2018’s top story in Orleans: Addition of several restaurants, some years in the making

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Holley Falls Bar & Grill opened on Aug. 6 on Route 31 in Holley, following five years of extensive renovations.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 January 2019 at 7:51 pm

The addition of new restaurants, with some several years in the making, tops Orleans Hub’s list of the top stories in the county in 2018.

New restaurants have given the downtown business districts in Albion and Holley a much-needed jolt, creating foot traffic and energy that helps the other nearby businesses as well.

Much-anticipated new restaurants also opened on Main Street in Medina and by Lake Ontario in Kendall.

Dan and Monica Seeler in August opened the Holley Falls Bar & Grill, following extensive renovations of the former Tagg’s Tavern. The Seelers have also created apartments in the building, and created a destination location. They worked for five years to get the space ready for the restaurant.

The Seelers like how the building looks out on the Public Square, offering a great view of a quaint small town with its historic downtown, large American flag in the Public Square and a landmark former church building.

There are 135 seats, with 85 in the dining room and 50 in the bar.

The building used to have a wooden exterior when it was Tagg’s Tavern. The wood was removed to reveal cast iron columns in front. The Seelers needed to rebuild walls, paint them and make numerous other improvements for one of the most prominent buildings in Holley. They also added an awning. They opened on Aug. 6 with 32 employees.

Adam and Tina Johnson opened a bar and restaurant on North Main Street in Albion on March 1.

Downtown Albion had been without a restaurant for several years. On March 1, Adam and Tina Johnson opened 39 Problems, a bar and restaurant on Main Street.

The couple purchased the building, which includes three storefronts, in 2015. They worked diligently to renovate the site, while preserving its historic charm. In June 2017, they opened 39 Problems, selling pizza, grilled foods and “chill desserts.” The site didn’t have a dine-in option.

Now 39 Problems has a dine-in restaurant. The Johnsons have two of three storefronts done, and they would eventually like to expand the dining area to the remaining storefront.

The Johnsons have already added a new kitchen, two new bathrooms, wiring, gas lines, structural and roof repairs, masonry work and lots of other attention.

The storefront has been changed. The windows are now aluminum framed with insulated glass. Johnson kept the cast iron columns and removed paint on the Medina sandstone at the storefronts. Some of the wood from the storefront was repurposed above the bar.

“We’re hoping it will get Main Street alive, and lots of people to the downtown,” Adam Johnson said on March 1, opening day for the restaurant.

Mile 303 in Medina strives to create a cultural experience, where customers are exposed to art while tasting “modern and fresh food on the lighter side.”

Courtesy of Lures Restaurant: This new restaurant by Lake Ontario opened on Aug. 31.

Medina’s downtown also welcomed a new restaurant last year. Tim Hungerford opened Mile 303 on May 5 at 416 Main St. The restaurant honors the community’s connection to the Erie Canal, while trying to “push the envelope” culturally with the food, alcohol and artwork.

A long blue table is a sculpture designed to represent the canal. The sculpture also serves as the bar and the table tops.

The wall facing the bar also includes a mural with a canal theme, featuring celestial horses pulling a canal boat. Even the name of the establishment, Mile 303, is connected to the canal. Medina’s mile marker by the lift bridge is 303. The canal runs 363 miles from Buffalo to Albany.

Hungerford and his wife, Teresa Misiti, bought the building five years ago and created a loft apartment for their family on the third floor. The second floor is used for their work offices.

“We bought the building to be part of the effort to push Medina forward,” Hungerford said.

The Kendall community has waited for several years for a restaurant to open along Lake Ontario at the Bald Eagle Marina. Lures Restaurant and Bar made its debut on Aug. 31, offering a full restaurant, bar and outside dining area over-looking the lake.

The marina has completed several upgrades in recent years, and the new restaurant is the latest in creating a destination for boaters across Lake Ontario and upstate New York. With the new restaurant, the marina hopes to draw more people to the site in addition to boaters.

2. Transformative projects underway in Holley, Medina

Photo by Tom Rivers: Dave Nenni (front left), Holley DPW superintendent, and Matt Campbell, Holley’s electric and water superintendent, hold a 97-pound stone that will be placed at the renovated former school this year when contractors transform the building. They are among a big group of supporters for the school project who gathered on Dec. 11 for a “preservation celebration.”

Two long-awaited projects started in 2018 that could be transformative to both Holley and Medina.

Home Leasing, a Rochester company, started construction in November on a $17 million transformation of the former Holley High School, a building that has been vacant for more than two decades.

Home Leasing will turn the site into 41 senior apartments as well as the offices for the Village of Holley.

The building which opened in 1931 would close in 1975 as a school. It was last used by Liftec Manufacturing until it went bankrupt in the mid-1990s. Holley tried many times to revive the site, but previous deals fell apart and the building kept deteriorating, to the anguish of many in the community.

Home Leasing was able to put together a complicated deal with tax credits to make the school renovation possible. The company is leveraging $12 million in tax credits – $6.8 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit equity and $5.1 million in Historic Tax Credit equity – which are critical in making the project financial feasible.

Nelson Leenhouts has been working in the real estate development business for a half century. He is the chairman and chief executive officer of Home Leasing. He said the Holley community’s enthusiasm for the project kept him and Home Leasing focused on the Holley Gardens, the senior apartments that will be created at the former school.

The restored building is expected to be ready in late 2019.

“Our community never lost hope, never gave in to thoughts of demolishing it,” Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty said on Dec. 11. “We kept our focus on what was important to us, which is the commitment to the revitalization of the old Holley High school.”

This rendering shows how Bent’s will look after renovations.

In Medina, a dominant building on Main Street is undergoing a major renovation. Talis Equity, a business led by Roger Hungerford, is working to turn the Bent’s Opera House into an upscale restaurant, boutique hotel and event space.

The building has been mostly vacant for many years. The third floor will be restored into one of the most unique wedding and event venues in New York State, while the first and second floors will experience a dramatic redesign into a restaurant and modern boutique hotel space.

When the project is complete, Talis and Hungerford will work on turning the former Medina High School into apartments.

The Village of Lyndonville also is excited about a plan for its downtown. Lyndonville native Robert Smith wants to turn a block on Main Street into a café, a six-room hotel and retail shops. His plan was accepted by the Village Planning Board last year. Smith, who works as a financial advisor in California, will focus on a c.1899 historic block on Main Street. He owns about 18,000 square feet of space in buildings that used to be a restaurant, super market, ice cream shop and other businesses.

3. Orleans continues to suffer from overdoses and drug deaths

Photo by Ginny Kropf: Recovery coaches and advocates for Orleans – Recovery Hope Begins Here are shown at a benefit for the organization on Oct. 27 at the VFW in Medina. From left are Stephanie Higgs, Kathy Hodgins, Kim Lockwood, Tiffany Neroni, Mike Schroeder, Don Snyder and Wayne Litchfield. Orleans – Recovery Hope is a peer organization which grew out of a group founded a year ago to work with recovering addicts.

While some counties are seeing a decrease in drug overdoses and fatalities, Orleans County has yet to see a lessening of the powerful pull of addiction.

There were 72 overdoses and nine fatal overdoses as of late November, similar to the impact in 2017.

“We have a problem in our community,” said Kathy Hodgins, Senior Services Director at GCASA, which serves Orleans and Genesee counties. She addressed a local service club in November. “The numbers are not decreasing.”

GCASA has expanded its services to fight the opioid epidemic, opening the Opioid Treatment Program in Batavia on Aug. 13. This allows patients to receive methadone to treat their addiction.

“The ability to provide methadone treatment in our rural area will help so many people in our community,” Hodgins said. “Those who are unable to drive to Buffalo or Rochester daily will be able to access the care they need to treat their addiction in Batavia. This is huge for our community.”

GCASA also has started supportive living housing in Albion, as well as four sites in Batavia. The organization has done numerous trainings for people to administer Narcan, which can reverse an overdose.

Orleans – Recovery Hope Begins Here also is a new organization that connects people struggling with drug addiction to local resources and mentors. There are 12 people trained as peer advocates to assist people in fighting their addiction.

“It’s not just about GCASA,” Hodgins said. “It takes a community.”

4. Orleans sees lowest unemployment in generation – Takeform expands, new Save-A-Lot opens in Albion

Photo by Tom Rivers: John Hedlund, co-owner of the Save-A-Lot in Albion, is pictured in the revamped store on June 4, a day before the grand opening. Hedlund, a North Tonawanda resident, owns a Save-A-Lot in Salamanca and is co-owner of the stores in Batavia and Le Roy.

Unemployment fell to its lowest levels in more than a generation in Orleans County. The rate was under 4 percent from September through November. The 3.5 percent rate in October was the lowest rate in the county in at least 29 years.

The data from the state Department of Labor shows there were 17,600 working in Orleans in November, up from 16,900 the same time in 2017.

Some of the added positions in the county are at Takeform in Medina, which completed a 15,500-square-foot expansion last year. The company has added about 50 jobs and now employs 175. When it started in Medina in 2003, it had nine workers.

A Save-A-Lot store closed in Albion in November 2017 after 14 years. New owners took charge of the site on West Avenue and reopened a remodeled store on June 5.

The store used to have a red-color scheme and that has been replaced with blue and gray. The shelves have been replaced and they are shorter and the aisles are wider to give an open space feel. The new store has 20-25 employees.

5. Kendall pushes CO detectors after tragic death of mother and son

Provided photo: Joan Gilman and her son, Richard Gilman Jr., 14, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in April.

The Kendall community was stunned and saddened when a mother and her son died on April 18 from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Joan C. Gilman, 38, and her son, Richard J. Gilman Jr., 14, lived in an a duplex at 2245 Center Rd. National Grid had shut off power to the house April 16 after bills went unpaid.

A resident sharing the house with the Gilmans used a generator in a closed garage, which was directly below his neighbors’ apartment. David A. Wiley Jr. was charged with reckless endangerment and criminally negligent homicide after the death of the Gilmans from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The generator ran for 17 hours and the fumes from it were 4-5 times the amount that could kill a person, said Undersheriff Chris Bourke.

The Kendall committee has been working on a carbon monoxide detector giveaway. Th Kendall Fire Department this month will begin distributing and installing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

The Red Cross has donated 600 smoke detectors, while the Kendall Lions Club is sponsoring the purchase of the CO detectors. The school district has helped inform the community and get signups of families that would like new smoke and CO detectors.

6. Collins wins a close race despite indictment

Photo by Tom Rivers: Chris Collins speaks at the Orleans GOP Rally on Oct. 25.

Chris Collins was elected to a fourth term to Congress despite being indicted on insider trading charges in August. Collins initially suspended his campaign for re-election just days after being arrested but was back on the campaign trail in September, after Republican Party leaders sought to find his replacement.

It was late in the political calendar to find a different Republican to run in Collins’ place. The GOP said to had a plan, but Collins decided to stay in the race. He is scheduled to be on trial in February 2020. He has been removed from his committees on the House while the case is in the court system.

Collins campaigned for the importance of keeping the seat in Republican control to ensure an ally for President Donald Trump. Collins was the first member of Congress to support Trump’s campaign in early 2016. The local congressman has frequently appeared on television news programs as an advocate for the president.

Nate McMurray, a Democrat and the Grand Island town supervisor, made a strong showing in an overwhelmingly Republican district. (Republicans outnumber Democrats by 40,000 in the 27th Congressional District.) The strong Collins vote was critical in the incumbent’s re-election. Collins, in an eight-county district, won by less than 3,000 votes. In Orleans, he topped McMurray, 7,269 to 4,505.

McMurray said he will stay engaged as an advocate in the region and has formed an organization, Fight Like Hell, to give a voice to people who feel ignored by Collins.

7. Big public projects with Medina school, County Administration Building and RTS bus garage

Photos by Tom Rivers: This photo from July 30 shows construction of the $10 addition to the County Administration Building.

The county broke ground in April on the 23,000-square-addition to the complex on Route 31. The addition will accommodate 50 employees from the Health Department, Board of Elections, information technology department and the County Legislature’s office and staff.

The new space will include a meeting room for the Legislature with about 60 seats. The current Legislative chambers has about 30 seats and is one of the smallest municipal meeting rooms in the county.

The building will be connected to the current Administration Building with the addition on the south side. There are currently about 125 people working out of the building for the Department of Social Services, Office for the Aging, Job Development, Tourism, Planning and Development, Department of Motor Vehicles, and Personnel.

On Sept. 19, RTS celebrated the opening of new transportation facility in Orleans County. Officials cut the ribbon on the new 13,000-square-foot building behind the Orleans County Highway Department at 225 West Academy St.

Pictured from left include: Chuck Nesbitt, Orleans County chief administrative officer; Assemblyman Steve Hawley; Geoff Astles, Board Chairman of the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority; Bill Carpenter, Regional Transit Service chief executive officer; Henry Smith Jr., RGRTA commissioner from Orleans County; Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature; Eileen Banker, Albion Mayor; John LeFrois, vice president of LeFrois Builders; and Justin Vollenweider, architect with Passarell Associates.

The facility has eight indoor bus bays, three bus maintenance bays, a vehicle wash bay, storage for parts and materials, administrative office space, a break room with kitchenette, and designated parking.

The new facility cost about $4 million. Federal aid funneled to the state is covering 80 percent or about $3.2 million of the cost, while the state pays 10 percent and RTS pays the other 10 percent. It took about 15 months to construct the building.

The Medina school district has been undergoing $34 million in capital improvements, including a new campus access road, linking Oak Orchard and Wise schools. This photo from Sept. 4 shows contractors working on the road before the start of the school year.

The capital project includes a slew of improvements at all three school buildings, the bus garage, and Vet’s Park.

8. Wind projects remain hotly debated in Barre and Yates-Somerset

Photos by Tom Rivers: Paul Williamson, the Apex project manager for Lighthouse Wind, spoke during an Oct. 2 forum in Lyndonville. He said the project offers many benefits to the community, including an estimated $1.5 million annually in revenue to the local governments.

Apex Clean Energy continues to work on two large-scale wind energy projects in Orleans County, while encountering some stiff opposition.

The company unveiled the locations for 47 wind turbines in Yates and Somerset for the proposed Lighthouse Wind. Somerset would have 39 of the turbines while Yates would have eight, according to the Apex proposal.

The project has been bitterly fought for about four years by a citizens group, Save Ontario Shores, and the Town Boards in Yates and Somerset. Apex said it is working to submit a final application this year that would be subject to public hearings and vote by a seven-member State Siting Board.

“Now that Apex has finally begun to reveal some of the details of their ill-conceived project, it is clear that they will try to eviscerate our local laws and that they will rely on the Siting Board to force this project upon the Towns of Yates and Somerset,” Yates Town Supervisor Jim Simon wrote in an October town newsletter. “Rest assured we will do everything we can to keep this from happening. Every measure of the will of the people of Yates cries out for opposition to this project – from surveys and elections to comments at town board meetings and on the Department of Public Service official repository.”

Barre resident George McKenna attended a June 6 Town Board and urged a delay in a decision on two meteorological towers in Barre. The board voted on June 13 to allow the towers.

Apex said the projects provide needed revenue to the communities with lease payments and about $1.5 million in revenue to the municipalities annually for each of the projects.

The company wants to use a new generation of turbine in the local projects, turbines that would be nearly 600 feet tall with a 4.2-megawatt capacity.

Some Barre, Yates and Somerset residents want the towns to increase setbacks from houses and property lines. However, bigger setbacks may jeopardize the project if Apex needs more land with an end result of fewer turbines, the company said.

Apex wants to build 47 turbines in Barre that would have a capacity for nearly 200 megawatts of power.

The turbines would be about 200 feet taller than most of the turbines in Wyoming County. Barre in January is expected to vote on a new wind energy ordinance with regulations for height, setbacks and other issues.

9. Dollar General faces opposition for proposed store in historic Cobblestone District

The Cobblestone Museum has a sign by the historic Ward House urging people to protect a historic district that is nationally recognized.

A proposal for a new Dollar General in the a historic district on Ridge Road raised the ire of many in the community who said the 9,100-square-foot store shouldn’t be in a nationally recognized historic district, especially across the road from a cobblestone schoolhouse built in 1849.

Nearly 1,200 people signed petitions opposing the project’s location, and eight municipal historians in Orleans County also went on the record opposing the store’s location in a historic district.

“Regardless of what type of faux finish is used for the facade, the new structure will be inauthentic, and will destroy the tenor of the neighborhood,” according to a July 11 letter to the editor on the Orleans Hub from the historians. “We respectfully request that the Town of Gaines protect what is both a local and national treasure and reject the proposal.”

Those historians include Matthew R. Ballard, Orleans County Historian; Adrienne Kirby, Gaines Town Historian; Adrienne Daniels, Barre Town Historian; Lysbeth Hoffman, Carlton Town Historian; Melissa Ierlan, Clarendon Town Historian; Marsha DeFilipps, Holley Village Historian, Murray Town Historian; Alice Zacher, Shelby Town Historian; and Dawn Metty, Yates Town Historian.

NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation also urged Dollar General and the developer of the project, Zaremba Group of Cleveland, to find another location for the store away from the historic buildings in Gaines. The Cobblestone Museum is a National Historic Landmark, the only site with that designation in the state and one of 262 in New York.

This is a rendering of the design for the new store proposed on Route 104.

The Zaremba Group met with about 50 people in the historic Cobblestone Universalist Church on Nov. 1. Zaremba builds about 40 Dollar General stores a year. Zaremba buys the land, builds the store and leases the site to Dollar General.

Mary Ann Wervey is vice president of Retail Development for the Zaremba Group and Gary Hough is senior director of development. They said the town’s current zoning limits commercial development to the historic district.

The proposed site for the Gaines store is in a wooded area, just east of the routes 98 and 104 intersection. It is a high traffic area, and is the preferred location for Dollar General, which does the market analysis for its stores, Hough said.

“This is the location they believe in,” Hough told the crowd on Nov. 1. “They have charged us to move forward.”

Doug Farley, the Cobblestone Museum director, told Zaremba the project should have never been considered by the Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals. A zoning misinterpretation has, unfortunately, allowed Zaremba to spend money on a site that shouldn’t be developed for a commercial chain store, Farley said.

“It was a very bad decision by the Zoning Board to allow it to get to this point,” he said. “We are clearly an interested party and we’ve been ignored.”

Farley said the presence of the Dollar General would have a damaging effect on the Cobblestone Museum and the historic district, an impact that couldn’t be reversed once the store was built.

Museum supporters worry that the Dollar General would also bring more chain stores to the district. Zaremba is developing about 1 acre for the store, but 4 other undeveloped acres are next to the site.

10. Lots to celebrate – Kendall girls win states, Barre and Shelby mark 200th, new Leadership Orleans class starts, Parkway repaved

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Kendall girls soccer team received a huge welcome back to the school on Nov. 11 after the team won the state championship in Class D, Kendall’s first state title for a team.

There was a lot to celebrate in Orleans County last year. The five school districts have fielded many tough teams in recent years, but no team since 1991 made it through the playoff gauntlet and won a state championship until the Kendall girls varsity soccer team won on Nov. 11.

Kendall went on a 7-0 run in the postseason and capped it with a 1-0 victory over Fort Ann to win the state Class D title. Kendall was the first team to win a state championship since the Holley varsity boys teams won back-to-back championships in 1990 and 1991.

There was another state title to celebrate last year. Medina’s Melanie Green won the state championship in golf.

An Albion girl also won a state championship. Melissa Barnosky became the first Albion student to win the American Legion High School Oratorical Scholarship Program on March 3 in Albany. That earned her a trip to Indianapolis for the national competition.

Jesse Farwell, his wife Andrea and their daughter Holly ride a Farmall tractor from Hu-Lane Farms in a June 30 Bicentennial parade down Route 98 in Barre Center.

Two Orleans County towns also marked their 200th anniversaries in 2018. Barre had a three-day bash with a parade, fireworks, the dedication of a new veterans’ memorial and many other events, including a quilt show.

There were more than 30 floats and other participants in the parade that started on East Barre Road, headed north on Route 98 and ended at the Barre Town Park. Barre had another parade in December, this time with tractors lighted up.

Provided photo: Shelby Town Historian Alice Zacher is recognized for organizing a June 16 fashion show and for helping to spearhead the town’s bicentennial celebration efforts. Town Clerk Darlene Rich is at left. Shelby’s bicentennial celebration featured a fashion show at the auditorium of Oak Orchard Elementary School on Saturday. The fashion show included apparel from each decade capped off a day full of historic events.

Orleans County residents have been pressing the state for many years to pave the bumpy Lake Ontario State Parkway. That finally happened last year with the state Department of Transportation spending $5.2 million to pave 7 miles of the Parkway between Kendall and Hamlin.

Orleans County also started a Leadership Orleans program in 2018 with 24 people in the debut class. They came from a cross section of the community, including law enforcement, government department heads, farm owners, agency directors and other business leaders.

Each month the group learned about a different sector of the community, including government, arts and culture, volunteerism and non-profit organizations, community health, tourism and recreation, agribusiness, economic & workforce development, and education.

The second class will start later this month and graduate in December.

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