By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 May 2016
ALBION – Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Charles Howard, one of Albion’s most prominent residents. Howard was a farmer and toymaker who started a Santa Claus School in 1937 on Phipps Road in Albion.
He played Santa in the Macy’s televised parades for about 20 years. He established standards for how Santas should look and act with children, principles that are still taught today to Santas around the world.
Howard expanded his school into Christmas Park, a destination for the community that remains a cherished memory for many local residents. After Howard’s death in 1966, the school was moved to Michigan. Today it is in Midland, Mich., and still bears Howard’s name.
A committee in Albion has been working for more than a year on a memorial for Howard. The Village Board last week agreed to make Waterman Park, a half block south of the Erie Canal, available for a bronze statue of Howard as Santa Claus. The park will likely include interpretative panels, murals and other displays about Howard and Santa Claus.
The committee will now work on designs of the statue and park, hoping to have them ready for the community at the Strawberry Festival in June.
“I’m excited about it,” Mayor Dean London said on Wednesday when the board voted to back the effort.
The Albion Betterment Committee is taking the lead in a fund-raising campaign that could be about $100,000.
The group was determined to have a site for Howard on Main Street, seeing a statue as a boost for other downtown businesses.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 April 2016
ALBION – Bank of America is adding a drive-through ATM in Albion. The new feature won’t be at the bank’s site. It will be across from Bank of America at Dunkin Donuts.
The Orleans County Planning Board supported the project during its meeting on Thursday. The ATM will be at the southeast corner of the Donut Donuts lot near the entrance by Platt Street. It will have room for three vehicles, will be lighted and will have a monument sign noting the ATM.
Bank of America doesn’t have room for a drive-through ATM at its site, said Ron Vendetti, village code enforcement officer.
The bank will continue to run a walk-up ATM at its Main Street location.
The project needs two variances, and the County Planning Board recommended Albion approve both. The village code requires room for five vehicles in a drive-through, but this proposed ATM has room for three vehicles. Planners said the ATM “is not expected to be a substantial traffic generator.” The walk-up ATM at the bank also will ease some pressure on the drive-through ATM, planners said.
The village code allows one freestanding sign per commercial property and this will have two with the Bank of America ATM and Dunkin Donuts.
Planners said the new sign noting ATM should be located in a way that doesn’t obstruct sight lines for vehicles attempting to exit the property.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 April 2016
ALBION – The Village Board adopted a $6,633,734 budget for 2016-17 that will reduce taxes, slightly, for village property owners.
The village’s tax rate will drop from $17.75 to $17.66 per $1,000 of assessed property. The amount of taxes to be collected will also drop 0.4 percent from $2,497,252 to $2,487,946, which is a $9,305 reduction.
Mayor Dean London and the board unanimously approved the budget on Wednesday. London said department heads deserve credit for presenting “realistic numbers” and working with the board to prevent a tax increase.
London said the village is “thinking outside the box” to try to bring down taxes. Albion Police Chief Roland Nenni, for example, also serves as Holley’s police chief in an agreement that brings in revenue for Albion. Other village personnel also work with Holley’s sewer plant, and Elba’s water and sewer.
The budget also stops a downward slide in overall assessments in the village. After several years of a declining tax base, Albion grew by $190,060 to $140,880,321. That represents only a 0.13 percent growth, but it wasn’t a decrease, village officials noted on Wednesday.
Other good news in the budget, according to Clerk/Treasurer Linda Babcock: the village is only using $193,000 from reserves or its fund balance. She thinks that is the lowest level in many years. In the 2015-16 budget, the village used $248,000 from its fund balance, which was down from the $300,000 in fund balance in 2014-15.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 April 2016
ALBION – The owner of Bindings Bookstore announced today she plans to close the bookstore on April 30 after 5 ½ years. Carolyn Ricker said there is a chance a new owner may step forward in the next few days.
She said the bookstore has been profitable, but it wasn’t meeting her goal for a business after 5-plus years.
“It holds its own,” she said this afternoon at the store. “It’s not failing, it’s just hasn’t been what I hoped for my family.”
Ricker and her husband Jason have two teen-age children. Mrs. Ricker opened the store following a community survey for businesses in Albion. Many people who filled out the survey about seven years ago stated they wanted to see a bookstore in Albion.
Her top sellers were children’s books and items about local history. Ricker said she appreciated a faithful clientele, but she and other downtown businesses need more customers.
She thinks about the sign in the storefront window of a Main Street building owned by Adam Johnson, who urges people to “Be part of the solution.”
Ricker said people don’t need to open a business but if they can be part of a thriving downtown with locally owned stores by spending money with those merchants.
Ricker has been battling Big Box stores and on-line companies such as Amazon. She said she built up a loyal customer base by catering to their needs, and offering to make deliveries.
Ricker also has been active with the Albion Merchants Association, serving as the group’s president and helping to run many events, such as a wine-tasting, holiday shopping tours, stained-glass window tour, Small Business Saturday, and other community efforts such as Where’s Waldo, which offered coupons for people who visited local businesses. Ricker also ran a monthly book club, and sponsored the “Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.
“She’s been very supportive of the businesses,” said Lisa Stratton, owner of the Hazy Jade Gift Shop.
Stratton stopped by Bindings today after Ricker announced the store’s closing on Facebook and to customers in an email. Stratton said the two are "Business Besties" who often team on projects and for moral support.
Bindings will have a sale with everything 30 percent off in its final week. Click here for more on the store.
Photo by Tom Rivers Posted 21 April 2016
ALBION – The Albion Rotary Club presented $3,000 today to PAWS Animal Shelter, the proceeds from the first-ever Masquerade Ball at The Pillars on April 9.
Albion Rotarians Tammy Yaskulski, left, and Deb Boyer, right, were key organizers in the event. They present the check to Morgan Tinkous, manager of PAWS.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 April 2016
ALBION – The Village Board was encouraged to support efforts for a bronze statue of Santa Claus in honor of Charles Howard, the Albion native who ran a Santa Claus School from 1937 until his death in 1966.
However, the Village Board was urged not to allow the Howard memorial to be erected on vacant land next to the First Presbyterian Church. The village took down a building that was considered unsafe five years ago with the goal of creating a parking lot. The spot hasn’t been turned into parking yet, but several merchants said they don’t want to see that potential go away.
Greg Schmitt of the Olde Coach Inn said he only has three parking spaces now for his business. He would like to add a sports bar, but not having access to the parking would hurt that effort.
Dean Theodorakos was mayor of Albion when the building was demolished. He spoke at the public hearing Wednesday about using the space for a Santa statue and memorial. Theodorakos favors keeping it for parking. He also urged the village to enforce existing two-hour parking in the downtown. He also shared his concern that a Santa House, which could sell merchandise and refreshments, be self-supporting and not be a drain on village finances.
The Albion Betterment Committee shared concerns about the aesthetics of a big parking lot on Main Street. Theodorakos said there were plans for green space if the village moves forward with the bigger lot.
(Editor's note: I'm on the Santa committee and spoke during the public hearing. I suggested the village put historic-looking lights in the median of the parking lot and some small trees to be a buffer looking at the former Sneezy's bowling alley and to help with the aesthetics of the space.)
As a committee member I favor the Waterman Park site on Main Street, a half block south of the canal. The site is owned by the village and much of the landscaping is done. The Memorial Art Company in Buffalo visited Albion twice about three years ago to look at spots for a potential quarryman memorial site.
That company, which has created and installed several bronze statues, thought Waterman was the best spot. It's high-profile on Main Street with two intersecting sidewalks. The company didn't like the land by the Presbyterian Church because a bronze would look so small next to a 175-foot-high building.
Waterman could be renamed the Charles W. Howard Memorial Park. Murals could added with a Santa theme and Christmas trees planted to create a Christmas feel (my opinion).
The Village Board would need to vote on making public space available for any Santa projects.
Maureen Bennett is a vendor across from Waterman in the Uptown Browsery. She thought the location with a statue would give a lift to several of the businesses that would be close by to the statue.
Community members have pitched other sites for a Santa statue and House, including this spot at the corner of Ingersoll and West Bank streets. I think it's too far from Main Street and wouldn't be a springboard for other businesses to piggyback off of. If the statue is on Main Street, I could see businesses opening with a Santa theme, or selling Santa-related merchandise.
The site at the former Swan Library also has been suggested for the Santa statue. The property is now privately owned by Chad Fabry. He wants to remove the large tree. Some people, including Village Trustee Pete Sidari, have suggested the statue could go there. (I don't think the statue would "connect" well with the site. It would be harder to create a Santa theme here and I think the statue would look out of place.)
Ken McPherson is a graduate of the Charles Howard Santa Claus School, which is now in Midland, Mich. McPherson said Howard is well regarded among the Santa community. More than 200 attended a Santa conference in Albion a year ago.
McPherson is also on the local Santa committee. He said a statue would be a nice way to recognize Howard's impact in the community and with the people who portray Santa around the world. McPherson would like to see a display of memorabilia of Christmas Park that tells the story of that site created by Howard on Phipps Road. However, McPherson said he wants a project that has strong support in the community.
Albion residents Lori Laine and Gary Condoluci also voiced support for the bigger project of a statue and "Santa House." Laine said that combination would be a bigger draw to the downtown. However, she said she would support the statue at first, with the possibility of developing a Santa House later on.
Adam Johnson is working to develop a restaurant in the downtown. He submitted a letter that was read at the public hearing. Johnson didn't want to give up parking spaces for a Santa House that he said doesn't have a viable long-term plan. Johnson said he favors the statue at Waterman Park.
Resident Mark Parker also shared concerns about the viability of running a Santa House and the burden on the village with ongoing maintenance.
Another issue raised on Wednesday was whether Howard's family would support a memorial project. Howard's grandchildren attended the Santa convention a year ago and gave verbal support for the project. Village Board members said they want to see that in writing. McPherson said he knows Howard's granddaughter, Jane Holland of Williamsville, and would see if she would state her support for the project.
Condoluci said he remembers when he was a kid and visited Christmas Park and Howard.
Condoluci urged the Village Board to "take a leap of faith" and allow a Howard memorial to be created on village-owned land on Main Street.
"I remember Charlie Howard," Condolucci said. He was a big deal. He is a very proud and vibrant part of Albion history."
Documentarians visit Pat Aina’s family in Albion
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 April 2016
ALBION – Kay DiLaura still remembers the profound sadness when her brother, Pat Aina, died in Japan during World War II on April 18, 1945.
Aina was 26, a gunner on a plane who also worked radar and the radio. He and 10 other Americans were on a B-29 that was struck by a Japanese suicide pilot. The American plane spun out of control and came down near a Japanese air strip in Tachiarai. Aina’s family was notified of the crash, but he would be listed as missing for a year before his death was confirmed.
Aina had three grown brothers and a sister. Another sister died as an infant. DiLaura said her brother had a great sense of humor and loved his Italian roots. He taught himself Italian and wrote many letters to older people in Albion when he was at war. He wrote those notes in Italian and the people from Sicily loved that.
In December 2009, a package from Japan arrived in Albion for the family of Sgt. Pasquale Aina. The parcel was sent to 129 West Academy St., Aina’s home. The Aina family had moved from there more than 50 years previously.
But one of his cousins happened to be at the Post Office when the package arrived, and he directed Postal Service employees to DiLaura, who lives on Meadowbrook Drive.
Akio Tokunaga, an art constructor, sent the package to Aina's family. Tokunaga requested a photo of Aina for a museum in Tachiarai, a museum dedicated to peace. Tokunaga said the museum would display the photos of the Americans “equally” as victims of war.
DiLaura agreed to send a picture of her brother, and a group photo of the 11 crew members from the downed plane. In November 2010, DiLaura’s daughter Suzanne Wells went to visit the museum. Her son Christopher lives in Japan.
"The museum is very well done," she said.
She stood on the spot where her uncle's plane crashed.
She said the museum includes moving displays about the loss of life from war. Wells has been the contact for Tokunaga. He visited Albion last Thursday and Friday with a documentary filmmaker. Wells helped get them in touch with family of two other crew members who died in the plane crash. Tokunaga and filmmaker Shinsuke Ogata also are going to Kansas City and Utah.
Tokunaga said the peace museum has proven popular wit the public and sends an important message.
"I don't want to see another war," he said. "I don't want it anymore."
He said the museum wanted the recognize the loss of life, including the Americans.
"It's quite unusual to have pictures of American soldiers ina Japanese museum," he said at DiLaura's home on Friday. "But they are victims of the war, too."
Wells said she had luck connecting with two of Aina's crewmates through Facebook. She wants to keep reaching out to other families of the crew.
She appreciates Tokunaga's efforts to recognize the 11 Americans who died in Tachiarai. (Aina was exhumed from a Japanese farm field in 1948. He was buried in the Punch Bowl in Hawaii, a national memorial cemetery.
DiLaura enjoyed talking about her brother with Tokunaga and Ogata.
"He was a great guy," she said about Aina. "If he was here, he'd have something to say. He had a keen sense of humor."
Akio Tokunaga is pictured next to Kay DiLaura during a visit to her home last week with Suzanne Wells and her husband Bob. Filmmaker Shinsuke Ogata, right, is making a documentary to be shown in Japan about Pat Aina and 10 other Americans who died after a suicide pilot crashed into their plane on April 18, 1945.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 April 2016
ALBION – Town Supervisor Matt Passarell said he isn’t in a rush to fill a vacancy on the Town Board, created in February when Town Councilman Todd Sargent resigned after being appointed superintendent of the Department of Public Works in the Village of Albion.
Sargent served just over two years of a four-year term as councilman. The position pays $3,704 annually. The spot on the five-member board will likely stay unfilled for the rest of 2016, with the remaining year of the term up for election this November with the election winner to start on Jan. 1.
“The team we have right now is appropriate,” Passarell said after Monday’s board meeting. Passarell serves on the board with Jake Olles, Richard Remley and Darlene Benton.
In other action on Monday:
• The board approved paying $3,000 towards the Albion Strawberry Festival. Festival organizers attended last month’s meeting and requested town assistance in paying for the annual two-day festival. The 30th annual Strawberry Festival will be June 10-11 and includes an Erie Canal theme this year. The event costs about $20,000 to put on with all of the entertainment, including marching bands.
The Albion Town Board gave $3,000 toward the festival for the first time last year. The board said it would ask to be recognized as one of the sponsors, and to have its donation specifically tied to some of the marching bands.
• The board extended an agreement with the Town of Gaines that was started last year. Gaines is paying 25 percent of the Albion code enforcement officer’s salary and benefits in exchange for Dan Strong working 10 hours a week as code officer for Gaines. The Town of Albion pays about $76,000 in salary and benefits for Strong. Gaines will pay $19,000 of the cost in the shared services deal.
Photos by Tom Rivers Posted 7 April 2016
ALBION – Kyle Thaine portrays Joseph in the Albion High School production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday (April 8) and noon and 7 p.m. on Saturday.
The show is directed by Gary Simboli. He has led Albion High School musicals for more than 30 years. This is the fourth time in his career Albion has performed Joseph, which Simboli said is his favorite musical.
The show is based on the Biblical story of Joseph, found in the Book of Genesis. His 12 brothers are jealous of his coat of many colors, his ability to interpret dreams, and his father's preferential love.
Nate Tremblay, right, plays Judah, Stephen Williams (center) is Levi and Connor Zicari plays Issachar, who are all Joseph's brothers. They are plotting to sell him into slavery and fool their father into thinking Joseph was killed.
Freeman Lattin, center sitting, plays Jacob, father of Joseph.
Carly Fox, center, is one of the lead dancers in the show. This group is excited to be rid of Joseph. They are singing and dancing to the song, "One More Angel in Heaven."
Kate Krieger is one the dancers. The cast and crew includes 86 students.
Cheyenna Eagle, left, and Angela Tarricone are both narrators in the show. The cast includes 13 elementary students who are the children of former cast members in past Joseph shows at Albion.
Joseph (Kyle Thaine) was fasley accused and imprisoned. In his despair he sings, "Close Every Door."
Shelby Restivo, front, and Catherine Thom, right, and the cast dance to "Go, Go, Go Joseph."
Hailey Bader is part of the cast in performing "Go, Go, Go Joseph."
Zach Shaffer plays the Pharaoh, who performs in the style of Elvis. Pharaoh needs Joseph's help in interpreting dreams.
Angela Tarricone, one of the narrators, sings near the finale of the show.
Tickets for the shows at the Albion Middle School are available at the door.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 April 2016
ALBION – In 2013, Amy Sidari had a dream of using space in her dance studio on West Bank Street for a performance venue.
She added professional lighting, sound equipment, tables and chairs for 84 people. She also started booking acts – local and regional musicians, comedians and other entertainers. The venue has proved popular with the performers and also the local community who welcome the chance to experience live entertainment in a cozy setting.
The Cabaret at Studio B is back for a fourth season. Sidari said many favorites will return including Marcy Downey, Josie Waverly and Phyl Contestable, a comedian better known as “Reverend Mother.”
Sidari also is working with concert promoter Thom Jennings of Albion to bring in some new acts. Jennings has arranged for Bruce Wojick and Jamie Holka to perform at the Cabaret on April 16 at 7 p.m. Jennings lined up many of the performers for the Beegarten, the former Boiler 54, in Medina last year.
Wojick and Holka are full-time musicians doing 250 gigs a year. The April 16 concert will be their first in Orleans County.
Sidari said the venue will see other changes this year, including a new cappuccino bar. Her father, Ace Caldwell, has been busy working wth contractors to get that new setup ready.
Ace Caldwell works this morning on the new cappuccino bar for the Cabaret at Studio B in Albion.
Sidari said she is pleased to shine a light on so many talented people in the area. She includes other local talent in variety shows, which will be back again this year.
She expects to have 25 to 30 different shows this year. After Wojick and Holka on April 16, the Albion Jazz Band will perform twice on April 23 at 6 and 8 p.m.
For more information on tickets and prices for the shows, call 585-354-2320 or click here.
Matching funds would help with building projects
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 April 2016
ALBION – The village is working on an application to the state for a Main Street revitalization grant for the downtown business district.
The village is looking at a bigger target area than its previous Main Street grant in 2013-14 which was limited to a three-block area.
The village is reaching out to building owners on Main Street from the former Cornell Cooperative Extension building (now an outreach center owned by Christ Church) to the Yellow Goose and former Nayman’s just north of the canal.
The village also is eyeing Bank Street near Ingersoll Street to Liberty Street (from Greg’s Barbershop to Arnold’s Auto Parts).
The village has sent letters about the grant to more than 40 building owners and 21 have already sent in preliminary applications, said Ron Vendetti, the village’s code enforcement officer who is managing the grant. Vendetti administered a Main Street grant in Holley about two years ago.
Building owners can seek up to $50,000 in matching funds for each commercial unit and up to $10,000 for each residential unit.
The program supports building renovations including renovation of residential units, projects that are visually prominent on Main Street, projects with historic value or historic properties in danger of disrepair, and projects that reduce blight blight and contribute to the economic recovery of the area, Vendetti said.
Albion has set a 5 p.m. meeting for April 27 at the Village Hall to share more information on the project. The Village Hall is located at 35 East Bank St.
Vendetti said he is excited about a new partnership with PathStone to help building owners with financing the projects. PathStone has created a loan product to fund up to 100 percent of a project for successful applicants in the program. PathStone’s loan would be 75 percent reimbursed when the state funds come in. PathStone will convert the balance of the loan on permanent financing to the building owners.
PathStone says it is willing to provide the short-term gap financing to make projects doable for the building owners.
“This makes the process more reachable,” Vendetti said.
He also is reaching out to NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) to help with energy and conservation projects.
For more information, call Vendetti at the Village office at 589-9176.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 April 2016
ALBION – A boost in state aid helped Albion Central School close a budget gap, allowing the district to hold the line on taxes.
The Board of Education approved a $33,890,990 budget on Monday. It increases spending by 1.96 percent or about $650,000.
Albion was able to stave off a tax increase and preserve its existing programs after the state came through with a $728,369 increase in funding for the school district. In the governor’s budget proposal in January, Albion was looking at about $319,000 more in state aid. The final budget boosted the governor's number by more than $400,000 for Albion.
“We’re grateful for all the state aid we receive,” said Shawn Liddle, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.
He presented the budget on Monday to the Board of Education. Liddle noted the budget marks the ninth time in the past decade that Albion will either reduce taxes or keep them at the same amount.
The spending plan for 2016-17 keeps all staff, except for a clerical position at the district office, a job that was eliminated by attrition.
The district’s student enrollment is projected to drop 2 percent next school year, down from 1,872 students to 1,834.
The district will have a hearing on the budget on May 10 at 7 p.m. at the LGI in the high school. The budget vote will be May 17 from noon to 8 p.m. at the elementary school conference room.
The May 17 vote includes one five-year seat on the Board of Education. Petitions from district residents to run for the position are due at the district office by April 18
Other propositions on the May ballot will include:
• Authorization to spend up to $460,000 for buses;
• Approval to collect $687,211 for Hoag Library. That is up 1 percent from the $680,411 for 2015-16.
Photos by Tom Rivers Posted 4 April 2016 4:47 p.m.
ALBION – A driver suffering an apparent medical emergency crashed into the Ronald L. Sodoma Elementary School at about 3 p.m. today. Five students in a fourth grade classroom suffered minor injuries, including a student with a leg injury who was taken by ambulance to Strong Memorial Hospital.
All students in teacher Lee Sheehan’s class were checked by school nursing staff as a precaution.
Albion Police Chief Roland Nenni says the driver wasn't injured in the accident. Nenni didn't release the driver's name, but the police chief said the adult male wasn't using alcohol or drugs prior to the incident.
The driver also hit another car near the speed bumps on the driveway by the high school.
The vehicle hit a fourth grade classroom at the back of the elementary school near the community entrance.
Structural engineers were on the way to determine the extent of damage and how many classrooms may need to be relocated.
The vehicle hit a wall and sent debris flying in Sheehan's classroom. Some of the bricks hit students, causing minor injuries.
Nenni said an investigation is continuing, including what caused the driver to be so erratic.
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 March 2016
ALBION – The Albion music program has again made a national list of schools with music programs cited for excellence by the North American Music Merchants.
NAMM has named Albion and 475 other school districts in the country as a “Best Communities for Music Education.” Albion has made the list the past nine years.
The NAMM organization gives out the award to recognize districts that make music a priority, especially in an era of tight school budgets and packed student schedules.
Albion runs an active music program in the elementary, middle and high schools. The high school puts on a full-scale musical and students also perform in several different instrumental and choral groups. In all, high school musicians perform numerous times during the school year.
Just last week, 468 kids in grades 3 through 12 sang in a district chorus concert.
The middle school puts on a full-scale musical, and its students perform with the marching and jazz bands. Elementary music teachers lead students in performances throughout the year.
The NAMM Foundation wants to single out districts for outstanding efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders who have made music education part of the core curriculum.
The schools recognized by name represent 3.5 percent of the nation’s 13,515 school districts.
To see the list of school districts recognized by NAMM, click here.
Sets April 20 meeting to hear from community if village-owned land should be used for Santa site or parking
By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 March 2016
ALBION – The Albion Village Board said it supports the idea of a Santa Claus heritage site, but wants more information about the project and more input from the community whether village-owned land on Main Street should be used for a statue and a “Santa House.”
Board members would like to recognize Charles W. Howard, the creator of a Santa Claus School in 1937. The school was run in Albion until Howard’s death in 1966. It now is operated in Midland, Mich., and still bears Howard’s name.
Howard was an influential Santa who established standards for how Santa should dress and act. He was in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade as Santa for nearly 20 years, one of the most high-profile assignments for a Santa.
The Albion Betterment Committee would like a bronze statue of Howard on Main Street on vacant land next to the Presbyterian Church. Adding a building that would resemble Howard’s Christmas Park and Santa Claus School would create an attraction on Main Street, said Gary Kent, one of the directors of the Betterment Committee.
“We could put the village on the map all over the place big time,” Kent told the Village Board during a meeting this evening.
The Betterment Committee sees a building at about 1,000 square feet as a year-round operation, selling Santa-themed merchandise and perhaps baked goods, coffee and other drinks. The village would ultimately own the site and could lease it out to a business.
Mayor Dean London supports the idea but would like more specifics of the proposal. London and board members say they worry about the downtown business district and would welcome an attraction that would boost foot traffic for other businesses.
Vinny Navarra owns a downtown building with a liquor store, fitness center, and barber shop. He has additional space for tenants. He said the village-owned land should be used for public parking. That was the stated purpose when the village took down a deteriorating building five years ago, Navarra said.
The land next the church could be used for 14 parking spaces at a cost of about $15,000 to pave the space and have the same grade as a neighboring parking lot, said Todd Sargent, the Department of Public Works superintendent.
Although parking currently isn’t an issue, downtown can run out of parking fast, especially with plans for a new restaurant by Adam Johnson, Navarra said. He said the statue could go elsewhere on Main Street without a Santa House. The statue might be best at Waterman Park, a half block south of the canal, Navarra suggested.
Kent and the Betterment Committee want the new building so it could be made to look like the former Santa Claus School in Albion. The site would appeal to a vendor and could also function as a visitor center with a public bathroom for the downtown.
Village Trustee Stan Farone stated his support for the statue and “Santa House,” saying the look of the building is important for the project to be a draw for the entire downtown.
Trustee Eileen Banker also voiced support for the project, saying it would be a boost for the downtown.
Trustee Pete Sidari said it is a difficult decision. He wants to play up on the Santa theme for Albion, but he also thinks downtown merchants could be out of parking with more businesses. He also wondered what would come of the “Santa House” if no vendor comes forward. He doesn’t want the village saddled with an empty structure.
Maureen Bennett, a vendor with Uptown Browsery, said she would support the Santa statue and house. She said existing merchants are struggling to get people into their stores.
“We don’t need more parking,” she said. “We need more people coming into our shops.”
The board decided it wanted more feedback from the community. It set a 7 p.m. public hearing for April 20 with a vote from the board at 7 p.m. on April 27.
Copyright Albion-Holley Pennysaver, Inc.