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Niagara County tries selling 66 acres in Lockport - yet again

LOCKPORT - If anyone is looking for 66 acres of mostly open land to develop, Niagara County has a deal for you.

But there's just one catch: you'd have to renovate a large century-old building the county doesn't want to demolish, even though it's full of asbestos, mold and water damage and has been unused since 2003.

The county issued another request for proposals earlier this month for its property on Davison Road near East Avenue in Lockport. It's north of the county golf course, which is not part of the sale offer.

Bids are due Jan. 26. The county did not set a minimum bid. Cash. No financing needed.

Four previous deals have fallen though in the past decade, and the sale price has become smaller each time - not surprisingly, according to County Manager Richard E. Updegrove.

"The condition of the building is deteriorating with time," he said, referring to the former county infirmary, whose presence on the site has complicated redevelopment plans, in more ways than one.

"We would like to avoid the expense of the demolition and still return the property to the tax rolls," Updegrove said.

Not only is the building's presence a problem, but so is its location. The boundary between the City and Town of Lockport runs right through the middle of the building, which was built as the infirmary in 1915 and later operated as the headquarters of the county Social Services Department under the name of the Switzer Building.

Unless the city and town agree to move that line, development of the building and the surrounding land runs into twice the red tape, with both city and town approvals needed.

Property taxes are lower in the town, but the city controls the water and sewer service to the site, and Davison Road is a city street.

Some people at Lockport City Hall would like to see the county change its position on saving the building, which the county envisions as a commercial or residential development.

"I think demolishing it would be the best thing, and then you could let (the property) go into lots," Alderman Joseph P. Oates said. "If the building was torn down, you wouldn't have to move the (municipal) line at all."

The city wouldn't mind moving the boundary - as long as the city ends up with the entire property within its borders.

"I think if it's all our water and sewer, we should get it," Alderwoman Anita Mullane said.

"We would have something to say about that," Town Supervisor Mark C. Crocker responded.

During work on a previous deal that fell through, the would-be buyer proposed moving the boundary so the entire 66 acres would be in the town. The two municipalities were talking about a possible land swap when the buyer backed out.

That was R.B. Mac Construction Co. of Lockport, which had agreed in 2014 to buy the 16.9 acres of land closest to Davison Road, including the infirmary, for $50,700. If the redevelopment turned out to be satisfactory to the County Legislature, it had agreed to sell another 49.4 acres to R.B. Mac for $50,000.

Last spring, with the county pressing for the deal to be completed, R.B. Mac sought a one-year extension to try to work out the boundary issues with the city and town. When the county offered a six-month extension, R.B. Mac canceled the purchase.

Updegrove said the county's new request for proposals offers the same terms as in 2014.

"The priority is redevelopment of Switzer Building," he said. The purchase of the back portion of the land is conditional on the Legislature's satisfaction with the building's reuse.

"The Legislature has exercised input into the type of development project because it is a priority to identify a reuse that conforms to the character of the neighborhood," Updegrove said. There are upscale subdivisions to the north, east and west of the county's land.

The 2014-16 talks comprised R.B. Mac's second attempt to buy the Davison Road property. In 2012, when the county listed the land with a realtor, R.B. Mac offered slightly less than the county's asking price at the time, which was $175,000. After 18 months of talks, the deal fell through and the county tried a sealed-bid auction, in which R.B. Mac was the only bidder.

In 2011, the county tried to sell the property in an Internet auction. Dr. Douglas MacLeod, an ophthalmologist from Tacoma, Wash., won with a bid of $160,250. He proposed to build condominiums, but only on the Town of Lockport portion of the site. However, the planned buildings were taller than the town zoning ordinance then allowed, and MacLeod was allowed to back out of the deal.

In 2007, the Legislature accepted a $375,000 purchase offer from the Christian Academy of Western New York, but that fell apart because the school never came up with the necessary financing.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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