Restaurant ownership receives OK from HPC, Planning boards to add 3 apartments & up to 3 retail spaces
√ HPC tables motion to designate Opera Hall historic
By Joshua Maloni
Syros Restaurant patrons know the diner is spacious, with three eating areas and a private backroom. What they probably don’t know is that the building, at 869 Cayuga St., also has large pockets of space in the kitchen and around the periphery.
On Monday, owner and chef Bechara Cobti, his son, Eli, and architect David Giusiana appeared before the Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Board seeking approval to potentially convert some of that room into three apartments and up to three retail units.
As part of the development plan presentation, Giusiana noted the building’s footprint and exterior will remain the same. In fact, the Cobtis said the additions might not alter the dining areas at all.
Eli Cobti said, “No. 1, anytime anyone does any remodeling to a building, it's going to bring the value of that building up, right off the bat. But aside from that, we love the Village of Lewiston, and we've had extremely loyal customers. And we're going to keep working our butt off for the customers – and this is just a plan.
“The restaurant industry got hit really hard over the last few years, with rising payroll costs, rising inventory cost. The restaurant industry got brutalized, so we have to have some type of backup.”
He stressed, “We’re not closing anytime soon. We're still in business.”
Bashara Cobti said, “We trying to utilize our space in the back. We have a lot of space in the back not used for the restaurant.”
Eli Cobti said, “There’s a lot of wasted space. There's some office space that we don't use. There's some storage space that we don’t use. You could build three apartments and not affect any of the operation.
“The retail space that is on the design could, in fact, be restaurant retail space. This is not a tunnel vision project here. We’re not hellbent on getting rid of the restaurant. We have a design that will work for business office; we have a design that will work for restaurant; we have a design with residential as an accessory use. That's the whole thing. It's accessory use.”
Bashara Cobti said, “We have almost 5,000 square-feet. So, it's not utilized right. Why not customize it right to get benefits from it? And we’re still in business.”
Eli Cobti said, “In a perfect world, you could build three apartments and not touch the kitchen and the dining area and the bathrooms. But we don't know; we have to dig deeper into that part of it.”
Bashara Cobti said, “If we shrink it a little bit, it’s not going to affect much.”
Eli Cobti said, “Long story short, there's an opportunity for additional revenue streams, without affecting what's currently going on.”
These proposed additions wouldn’t require any additional parking spaces.
Three additional apartment units would bring the total to five, as two now exist above the restaurant.
The Syros proposal is expected to go before the Village of Lewiston Board for final approval. Trustees will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday inside the Red Brick Municipal Building at 145 N. Fourth St.
Opera Hall Motion Tabled
HPC board members tabled a motion to designate as “historically significant” the property at 832 Center St. – also known as the Lewiston Opera Hall. They did this because the new owners have not yet decided if they want the classification.
A group including Darryl Tonemah and Anthony Tripi recently purchased the building from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of Sacarissa Lodge No. 307.
The Lewiston Opera Hall has been celebrated over the years, including in this ribbon-cutting ceremony from a decade ago. (File photo)
As to pros and cons, HPC Chairwoman Loretta Frankovitch explained, “As a designated property … it just kind of protects the integrity of the outside, so that no one comes in and bulldozes it or turns it into some … McDonald’s. We’re just kind of protecting the look of it so it looks like the characteristic charm that we know Lewiston to have. What’s on the inside, that’s really up to the owner. There’s no stipulations on what can be done on the inside. It’s just preserving the exterior view.”
She added, “If it ever wanted to go on for further designation – like a state or a federal designation – that’s a possibility. And if it went to that level, then there are tax credits that it would be eligible for.”
Conversely, Giusiana – who also serves on the HPC – said, “As a property owner, any and all changes have to be reviewed by this board.”
He noted, “The designation is optional. As a property owner, you can choose not to be designated.”
Former HPC Chairman and current Historical Association of Lewiston President Ken Slaugenhoupt said he favors the designation: “The Village of Lewiston has such a unique, multilayered and multicentury-focused history that, if anything were to happen to this building that would detract from its historical character … it would be a detriment to the village.”
Loren Tonemah, speaking on behalf of his brother, said, “We’re just trying to get some more information about it, so we can make an informed decision.”
Gather Owner Asked to Revise Window Design, Lights
The two boards asked Gather by Gallo American Eatery owner Michael Hibbard to reconfigure his restaurant’s new front windows. They said the recently installed panels and light fixtures do not match plans submitted and approved last summer.
Hibbard said he had to switch from the originally submitted design because the windows shown would’ve extended out into the walkway and village right-of-way.
HPC Vice Chairman Peter Coppins said, “You should’ve come back to us to have the approval changed to this new design.” He explained harsh penalties could be imposed, but, instead, the HPC wants to work with Hibbard to find a solution that’s similar to the previously accepted and more historical-looking render.
Frankovitch said, “You are a great business owner, but it just wasn't what we expected to see.”
At the Planning Board meeting, Chairman Norm Machelor echoed his colleagues’ sentiments.
“In the past, people that did that kind of thing – in other words, did something that wasn’t permitted and actually built it – they had to take it down and replace it; and do what they originally said that they were going to do,” he said.
Machelor added, “What you do next will be up to you.”
Gather has been closed for about six months as interior and exterior renovations are taking place.