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Orleans EDA approves $150K loan for Niagara Food Specialties

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 October 2016 at 5:26 pm

YATES – A Canadian-based company that acquired the former Atwater Foods building on Route 18 in Yates was approved for a $150,000 low-interest loan today by the Orleans Economic Development Agency.

Niagara Food Specialties is a meat processor for gourmet markets, including restaurants and hotels. It specializes in prosciutto ham.

The company formed in Canada in 2001 and is based in Niagara Falls, Ont. Niagara Food is moving its meat processing, salting and aging lines from Ontario to Yates.

It is upgrading the former Atwater site, and will use the $150,000 loan for new machinery and equipment, EDA officials said. The company is to pay back the loan over 66 months at 75 percent of the prime rate, current 2.625 percent.

The company is investing about $3.5 million total in the Yates site, a 51,000-square-foot facility. It is projecting to have 18 ½ employees in Yates, said James Whipple, chief executive officer for the Orleans EDA.

Niagara Food co-owners and brothers Mario and Fernando Pingue looked at other sites for the project, including locations in Ontario and Michigan. The Yates site will allow the Pingue brothers to increase production, introduce new products and bring efficiencies to its production process.

Niagara Food Specialties also has been awarded a $100,000 capital grant from Empire State Development. The Town of Yates also has applied for $250,000 in Office of Community Renewal  funding to assist the company.

Holley community sees plans to renovate old high school

A rendering shows what the restored and revitalized former Holley High School in the village will look like after its conversion to senior housing and village office/meeting space. Note the portico with columns and pediment will be restored to the facade.

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 28 September 2016 at 8:33 am
Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty speaks during an informational meeting Tuesday evening at the Holley Middle School/High School on development restoration plans for the old Holley High School. The Neo-Classical building was constructed in 1931 and was last used as a school in the mid-1970s. The village has been working for several years to find a developer for the historic structure which sits in a prominent spot in the downtown business district.

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty speaks during an informational meeting Tuesday evening at the Holley Middle School/High School on development restoration plans for the old Holley High School. The Neo-Classical building was constructed in 1931 and was last used as a school in the mid-1970s. 

HOLLEY – Members of the Holley community got a first glimpse Tuesday evening of what the old Holley High School will look like when an extensive proposed restoration/development project is completed.

Developers, architects and engineers presented initial plans and answered questions during a meeting at the Holley Middle School/High School auditorium regarding their efforts to restore the building to its former glory for use as mixed income senior housing with the village office and meeting space.

“Stay positive, support the project and be patient,” Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty told those in attendance.

He said the project is important for the village, the Town of Murray, surrounding communities and Orleans County.

Home Leasing is in the process of acquiring the school – located at the intersection of routes 31 and 237 in the center of the village. Officials said Orleans County has agreed to foreclose on the property, allowing it to be sold. Home Leasing is working along with Edgemere Development, Glasow Simmons Architecture L.L.P. and Marathon Engineering – all Rochester based firms – on the project, and officials from all stakeholders attended the meeting.

Also in attendance was Landmark Society of Western New York Executive Director Wayne Goodman. In 2013, the old Holley High School was part of the first-ever “Five to Revive” list compiled by the Landmark Society of significant historical structures in need of saving, partly because of their architectural/historical value and partly because of their, “latent opportunistic value,” Goodman said.

He said the Holley school merited making the list due to its Neo-Classical architectural style, the fact it was once the center of civic life in Holley, and because of, “what it could be….. I love your village,” Goodman said, noting the village park system and walkability.

Wayne Goodman, executive director of the Landmark Society of Western New York speaks during Tuesday’s information meeting. Village officials said the Landmark Society’s 2013 designation of the old Holley High School as one of the first Five to Revive historic buildings attracted a development team to work on plans to restore and convert the building to mixed senior housing and village office and meeting space. Another building on the 2013 Five to Revive List - the Eastman Dental Dispensary - has recently been restored by the same developer - Home Leasing - for senior housing.  Goodman said a ribbon cutting at that site is planned today.

Wayne Goodman, executive director of the Landmark Society of Western New York speaks during Tuesday’s information meeting. Village officials said the Landmark Society’s 2013 designation of the old Holley High School as one of the first Five to Revive historic buildings attracted a development team to work on plans to restore and convert the building to mixed senior housing and village office and meeting space. Another building on the 2013 Five to Revive List – the Eastman Dental Dispensary – has recently been restored by the same developer – Home Leasing – for senior housing.  Goodman said a ribbon cutting at that site is planned today.

He explained that the village, town, county and developers have “moved mountains to get this far…. I have full confidence in the development team.”

Home Leasing Chair/CEO Nelson Leenhouts said it was the Landmark Society’s Five to Revive designation that brought him and John Oster of Edgemere Development out to Holley to see the school.

“I can’t recall ever being more welcomed,” he said. “We’ve asked for an awful lot and made a lot of progress.”

He said developers will work to secure financing over the winter and perhaps start construction next summer. Plans call for 41 units of senior housing. Village office space would be located on the main floor and the auditorium would be saved and restored for use as meeting space.

“We are honored to have this opportunity,” Leenhouts said. “I wake up every morning more excited than the day before.”

Charlie Oster of Edgemere Development explained the challenges of financing historic preservation/conversion projects including design standards necessary for tax credits, environmental challenges and market size.

He explained that with a small village like Holley, it is important for developers to “be sensitive to the needs of the  community. To move forward this project is dependent on unshakable community support,” Oster said.

Architect Jason Simmons of Glasow Simmons Architecture, said former classrooms work very well for apartments.  Existing width and height of corridors will be maintained, and restoration of woodwork and reestablishment of stairwells are also part of the plans. He also explained the name of the project – “Holley Gardens,” saying developers want to “provide an area for residents to grow their own garden.”

Developers presented a proposed site plan which includes parking to be owned and maintained by the Village of Holley. Mayor Brian Sorochty said there will be spaces for residents and unused spaces will be available for public use. Note the short driveway and parking off Main Street towards the front of the building for the village offices which will be housed in the front of the school.

Developers presented a proposed site plan which includes parking to be owned and maintained by the Village of Holley. Mayor Brian Sorochty said there will be spaces for residents and unused spaces will be available for public use. Note the short driveway and parking off Main Street towards the front of the building for the village offices which will be housed in the front of the school.

Home Leasing executive vice-president Kim Russell said that the building will have onsite management and maintenance and the Orleans County Office for the Aging will provide support for residents who are in need of a little extra help.

Other details explained by the development team include 72 parking spaces – the village will own and maintain the parking lots – and there will be parking off Main Street for access to village offices. An interior elevator will be installed and there will be handicapped access at the rear of the building.

The columns on the facade of the school will also be restored. Rents are expected to be in the $400-$800/unit range. Developers also explained that it is likely a PILOT program will be requested, providing developers will tax breaks while still providing municipalities with tax revenue for needed services.

Developers said they have already made a significant investment in the project and, “we feel confident over time we will get the (tax) credits we need to make this project work,” Russell said.

Once the project is complete, “you will be stuck with us for 30 years,” Nelson Leenhouts said. “We will be here to manage the property.”

Mayor Brian Sorochty thanked all those who attended, including village, town and county officials, as well as those officials who have been working to clear hurdles which have created challenges in moving the project forward. He restated that the old school making the Five to Revive list was “a primary reason why we are here today… the Landmark Society designation as a Five to Revive was huge.” He also stated his confidence in the development team, “If this team can’t pull this off, I’m not sure who else can,” the mayor said.

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Kendall community sees transformation of school campus

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 2 September 2016 at 10:05 am
Photos by Kristina Gabalski: The new main entrance to Kendall Jr./Sr. High School.  Work should be completed on the exterior and roofline areas by late September, administrators say.

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: The new main entrance to Kendall Jr./Sr. High School.  Work should be completed on the exterior and roofline areas by late September, administrators say.

The new main entry to the Jr./Sr. High School, which features floor to ceiling windows, is still being completed.

The new main entry to the Jr./Sr. High School, which features floor to ceiling windows, is still being completed.

KENDALL – An open house on Thursday gave the Kendall community a chance to see a new-look school campus. The changes were greeted with enthusiasm.

“I think the students will be excited by the new spaces,” Kendall Jr./Sr. High Special Ed teacher Len Pizzi said Thursday evening as he stood in a newly renovated classroom in the science wing of the school.

The open house gave students, parents and residents an opportunity to see the nearly competed Phase II of the district’s capital improvement project.

Kendall residents approved the $25 million capitol project in May 2013.

Most rooms in the science wing now have vaulted ceilings and exposed beams which give a modern, clean, industrial feel to the space.

Pizzi noted the vaulted ceilings are similar in design to those in other parts of the building, including the Commons area and the new cafeteria, which was completed in Phase I of the project.

The science rooms are also equipped with smart boards which, Pizzi says, make it easy for him to go right from lecture/note taking to an audio visual presentation of the subject being discussed.

The newly renovated Jr./Sr. High School Main Office has a clean and modern look.  "It's very nice, staff member Rhonda Oliver said.  "I love coming to work."

The newly renovated Jr./Sr. High School Main Office has a clean and modern look.  “It’s very nice, staff member Rhonda Oliver said.  “I love coming to work.”

In Ben Veit’s Regents Physics/7th Grade science room, incoming 7th-grader Owen Shaw and his parents, Melissa and Nate, were also impressed.

“They thought of everything,” Mr. Shaw said.

Owen noted that the renovations help make him more excited about starting school next week.

Many activities were planned during the open house, which ran from 6 – 7:30 p.m. Students were able to locate and set up their lockers, meet with teachers and administrators, and enjoy refreshments.

The Sports Boosters held their Chicken Barbecue, the PTSA offered cool refreshments with root beer floats, and the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department, Kendall Music Boosters and the Orleans County Department of Mental Health had information tables in the Commons area.

Jr./Sr. High School nurse Bethanie Mason stands in the new nurse's office, which can now accommodate wheelchairs.  This will be Mason's first full year as school nurse.  "I think the kids will like it," she said.  In addition to the main office and the nurse's office, the Jr./Sr. High counseling office also underwent renovations.

Jr./Sr. High School nurse Bethanie Mason stands in the new nurse’s office, which can now accommodate wheelchairs.  This will be Mason’s first full year as school nurse.  “I think the kids will like it,” she said.  In addition to the main office and the nurse’s office, the Jr./Sr. High counseling office also underwent renovations.

Additionally, parents and community members working to have the speed limit reduced in front of the school had a table with information and a petition to sign in hopes of gaining support from county and state legislators.

Chorus and band students performed, and a Prevention Needs Assessment Survey Data presentation – based on students’ substance abuse at Kendall – was held at 6 p.m.

Superintendent Julie Christensen said students visiting the new science wing for the first time thought it was “so cool.”

When she told them a corridor seating area was equipped with wireless access, they responded enthusiastically, “it just got even better.”

There is still work to do to complete Phase ll, most of it on the roofline on the exterior of the building. Christensen said work will be completed for Homecoming in late September.

Classrooms in the renovated science wing are spacious with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.

Classrooms in the renovated science wing are spacious with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.

The Commons area, which underwent renovations in Phase I, now has furniture including sofas, upholstered chairs and tables and chairs.  Teachers and administrators say the area now has a "college" feel.  It was formerly the seating area for the cafeteria. 3088 A corridor seating area in the newly renovated science wing is high tech - it has Internet access

The Commons area, which underwent renovations in Phase I, now has furniture including sofas, upholstered chairs and tables and chairs.  Teachers and administrators say the area now has a “college” feel.  It was formerly the seating area for the cafeteria. 3088 A corridor seating area in the newly renovated science wing is high tech – it has Internet access

Classrooms in the renovated science wing are spacious with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.

Classrooms in the renovated science wing are spacious with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.

Kendall Jr./Sr. High vocal and instrumental music students provided entertainment during the Open House.  They are seated on new furniture in  the Commons area of the school.

Kendall Jr./Sr. High vocal and instrumental music students provided entertainment during the Open House.  They are seated on new furniture in  the Commons area of the school.

Doorways to science rooms now feature clear-glass windows.

Doorways to science rooms now feature clear-glass windows.

Editorial: Father and son left lasting mark on Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 August 2016 at 1:41 pm

John and Mike Sawyer took the lead in building Western New York Energy’s ethanol plant in Medina.

082516_ethanol

Photos by Tom Rivers

MEDINA – Orleans County and the Western New York agricultural suffered a great loss with Mike Sawyer’s death a week ago on Thursday.

Sawyer, president and CEO of Western New York Energy, was hiking on a remote trail on Cascade Mountain in the Adirondacks when he collapsed and died at age 43 due a medical condition.

Sawyer was instrumental in developing the $90 million ethanol plant in Medina about a decade ago. He quit a good job in finance in Rochester to work alongside his father, John Sawyer, in building the ethanol plant.

The two men rallied investors, community leaders and elected officials to get behind the project. The ethanol plant opened in November 2007, and remains the largest economic development project in Orleans County history.

John was the company’s first CEO and president. He served in that role until he died from leukemia at age 72 on Oct. 13, 2013. His son succeeded him as CEO and president.

Many of the ethanol plants are financed by giant agricultural companies. The Sawyers used local money to get the project done.

“It was their vision, grit and determination that made it happen,” said Dean Norton of Elba, who is president of the New York Farm Bureau.

The ethanol plant has given local corn growers a major market for corn. Many farmers have upgraded corn storage facilities, and added corn acreage since the ethanol plant opened.

“They were definitely very community-oriented,” Norton said. “They wanted to be good neighbors.”

John and Mike considered other Western New York sites for the ethanol plant. The Medina site at the corner of Bates Road and Route 31A had rail access, low-cost hydropower, and space to develop the complex that turns 20 million bushels of corn annually into about 60 million gallons of ethanol.

John had a successful farming career in Geneseo, where he raised his family. But John grew up in Orleans County, and welcomed the chance to return to his roots. The Sawyers gave $250,000 to the new Hoag Library in Albion, and contributed to many other charitable efforts, from golf tournaments to people battling illnesses.

(On a personal note, soon after Orleans Hub went live in April 2013, Mike called me saying he and his employees enjoyed the news site. He wondered how it would survive financially because it depends on ads to pay the bills for the Hub. Mike offered to take out a monthly ad even though the company isn’t selling its products retail to the community. WNY Energy has been an advertiser ever since.)

I was working for The Daily News in Batavia 12 years ago when the Sawyers starting meeting with local farmers and elected officials to build support for the first ethanol plant in the state.

It seemed then that Orleans County often came in second or third place when companies were looking at mega-projects. You would hear about companies looking at sites in Orleans, but we didn’t often land the big company.

When WNY Energy committed to Medina, Gov. George Pataki came to town to celebrate the news.

082316_Sawyer

Mike and John Sawyer were often side by side at Western New York Energy. 

Gabrielle Barone saw first-hand how Mike and his father pushed the make the project a reality. She is vice president of business development for the Orleans Economic Development Agency.

“Mike Sawyer brought an abundance of energy and solid business fundamentals to his role as CEO of Western New York Energy that was evident when I first met him during the initial development stages of the project,” Barone said. “I recall how he had the timely knack of bringing the right balance of humor into a conversation just when it was needed. We are indebted to both John and Mike Sawyer – they had the rare ability to see a potential and bring that to fruition to benefit the agricultural economy of Western New York and beyond. Michael was an outstanding successor and I share along with so many others, his untimely passing.”

The company pays about $1.2 million annually in local taxes, providing an enormous boost to the Medina school district, Town of Shelby, Orleans County and even the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library.

Despite the big tax bill, the company has been generous with the community.

John was becoming more active in local causes until his death from leukemia. He was especially interested in local history and wanted to help fund a county museum.

Mike became the company’s leader following his father’s death. He would oversee a recent $2 million investment in additional grain storage for 800,000 bushels of corn.

Mike, like his father, also was interested in helping local historical groups.

Mike also had a passion for competitive barbecuing, travelling the country for competitions. The former St. Bonaventure hockey player also loved the outdoors. He was hiking with his wife Andrea last week. He collapsed after reaching the mountain’s summit.

His funeral is this morning at 10 a.m. at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Geneseo, where he was a member of the vestry, and the church’s property and finance committees.

Our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues at WNY Energy.

State approves grant for teaching kitchen at fairgrounds

Staff Reports Posted 27 May 2016 at 12:00 am

KNOWLESVILLE – The state has approved a $25,675 grant for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County to establish a teaching kitchen at the 4-H Fairgrounds. The funds will go towards a kitchen at the Trolley Building.

The funding was announced today by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said $1.1 million in state funds will be used for projects to strengthen the research, promotion and development of New York State’s agricultural industry.

The funding, approved by the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority, supports efforts range from upgrading equipment at the New York Wine & Culinary Center, to developing a marketing plan for the Lake Ontario Wine Trail, to boosting the craft beverage industry through research at the New York State Agricultural Experimental Station.

The Upstate revitalization Award-winning Finger Lakes Forward plan for investing state resources recognizes the centrality of agriculture in the region’s economy. The Finger Lakes produces approximately a quarter of New York State’s total agricultural output and the industry supports 19,000 jobs in the region.

“Agriculture remains a key economic engine for New York and we must do all we can to ensure its continued strength,” Governor Cuomo said. “This funding will support the thousands of farms and agricultural businesses that call the Finger Lakes home, as well as the research that has been critical in the growth of New York’s craft beverage industry.”

The Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority, in cooperation with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, solicits applications each year to assist in the development of agriculture and agriculture-related businesses in nine counties in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions: Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates. The Authority has awarded more than $6.5 million to 60 projects in the region through the Agriculture Development Grant Program since 2011.

The Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority Board of Directors has voted to fund the following projects in 2016:

New York Wine and Culinary Center: $192,000 for the purchase of audio visual equipment, purchase of new kitchen equipment, food truck improvements, 2017 CSA Fair, guest chef events, and marketing and promotion material and collateral.

New York Wine & Grape Foundation: $195,000 to support the NY Drinks NY program.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County: $25,675 to establish a teaching kitchen at the Orleans County fairgrounds.

Lake Ontario Wine Trail: $27,750 to implement the Lake Ontario Wine Trail Marketing Plan.

New York Apple Association: $82,701 to assess the economic contribution of the apple industry in New York State and to enhance the industry’s economic development activities.

New York State Agricultural Experimental Station: $100,000 for plant growth chamber renovation and purchase of a bench top refractometer.

New York State Agricultural Experimental Station: $220,000 for research to support accelerated production of organic grains, corn and soybeans.

New York State Agricultural Experimental Station: $200,000 for the third year of a multi-year plan to research malting barley production.

New York State Agricultural Experimental Station: $56,874 to support the development and testing of apple varieties for the production of hard cider.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “These counties are home to some of New York’s most diverse agricultural producers and are vital to the success of the industry throughout the State. These key investments in research, facility upgrades, and marketing will benefit both the producers and the public, and this funding will help to ensure the success of agriculture in the state and drive the industry forward.”

For more on the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority, click here.

Heritage Heroes recognized for important preservation efforts

Posted 18 April 2016 at 12:00 am

File photos by Tom Rivers  – Dee Robinson, a historian, shares a lecture in February 2015 at the Hoag Library on early black history in Orleans County. The program was part of a Black History Month celebration. Robinson is being recognized for lifetime achievement in her role as historian.

Press Release, GCC

Now in its third year, the Orleans County Heritage Heroes Awards were created in 2014 as a way to recognize the efforts of those who give their time, hard work, and often money to preserve and protect local heritage. Often unnoticed, the efforts of those honored help to ensure that the history of Orleans County will be passed to the next generation.

The 2016 class of Heritage Heroes will be recognized in a ceremony at Genesee Community College in Albion on Friday, April 29, at 7 p.m. Jim Simon, associate dean of Orleans County Campus Centers, expressed his wish that many from the community would attend the ceremony to help celebrate.

“Those chosen as Heritage Heroes are special people,” according to Simon. “They give freely of their time and work tirelessly to preserve the many historic assets of Orleans County. We hope that their neighbors and friends will turn out for the ceremony to show their appreciation for all that these honorees have done.”

This year’s Heritage Heroes are:

Tim Archer – A distinguished teacher at Albion Middle School, Archer was the 2009-2010 “Educator of the Year.” Working with retired Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin, Archer and his students took on the task of revitalizing the long neglected County Alms House Cemetery in Albion. After cleaning up the cemetery and resetting toppled and buried stones, students researched the names of nearly 160 residents buried there.

Provided photo

This photo from May 2015 shows Albion seventh grade service learning students helping to clear brush at the old CCC/POW Camp at Hamlin Beach State Park. WWII prisoners of war were housed here in the 1940s. Pictured, from left, are Kolin Vangorder, Conner Hollenbeck, camp expert Ed Evans, Patrick Ricker, teacher Tim Archer, Cody Wilson, and Brooklynn Reed. It’s one of many service learning projects led by Archer that highlight local history.

More recently, Archer and his students sought to honor the only known resident of Orleans County to be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Buried in Hillside Cemetery in Holley, Charles Herbert Taylor fought for the 140th New York Volunteer Infantry. Believing that Taylor’s resting place should be highlighted, Archer applied to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation for a grant to erect a historic marker.

Margaret Wiley – During a violent storm in 1916, the Oak Orchard Lighthouse was destroyed. But thanks to the dedication and perseverance of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse Committee, led by Peg Wiley, the historic structure has been rebuilt and once again stands as a beacon over the Ontario shore.

This photo of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse was taken in May 2015. Construction of the lighthouse was completed in 2010. It is a replica of one from 1876. That lighthouse toppled over in a windstorm in 1916.

The Oak Orchard Lighthouse is one of the landmarks at Point Breeze. Completed in 2010 – almost a hundred years after its demise – the Lighthouse features a museum and a recently added Children’s Peace Garden. As the impetus behind this amazing effort, Peg helped to raise over $300,000 to make her dream a reality.

Since its opening, the Oak Orchard Lighthouse museum has become one of the jewels in the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, welcoming visitors by tens of thousands from all over the world and all fifty states.

Al Capurso – Presently the Town of Gaines historian, Al is being honored for his many contributions prior to the appointment. One such effort was the naming of a small creek after pioneer Elizabeth Gilbert.

In early 2013, Al and his son Kenny noticed a creek along Brown Road in Gaines. They followed its path across Ridge Road to Carlton. It flows 6.5 miles northeast and connects with Marsh Creek about 2.4 miles south of Lake Ontario. After research showed that the stream was unnamed, Al lobbied to name it after a plucky early pioneer who was the first to settle on Ridge Road in Orleans County in 1807. After approval from the Federal Bureau of Geographic Names, Al hosted a dedication ceremony and even made the sign marking Gilbert Creek.

Al Capurso is pictured with a new historical marker that was unveiled Oct. 17 by a former one-room schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, just north of the Erie Canal. The schoolhouse was built in 1832 and is one of the oldest cobblestone buildings in the area.

More recently, Al has led a determined effort to save the cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road. The schoolhouse for District No. 2 was built in 1832 and served as a school until 1944.

It fell into disrepair and had long faded from public memory until Al took a hand in the matter and gathered a sympathetic crew who have cleaned, painted and repaired the centuries old structure. To ensure that the building is not forgotten again, Al worked to erect a historic marker on the site.

In addition to the three Heritage Heroes to be honored on April 29th, two special awards will be bestowed:

The Robert E. Waters Award for Lifetime Achievement will be awarded to retired Town of Gaines historian Delia Robinson. An authority on cobblestone construction, Robinson is the author of Cobblestone Buildings of Orleans County and served as the resource librarian at the Cobblestone Society and Museum.

She is also author of Historical Amnesia, highlighting the contributions of many women in shaping Orleans County and was instrumental in having many historical markers put up in Orleans County that note contributions from women. She continues to give monthly historical lectures at Hoag Library called “Tea with Dee.”

Over the years, Dee has generously given of her time to speak to local groups, advocate for historic projects, and provide research support for others seeking to know more about their family tree.

The award in named for late Robert Waters, long-time publisher of the The Journal-Register in Medina. He was a champion of many local projects, including the saving of the Medina Armory. He was influential in the Medina Sandstone Society and was a Heritage Hero in 2014.

The C.W. “Bill” Lattin Award for Excellence in Municipal History will be awarded to Melissa Ierlan, Town of Clarendon Historian and President of the Clarendon Historical Society.

Melissa Ierlan, the Clarendon town historian and president of the Historical Society, unveils a historical marker on Sept. 21, 2014 for Hillside Cemetery, which in 2013 was named to National Register of Historic Places.

A historian not afraid to get her hands dirty, Melissa has put in many hours and lots of elbow grease to restore faded historical markers from throughout the area. Dismounting the signs, she has stripped them and meticulously repainted the signs the iconic blue and gold before replacing them.

Ierlan has also been instrumental in the effort to restore the beautiful red sandstone, gothic revival chapel at Hillside Cemetery in Holley. Designed by Rochester architect Addison Forbes, the Medina sandstone chapel was built in 1894. Due in part to her efforts, a grant of $126,210 was recently secured from New York State for the restoration fund.

Those selected as Heritage Heroes could be of any age but had to be living residents of Orleans County. No Posthumous nominations were accepted. History professionals and GCC employees were also not eligible for the award, nor were those serving on the award selection committees. The selection committees were made up of staff and students of Genesee Community College, community members and history professionals.

The award ceremony on April 29th at GCC in Albion is open to the public, but seating is limited. A reception will follow the ceremony featuring light refreshments. For more information on the awards or the ceremony, contact Jim Simon at jsimon@genesee.edu or Prof. Derek Maxfield at ddmaxfield@genesee.edu or by calling the Albion Campus Center at 585-589-4936.

Rental subsidies available for small businesses to move into downtowns

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 April 2016 at 12:00 am

$4,500 max to rent storefronts in Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina

Photo by Tom Rivers – Diane Blanchard, director of the Microenterprise Assistance Program, will manage $60,000 in downtown rental subsidies, plus $100,000 in grants available for small businesses. She is pictured on Main Street in Albion.

ALBION – The Orleans Economic Development Agency has money to entice businesses to move into the downtown business districts in Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina.

The EDA’s local development corporation voted Thursday to make $60,000 available in the next two years for downtown rental subsidies. Businesses can seek $3 per square foot annually if they move into the downtown. The EDA is capping the subsidies at $4,500 a year, the maximum for a 1,500 square foot space.

They subsidies aren’t available to businesses currently in the downtown. The fundign comes from a $200,000 state grant approved for the EDA last December. The EDA also has $100,000 in grants to share with small businesses (5 or fewer employees) that need working capital, equipment purchases or inventory. The grants are capped at $15,000 per recipient.

Those grants are targeted for businesses that completed the Microenterprise Assistance Program, which offers small business training. However, the EDA will consider start-up businesses and other small businesses that didn’t go through the EDA, said Jim Whipple, the EDA executive director.

The EDA ran a similar grant program about five years ago and gave $20,004 to help businesses with their rent, including seven in Medina, four in Albion and two in Holley. The subsidies then were capped at $3,000 per recipient.

Blanchard said the program should result in new commercial activity in vacant storefronts.

She is on a committee to decide the funding along with Whipple, and three members of the EDA’s Finance Committee.

The grant from the state also provides $40,000 to the EDA to administer the funding.

The EDA runs the MAP program providing small business training in a 10-week class. The spring class just started last week and includes 15 entrepreneurs.

For more on the EDA, click here.

Editorial: Albion Village Board should embrace Santa site on Main Street

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 March 2016 at 11:00 am
Santa waving to the crowd

Photos by Tom Rivers. A graduate of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, now based in Midland, Mich., waves when the Santa stopped by Albion on Tuesday. The Albion Betterment Committee would like to have a statue of Santa Claus on Main Street. The Santa could be waving, or be in a different pose.

(Editor’s Note: Tom Rivers is on the committee working on a memorial site in Albion for Charles W. Howard.)
ALBION – What makes the most sense for a vacant piece of land on Main Street in downtown Albion? How could the land best be used, contributing to a rebirth of the downtown business district?

There isn’t much open space available in such a dense business district. But there is an open spot, between the Presbyterian Church and a parking lot by El Gallo. This parcel has sat empty for five years since a former restaurant building was demolished.

An open grassy spot in Albion

The Albion Village Board is weighing whether to pave this open grassy spot or allow a community group to try to raise funds for a bronze statue of Santa Claus and a visitor center that could also have space for a business.

Village Board members five years eyed the land where the restaurant stood for more parking. At the time, CRFS was busting at the seams across the street. CRFS would move to a bigger building in Medina and settled about 2 ½ years ago in the former Chase building on Route 31 in Albion.

Since then, the parking crunch in Main Street has gone away. The lot by El Gallo seldom has more than a few cars.

But Village Board members and some merchants say that could change if the downtown becomes a hot spot, perhaps with a restaurant and other new businesses.

However, the Albion Betterment Committee sees the open spot by the parking lot as an ideal site for a statue of a Santa Claus and a mini-replica of the much-beloved Santa Claus School and Christmas Park that opened in Albion from 1937 to 1966.

That replica building could function as a year-round visitor center, selling coffee, ice cream, baked goods and merchandise. It should also have a public bathroom and displays about Albion’s Santa legacy. The Santa site would add some fun and pizzazz to the downtown. It would get more people out of their cars, exploring the business district.

Other businesses could piggyback on the site, selling Santa merchandise. Perhaps a Santa Deli or Charlie’s Hots would open. With the right leadership and investment, Albion could be home to a Santa Claus Museum and Hall of Fame. Santa could be a big part of the Albion identity.

(There is already a a Santa Claus Hall of Fame and Howard was inducted in the first class. The leader of the Hall of Fame, Phil Wenz, told me he would support Albion having a Santa Hall of Fame display. Click here for more information.)

Albion needs to reclaim its Santa heritage and it needs to start somewhere, and a prominent statue and visitor center on Main Street could help transform downtown.

Charles Howard started a Santa Claus School and ran it until his death on May 1, 1966. He remains a revered figure in the Santa Claus community, the network of people who portray the Jolly Ole’ Elf.

Charles Howard conference patch

Albion last year hosted the Charles W. Howard Legendary Santa Claus Conference.

More than 250 Santas, from all over the country and beyond, were in Albion last April for a convention. They made it clear they love Charles Howard and his contributions to the Santa “profession.”

Howard was influential in developing standards for how Santa should look, act and be. The Santas, when they were in Albion a year ago, noted the 50th anniversary of Howard’s death would be in 2016. They said they wanted to contribute to a memorial site in Albion.

The Betterment Committee has tried to find a suitable site to honor Howard. We first reached out to Hoag Library, but that didn’t seem like a good fit. The library really isn’t connected to Charles Howard and the local Santa story.

Putting the statue in the downtown would give that historic district a bigger lift anyway. Constructing a visitor center that might also function as perhaps the Santa Claus School Café also links the statue to a bigger site.

I don’t think more parking on Main Street will be downtown’s salvation. We need a project that will draw people to the downtown, and feed other businesses. Ideally, we would create a parking problem.

If that happens, there are plenty of parking spots on Platt and Liberty streets, a short walk from the Main Street buildings. These lots tend to lack signage. I don’t think people are aware they can park there.

Platt Street parking in Albion

This parking lot with 13 spaces is on Platt Street by the Presbyterian Church, right behind the vacant land the village is considering as a parking lot. The spaces by the Presbyterian Church seldom are used. This photo was taken at about 10:30 a.m. on Monday.

Platt Street parking spaces

There are also several parking spaces on Platt Street that don’t see much action.

Corner of Platt and State streets

There is a parking lot next to the Free Methodist Church at the corner of Platt and State streets. A dilapidated house next door could also be removed if there was a need for more parking.

Liberty Street parking

There are parking lots with many spaces on Liberty Street as well.

The Village Board should consider working out deals with the business owners or churches that own the land, allowing the spots to be open to the public. In exchange for public parking, maybe the village could plow the lots in the winter.

That would better utilize the spaces, especially at the churches where the lots are largely underutilized when it isn’t Sunday morning.

That would also allow the community to create the Santa site. The village would own the statue and visitor center. The village could seek bids from vendors to operate a café/bakery/store. That rent would generate some revenue for the village, and also draw a new merchant to the downtown.

The Betterment Committee wants an answer soon from the village because the Betterment Committee is pushing to go public with a fund-raising effort on May 1. That is the 50th anniversary of Charles Howard’s death.

The Village Board is scheduled to vote at 7 p.m. today about what to do with vacant land on Main Street. I’m hoping they will embrace the community’s Santa history, and make a bold statement that we are a community on the rise, showing optimism in the future and pride in our past.

A bigger parking lot won’t do much to change the perception of a struggling downtown. A Santa site would bring magic to Main Street, every day of the year.

Albion Village Board asked to make decision on Santa site

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 March 2016 at 12:00 am

Betterment Committee wants statue, ‘Christmas Park’ on Main Street

Clark Patterson Lee has put together this conceptual plan for a memorial site for Charles Howard, the Albion native who developed an influential Santa Claus School. This spot is on Main Street between the Presbyterian Church and a parking lot next to El Gallo.

ALBION – The Albion Betterment Committee has been working more than a year on a memorial site in honor of Charles Howard, the Albion native who developed the first Santa Claus School. Howard started the school in 1937 and operated it until his death on May 1, 1966.

The school has since been relocated to Michigan, but still bears Howard’s name. Howard is a revered figure in the Santa Claus community. More than 200 men who portray Santa Claus came to a conference in Albion last April. Many of those visitors were surprised there wasn’t a site commemorating Howard’s importance in shaping how Santa should act and look.

The Albion Betterment Committee last December had a welcome sign installed on Route 98, south of the village, noting Albion is home of Charles Howard. An interpretive panel about Howard’s legacy was also put up at Mount Albion Cemetery by Albion Central School students.

Bronze sculptor Bill Koch has submitted this design for a statue of Charles Howard as Santa. Brigden Memorials in Albion also is interested in the project.

The Betterment Committee wants a bronze statue of Howard on Main Street. The group also wants a new building on Main Street that would function as a year-round visitor center and could also be leased out to a business for a coffee shop/bakery/ice cream stand/merchandise.

“This community would come together for the Santa House, the statue and history in general,” Gary Kent, a director for the Betterment Committee, told the Village Board on Wednesday.

Kent said the Betterment Committee has an appeal letter ready, and plans to follow up with phone calls to about 270 people already identified as potential donors.

Kent noted that May 1 is the 50th anniversary of Howard’s death and the Betterment Committee wants to push this year for the projects to honor one of Albion’s most famous native sons. For more on Howard, click here.

Kent asked the Village Board to make a decision soon about the village-owned land by the Presbyterian Church. The Betterment Committee is eyeing the spot where a building, last used by DaLisa’s Pizzeria, stood before the structure was knocked down about five years ago.

The board at the time say the site as a spot for more downtown parking. The land hasn’t been paved or turned into additional parking.

This spot next to the Presbyterian Church is considered by the Albion Betterment Committee as the preferential location for a Santa statue and building resembling Charles Howard’s Christmas Park in Albion. (If the project moves forward, the hitching posts and carriage step would be relocated.)

Kent said the site looks big enough for a 1,200-square-foot building that could be a Santa House, resembling Howard’s famed Christmas Park on Phipps Road in Albion.

The Betterment Committee has looked at other sites in the community for the project, but wants it downtown “for the maximum impact in the village,” Kent said.

Kent has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for 24 years. He said volunteers would likely help build a Santa House. He also has reached out to electricians and contractors, who are interested in donating their time.

“We could get this done for zero dollars,” Kent told the board.

This historic photo shows one of the buildings from Charles Howard’s Christmas Park and Santa Claus School. The Betterment Committee wants to replicate some of the looks from Christmas Park in a new site on Main Street.

The Santa statue, however, could cost $80,000 to $100,000. State grants and money from the Santa community, who hold Howard in high regard, could help fund the project.

Village Board members said they want to check with downtown merchants to gauge their opinion of the project, whether it would be worth sacrificing parking for a statue and Santa House. Mayor Dean London said the board would make a decision at its March 23 meeting.

Trustee Gary Katsanis said he favors the statue and Santa House in the downtown, where it would be a draw and likely boost business for other merchants.

Trustee Stan Farone said there could be other spots for the project, perhaps on Liberty Street.

Trustee Pete Sidari said the Santa site should be on Main Street. He just wants to make sure the village doesn’t have a parking shortage in the downtown for other businesses.

Editorial: Orleans communities should think big and go after $10 million from NY

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 March 2016 at 10:00 am
Bent's Opera House

File photos by Tom Rivers The Bent’s Opera House is pictured here in 2014 when contractors were stabilizing a corner of the building. The three-story building was built during the Civil War in 1864. The Orleans Renaissance Group sees potential in the site as a performing arts venue with a restaurant and offices.

A big pot of money, $10 million, could be directed to a downtown in Orleans County if community leaders can make the case for how the money would transform the business district, creating more vibrant businesses and places to live.

Gov. Cuomo, in his budget presentation in January, announced he wanted $100 million for 10 “distressed downtowns” in the state. Each region would pick a struggling community suffering from population loss and economic decline.

The villages of Albion, Medina and Holley all seem like good candidates for the money. All have declines in population and tax bases, as well as high poverty rates and crushing tax burdens. The tax rates in these villages are among the highest in the Finger Lakes region.

The community that gets the $10 million needs to put together a plan, identifying projects. Cuomo often speaks about how his administration, in five years, has pushed hard to bring funding to Upstate New York. The initiatives, including The Buffalo Billion, have boosted confidence and investment in long-suffering communities. However, Cuomo said some places have been left out.

That’s why he wants the $100 Downtown Revitalization Initiative. It’s part of his budget proposal. Our local state legislators haven’t spoken much or at all about this money. They haven’t helped Orleans villages get plans in place for transformative money that could be approved in the new budget, taking effect April 1.

The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council met on Feb. 25. Orleans is one of nine counties in the region, and the council will pick one community for the $10 million if it’s in the new state budget.

Vincent Esposito, council director, said he expects the money will be in the budget. There were about 200 people at the Feb. 25 meeting, officials from communities throughout the region. Esposito urged them to get started on a big plan for a struggling community.

The plans would likely be due in the summer with a grant award announced in December. The state would provide planning experts to create a strategic downtown redevelopment plan for the selected community.

“Eligible projects will include those that grow small businesses and employment, expand housing, improve transportation, and partner with large institutions such as universities and hospitals,” Cuomo said in January.

I think Albion, Medina and Holley all have a good shot at this money. It’s easy enough to use assessment data and Census numbers to show declining tax bases and population. The villages should show current vacancy rates in the downtown, as well as vacant homes in the community.

The main thing will be identifying realistic projects that would help change the fortunes for a depressed area, projects that would add jobs, attract sales tax, and change the morale of the community.

Here are some suggestions for each community for projects as part of an application.

The congregation at the Albion United Methodist Church vacated this building a year ago and now holds church services at Christ Episcopal Church.

Albion: The “Downtown Revitalization Program” seems targeted to a place like Albion, a once prosperous and vibrant community.

The historic buildings are the envy of many in other communities because the wrecking ball didn’t knock downtown ornate structures from the mid to late 1800s. However, in Albion there are high vacancy rates in the downtown, including several three-story buildings with no tenants.

If there were millions made available, I think some of the buildings could be renovated for loft apartments, a boutique hotel, restaurants, bakery, art co-ops and studios.

One possible project could be rehabbing a building into a local visitor center/discovery zone with exhibits about the canal, Medina sandstone, Charles Howard’s Santa Claus School and more.

There needs to be at least one signature project that would draw people downtown, feeding other businesses.

Albion might want to consider a project at the former United Methodist Church. Part of the building, the newer section with classrooms, might be able to be renovated into apartments. I think the church building could be made into a “Sacred Sites Discovery Center” that would talk about circuit riders in the early 1800s, and the many religious and social movements (abolition, prohibition, suffrage) that were strong in upstate in the 19th Century.

Albion would be an ideal place for such a museum/discovery center because it is home to the first Free Methodist Church in the world and has the seven churches, all with interesting stories, on the Courthouse Square.

A bronze statue of Charles Howard, shown here in his signature pose as Santa Claus, would be a draw on Main Street, while promoting community pride.

I’ve tried to advocate in the community how I think bronze statues for Santa (Charles Howard) and a quarryman display would help tell our community’s story, and also be a popular spot for locals and visitors. The statues would get people out of their cars, and moving in the downtown, helping local businesses.

I think creating a smaller version of Christmas Park (Howard’s popular Santa School and park on Phipps Road), and putting it on Main Street in a smaller building with a statue out front would be popular. It might make the most sense to put up a new building about 1,000 square feet and tell the local Santa story. The building could be open year-round as a bakery/coffee shop, while also functioning as a visitor center. I think next to the Presbyterian Church on a vacant lot would be an ideal spot. The village would own it and could lease it out to a business.

The old Holley High School has been vacant for about two decades in a prominent part of the community.

Holley: Redeveloping the old Holley High School could be a focal project. The building could be revived with apartments. Perhaps a portion of the building could be made into offices as well.

A massive renovation to the school would make for a dynamic gateway into the county on Route 31. Holley could also have a quarryman heritage display with a bronze statue or two in the front yard of the old school. Many of the most prolific quarries a century ago were in Holley and Hulberton. Those quarries brought thousands of immigrants to the community, hard-working and skilled stone masons from Italy, Poland and Britain.

Holley might also consider a nice fountain in front of the school. Holley already has two waterfalls and other fountains. It could market itself with a water theme, perhaps a logo with waterfalls and a fountain.

Other building owners could tap into the $10 million for building repairs and renovations.

Medina has a dramatic waterfalls next to the canal, but the site is largely inaccessible to the public.

Frances Folsom Cleveland is pictured in her official White House portrait. She married Grover Cleveland in 1886 at a ceremony at the White House. She was 21, the youngest First Lady ever.

Medina: The downtown district is much more vibrant than many in Western New York, but there are still vacancies and buildings in need of repair in Medina.

I could see Medina creating a plan centering around the redevelopment of the Bent’s Opera House. The Orleans Renaissance Group wants to redevelop the site as a performing arts venue on the top floor with a restaurant and offices also in the dominant Main Street structure.

I see a lot of potential in the waterfalls by the Horan Road canal bridge. Making the site more accessible, with either an elevated platform by the towpath or a trail, would make Medina even more attractive.

Medina could also do a quarryman heritage display, or maybe it would be better to have Frances Folsom, the former First Lady from Medina, standing in the Canal Basin, holding hands with President Grover Cleveland.

All of these communities would benefit from better gateway signs, welcoming people into the community. I would try to incorporate Medina sandstone in a nice display leading into these communities.

We don’t know the rules of the grant yet, but Esposito, at the Feb. 25 meeting, was emphatic in urging struggling communities to put forth ideas for money.

I would encourage community leaders in each village to form task forces dream big and come up with ideas for improving the downtowns.

The governor said the money will “transform long-forgotten areas into vibrant neighborhoods where tomorrow’s workforce will want to live, work, and raise a family.”