OSWEGO, NY – Several people paraded to the microphone at Monday night’s public session and urged the city to save one of the oldest business buildings in the Port City.
The Walton Willett Stone Store building was constructed in 1828 and is known throughout the region as the former Coleman’s Restaurant. For Oswegonians – it will always be remembered as Cahill’s Fish Market.
This summer, the site was inspected by a qualified structural engineer, who noted that it was threatened by a leaking roof and other deterioration.
Tom Millar hopes to restore the property. He provided a brief background of the property and project.
Coleman’s Restaurant of Oswego closed February 6, 2008, he told the council. The City of Oswego Community Development Office foreclosed on the property January 7, 2010, for loan default.
The city of Oswego solicited proposals from qualified developers in July 2010.
The Development Committee recommended Fowler-Gardella Construction, LLC, and Thomas Millar consortium as the best proposal for the property in September 2010, he said.
The developers’ proposal included a reuse of the Walton Willett Stone Store building as a mixed use residential and commercial building with boat rentals and restaurant at the ground floor and first floor level with apartments and office space on the second and third floors.
“The Common Council designated Fowler-Gardella Construction and Thomas Millar consortium as a preferred developer on September 13, 2010,” he said. “The Common Council authorized the mayor to enter into the agreement with the developers on June 20, 2012. My company made a $10,000 deposit to the city.”
In January 2013, the project received Oswego Planning Board approval and on April 16, 2013, a Contract of Purchase and Sale was signed. On June 28, 2012, the developers signed an Option to Purchase.
“In November 2013, City Attorney Gay Williams requested that the developers show proof of their financing for the entire project before the Contract of Purchase and Sale could be closed,” Millar said. “This was not a requirement of the Contract of Purchase.”
The developers reportedly failed to provide proof of financial commitments for the whole project; and the City Attorney cancelled the transaction based on the developers’ breach of the agreements, as authorized by the Common Council.
The property is currently the subject of a lawsuit.
“I remain steadfast in developing this property. I’m here to let you know I embrace this project. I do not want to sue the city (for breach of contract) for I am a true civic minded partner. I have been trying to work with you. As leaders of this city, I want you to take a look at the implications of your actions.”
Bill Cahill said he would like to see the building remain functional, for sentimental reasons.
“Every action that you take or you don’t take sends a message to the taxpayers,” he told the councilors. “So, if you’re going to be in favor of historic preservation, your actions should reflect that.”
The city hasn’t done much to keep the building from getting to the point where it’s at now, he added.
If it was a real priority for the city things would have been done to preserve it, he said.
Austin Whelock of Operation Oswego County also urged the city to save the building.
“In recent years, there has been a great renaissance and reinvestment in historic buildings in the city of Oswego,” he said, citing several examples. “There’s been millions and millions of dollars poured into the city of Oswego reinvesting in these properties. I think that the neglect of this property going further will send a bad message to other developers looking into developing in the city of Oswego and to the residents that the city is not fully onboard with redeveloping.”
Mercedes Niess supported development of the building. “It’s an important part of the waterfront that makes Oswego look like Oswego,” she said.
In the city’s 20-20 Vision Plan, residents said vision of their city includes historic structures rather than ‘big box’ buildings, she pointed out.
“Tearing down an historic building in many cases just leaves a blank lot; a gapping mouth with missing teeth,” she said. “Our residents are worthy of an investment that the city may need to make in this significant national registered building. It represents a celebration of who we are.”
It was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 as the Walton Willett Stone Store/Cahill’s Fish Market.
The building has had many purposes over its 186 lifetime, serving as a ship chandlery, the original U.S. Customs House, a ticket office for Northern Steamship Company and as a warehouse and fish market before Coleman’s Properties transformed it into an Irish pub and restaurant in 1999.
The city owns the building, so the onus is on the city to do something about it at this time, Niess added.
“The building is suffering as we wait for you to make a decision,” she said.
Several other speakers, including one who is out of town and sent a letter, also spoke in favor of saving the building.
The property was among the topics of an executive session following Monday’s council meeting.
No action was expected to come out of the session Monday night, however.