Up until four years ago, Aurora town government had a stately home in an 1899 castle-like chapel at the corner of the famed Roycroft campus.
Then the Town Board purchased the sprawling former Southside School, a few blocks away at 300 Gleed Ave., to house the town offices. The move to the"new" town hall - known as the Southside Municipal Center - ended the town's 15-year search for a larger site and prompted the sale of the chapel to the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation.
But now the town is on the move again.
The town just finalized a $2.86 million sale of the Southside Municipal Center to Buffalo developer James W. Cornell, part owner of the downtown Buffalo Larkin Center of Commerce. And the town is piecing together its next hopscotch move - this time moving town offices to the village of East Aurora's fire hall, at 575 Oakwood Ave., a 16,0000-square-foot building that may need millions of dollars worth of rehabilitation.
By late December, the town's $450,000 purchase of the Oakwood Avenue/King Street corner - including the fire hall, some additional land for parking and the senior center building that the town rents from the village - is expected to be finalized. Both town and village boards already have given their nod.
The town is not expected to move its offices into the fire hall until 2019. By that time, the town government will have had three homes in a seven-year span.
"I can guarantee you this much: This will be our last move, if I have anything to say about it," Aurora Town Supervisor James J. Bach said.
Transforming the 1954 fire hall into town offices will take time and money. Bach projected it could cost $3 million to renovate the old fire hall and make it into a state-of-the-art facility, likely designing it with a Mission-style look.
"We're rehabbing the existing fire hall. It's in pretty rough shape and we would gut it and use the shell," Bach said. "There's no environmental problems. It's just old."
Bach says the town soon will begin working with an architect on plans for the old fire hall.
The Mission-styled look planned for the old fire hall fits in well in East Aurora, given the Arts and Crafts influence by Elbert Hubbard.
Work also will be done to improve the exterior of the town's Senior and Adult Day Care Center around the corner from the fire hall, which Bach said needs "some lipstick on the outside."
Until then, town government offices will remain at the Southside complex, rent-free but paying utilities. Cornell has already renamed the building the Southside Commerce Center. He plans to operate it as one of the largest commercial office structures in East Aurora.
"We always kept an open mind to sell Southside eventually," Bach said. "You have a win-win situation. Plus, we'll have a stand-alone town hall, finally. We needed a town hall at the time (we left the Roycroft campus). Gleed accomplished it. We made some money here and it was a good move. And now it's even better for us to go where we're going. It just couldn't have happened better. All the stars aligned for us."
The town's new "digs" would end up being about a quarter mile from where Town Hall once stood at Main and South Grove streets on the Roycroft campus. It will be one block, about a 250-yard shot, down the street from Village Hall which sits at the corner of Main and Paine streets.
East Aurora Mayor Allan A. Kasprzak thinks a relocated Town Hall will be a good thing. "I guess this is a benefit in a way, because it moves it closer to Main Street," he said. "The big plus here would be accessibility."
"In one vain, it's difficult for people to find Gleed. Even up to this day, we still have people coming into Village Hall, asking how to get to Town Hall," Kasprzak said, noting that so many were confused that the village had little maps made up to hand to residents over the last four years, directing them to Town Hall.
When the town bought the old Southside School, which once housed Fisher-Price offices, it borrowed $877,000. But the hulking 120,o00-square-foot complex with an additional 8,000-square-feet of warehouse space, put the town in the landlord business. While it managed to fnd some tenants, it has always been a struggle to maintain a substantial tenant base. The building currently houses Explore 'N More children's museum, a day care and collection agency. Bach says the building has been about 60 percent full.
Bach would not say how much debt the town has outstanding on Southside, but acknowledged some of the original debt from purchasing it four years ago still remains. "We'll know by the end of the year," he said.
As part of the sale to Cornell's company, the town will retain all of its baseball fields that are on Southside's 13-acre site, as well as its nearby Community Pool and tennis courts intact on South Street.
Cornell began courting the town about a year ago to buy Southside, but said he's had his eye on the Southside complex as far back as 2008.
"We think the market in East Aurora is growing and becoming healthier, and so when it seemed to be clear the town wanted to focus more on the business of being a town, instead of the business of commercial real estate, we opened negotiations," said Cornell of Southside Commerce Center LLC , whose holding company is Landmark Development Consortium. "We think it's one of the best office buildings in the East Aurora area. We want to keep it the same and grow the tenant base."