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Westfield seeks redevelopment of historic Welch's HQ

For more than a century, a landmark brick building in downtown Westfield was the center of the region's grape-growing industry.

It was the longtime corporate headquarters for Welch Foods Inc., maker of Concord grape juice, jellies and jams, and other snacks. It housed a restaurant and a post office on the first floor at various times.

And even after Welch's moved its corporate offices in the mid-1980s to Massachusetts, the four-story building at 2 South Portage St. remained the base for the company's consumer affairs division and its critical relationships with grape farmers throughout Chautauqua County.

In recent years, however, it's fallen on harder times after Welch's sold it and vacated the top three floors. Despite the addition of one other small tenant, it's more than half-empty.

So the leaders of the village and surrounding town think it may be time to find a new use for the historic building on the corner of Portage and Main streets. And they're looking for takers.

"It is an iconic building in our community, and it is important to us to make sure that it is filled and used," said Westfield Town Supervisor Martha R. Bills.

The town, together with the Westfield Development Corp., is seeking a buyer for the 48,292-square-foot building, which was constructed in 1910, with an addition in 1968. It was acquired by the town in 2014 for $357,555 from Paul Snyder's Northington Holdings LLC, which bought it from Welch's in 2005 for $200,000.

It is now up for sale for $495,000 through Hanna Commercial Real Estate, which is offering property tours on Sept. 22 and 26.

Even more, town officials have effectively issued a request-for-proposals for redevelopment of the building, which is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Buildings, and may be eligible for historic tax credits for renovations. Purchase offers are due by 5 p.m. on Oct. 16, and the Hanna listing says each offer "must be accompanied by a redevelopment proposal for consideration by the Town of Westfield."

The goal is "to help the property realize its full potential," said Hanna real estate agent Paula Blanchard, adding that there's already been significant interest. "We've had a number of inquiries and are scheduling showings."

The building is located in the heart of the village, across from Moore Park and next to an access point to the proposed Welch Trail that will follow along Chautauqua Creek. So officials want "to see if we could come up with the best use for the community," Bills said.

"It really is a prominent location in our community," Bills said. "We'd like to see that building used to good effect to support our Main Street."

She noted that the town and village are now doing well again, with new business activity on Main Street, as well as the planned new wine trail and some dredging of Lake Erie nearby. "We're excited about the possibilities," she said. "Lots of good things are starting to happen.

The brokerage firm is marketing the property as a possible mixed-use building, with uses that could include offices, apartments or condominiums, senior residences and a boutique hotel. All have been proposed to the town at various times in the past, Bills said, so "we're interested in seeing what others want."

"We're really open to some suggestions or ideas," she said. "That's part of the reason for doing it, to get some redevelopment ideas and hopefully an offer to do something in the building."

According to the Hanna real estate listing, the building structure is "in generally very good condition," and it includes an elevator, 10-foot and 14-foot ceilings, a loading dock with parking, and a separate parking lot with more than 100 spaces. The name "C.E. Welch" is emblazoned in a decorative cement frieze atop a parapet on the front facade, which otherwise features a stone base along the ground level, a brick face for the upper levels, and various cornices.

Most of the first floor is currently leased through July 1, 2020, to Welch Foods and its parent, the National Grape Cooperative of over 900 farmers, with the potential for lease extensions. There's also a small tenant on the second floor that the town was able to lure after it purchased the building.

But a new owner isn't locked into keeping them for the long-term, Blanchard said. "A new owner may choose to retain Welch's as a tenant and redevelop the upper floors for a variety of potential uses, or might choose to redevelop the entire building for another use," she said.

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