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Mayer Bros. offers to make old mill into new attraction

Williamsville has received a last-minute offer to preserve its historic but money-troubled mill by fashioning it as an old-time fresh cider and bakery operation.

But that proposal will have to beat out at least one other plan, this one including condominiums on the site.

Garrett A. Mayer, fifth-generation owner of Mayer Bros. in West Seneca, is waiting to hear from village officials about whether they want to do business with him.

Mayer has proposed reopening the Williamsville landmark as a cider mill this fall.

"It's such a nice site and an asset to the area," said Mayer, whose family started the cider business in 1852 and now also produces other beverages, bakery goods and items such as maple syrup.

Village officials also are considering another proposal by Skip Cerio, a local developer who wants to put in restaurants and shops and possibly high-end condominiums.

The Village Board bought Williamsville Water Mill out of foreclosure earlier this year for $450,000, hoping to preserve it. Officials now are trying to find a private-sector partner not only to work toward preserving the mill, but also to attract new businesses.

Mayor Mary E. Lowther said the village is excited by the possibility of Mayer's starting up the cider business again -- a decades-old tradition in the village.

But since the village does not yet know what it wants to do with the mill site, she said, the talk now is of a one-year lease for the cider operation.

"I know [Mayer] is looking for something more long-term," she said. "I'd be very uncomfortable with that. Nothing is finalized [with the mill's future]."

Mayer said the cost of getting the mill into shape -- it is now closed and in need of many repairs -- is not worth it if his business can operate for only a year.

He said he hopes to hear from the village today on the status of the proposed cider operation. He said he needs to hear soon if he is to open for business in October.

But whether Mayer Bros. can afford to do business with the village at all is a question.

Shelling out $450,000 "to have a place that sells doughnuts and apple pies isn't going to work," Mayer said. "Not even close. We'd love to be involved [with revitalizing the mill], but someone is going to have to be creative."

Still, he said, the village trustees are "intent" on putting together a budget for the coming year that would provide revenue from the mill site, thereby sparing residents a tax increase.

But he said that it is hard to determine how many businesses interested in preservation can afford the big price tag the village would likely seek to cover its own investment.

Mayer said he hopes the village can avoid putting residential housing on the site -- in fact, he said, learning that condominiums were being discussed was one of the reasons he stepped forward at the last minute with an alternative proposal.

Prior to that, Mayer Bros. was not aware that the village was looking for revitalization proposals for the mill, he said.

Buying the mill to save it -- a move that generated considerable controversy -- "would all be for naught" if housing is approved there, Mayer said.

"It seems like you're defeating the purpose of the whole exercise," he said.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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