Replace the roof, fix the elevators and raise the rent. Oh, and change the name while you're at it.
Those were some of the ideas a Batavia consultant offered the city's development agency Thursday for reviving Commerce Square, the former Harrison Radiator plant at Walnut and Washburn streets.
B. Thomas Mancuso and his Mancuso Business Development Group received a six-month contract in September to manage the property that the Greater Lockport Development Corp. took over in foreclosure last year, after the former owner defaulted on about $1 million in loans from the city agency.
Mancuso called for the complex's name to be changed to "Harrison Place," saying "Commerce Square just has bad karma around here."
Karma would improve if the city painted the building and installed outside lights and a spiffy new sign, Mancuso suggested.
The development agency has set a goal of removing blight, achieving profitability and increasing jobs at the facility within three years. To do that, Mancuso said the agency shouldn't wait around for a huge tenant and should look for a variety of smaller ones, most of which he expects will come from a radius of 10 to 15 miles, including Canada.
"It's not the goal of the group to be owning the property 10 years from now," Mancuso said. "This is a transitional effort to move this thing to the private sector."
Mancuso said trying to fill the entire 461,000-square-foot complex probably would not be productive, so he suggested concentrating on Building 2, a three-story structure with about 60,000 square feet of rentable space on each floor.
"We can market the upper floors, but we need those elevators," Mancuso said. Only one of the complex's eight elevators functions. Also, a leaky roof would turn off prospective tenants. Mancuso said the city should make sure any successes with new tenants are loudly publicized.
The city has applied for a $2.5 million state grant to renovate the building, and Community Development Director William J. Evert said the state will make its decision next month.
The board authorized an application for a $138,825 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to hire a firm to investigate the site for underground tanks and other possible environmental problems. Evert noted that the city already applied for a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up anything found but will not learn until May whether it will receive the funds.
The entity that the development corporation set up to hold title to the property, 210 Walnut LLC, is bleeding money. Mancuso estimated that its expenses are 77 percent higher than its income, because of high utility bills, operating costs and property taxes.
The tax problem may be solved soon, as the city has the building appraised so Assessor Peter J. Galarneau will reduce the assessment. Despite being controlled by the city, 210 Walnut officially is a private entity and, therefore, is taxable.
Mancuso suggested passing on utility costs to the 17 tenants that rent space in the structure and perhaps shutting off power or heat in some empty areas.
He recommended rent increases, which, he said, some tenants might resist. Getting market prices from newcomers might be easier, he added.