The costs are a moving target, as you can imagine, these days with construction prices. But I mean, as our best guess, I’d say it's probably around a $5 million project still.”
While an IDA payment in lieu of taxes is possible, the project has already received a $50,000 façade grant from Niagara County.
Hastings Lewiston Inc. sold the Frontier House – plus almost one acre of land including a parking lot – to 4600 LLC Group in February 2019. Partners on the $800,000 transaction included Ellicott Development CEO William Paladino and Lewiston developers Bill Game and Jeff and Jerry Williams.