OSWEGO, NY – The Administrative Services Committee spent the majority of its time Tuesday on an item that wasn’t on the agenda.
The fate of the Cahill Building is on the minds of hundreds of people. And, Tuesday night a large contingent of those supporting preservation of the historic structure gave the committee an earful.
Austin Wheelock, president of the Heritage Foundation, board member of the Oswego Renaissance Association and an economic developer with Operation Oswego County, said he has heard there are multiple offers on the building.
He urged the councilors to “consider all proposals to rehabilitate the Cahill Building.”
The site was originally known as The Walton Willett Stone Store building, and is known throughout the region as the former Cahill’s Fish Market (and for a few years, Coleman’s Restaurant), he said.
“It is a national landmark; the oldest surviving commercial in Oswego County. And, one of the most recognized and cherished landmarks, connecting the city of Oswego to its maritime past,” he said “The preservation of the Cahill Building has been a very important topic for residents and businesses this past year and almost a thousand have signed a petition as well as postcards supporting the restoration of the building.”
The building originally built in 1828, located on block 12 of the intersection of West Seneca and Water streets, in the heart of, what was at the time, a booming commercial port on Lake Ontario, he said.
Over the years, it has been home to a multitude of businesses including a ship chandlery, newspaper office, customs office, steamboat ticket office, warehouse, fish market, and tavern restaurant.
The Cahill family purchased the site in 1945. Theirs was the last commercial fishing venture on this side of the lake. The fish market closed when the Cahills retired. In 1999, Peter Coleman renovated the building for the purpose of establishing a restaurant.
The site has sat vacant and idle since Coleman’s “closed abruptly on Feb. 6, 2008,” Oswego City Historian Mark Slosek said.
The city’s elected officials and staff have also been very involved in making sure the site would be preserved, he added.
“Oswego’s elected officials should continue to support the building as it has countless times over the last 187 years,” he said. “The city of Oswego’s own engineers have stated the building is not beyond repair.”
Late last month, local entrepreneur Tony Pauldine said he has a plan to save and restore the Cahill Building.
As far as finances, Pauldine said, “We have in-house the finances currently to save the building. We’re not at this point looking for additional loans or funds.”
“Saving this building will show residents and visitors alike that our city, its assets and unique history are important and worth showing pride in,” Wheelock told the councilors.
Demolition of the building would “be a decision for short-term financial gains,” he added.
He pointed to the Stevedore Lofts, Seaway Lofts, the Canal Commons apartments and others were examples of how the Port City’s historic sites can be saved and brought back to life, he said, adding, “Are things we can be proud of and want to encourage to make Oswego a better place. By saving the Cahill Building we are sending a message that our city, its history and, most importantly, our future are important to us.”
Often times, our greatest assets and investments cannot be measured in only dollars and cents, he told the committee.
Mercedes Niess, representing Save Oswego’s Historic Sites, echoed Wheelock’s sentiments.
She presented the committee with an additional 500 signatures in support of the Cahill Building.
“I really think that we all feel very strongly that this National Register building is an important part of Oswego’s history, an important part of the fabric of our community,” she said. “We ask that you support a project that would ensure the preservation and restoration of this cultural institution. It is a treasure in our community.”
Another speaker supported Pauldine in his efforts to resurrect the site. He has the means, dedication and drive to do the project, she said.
She added that she hopes the city doesn’t accept the highest bid just because the city needs money.
“That bid might mean that the building might be torn down,” she said. “Historical buildings need to be off limits. Historical landmarks should not be placed on the sacrificial table.”
“I’m not a member of this group. But, I do support what these people are saying,” former city engineer Anthony Leotta said. “I’m also here to support the proposal of Mr. Pauldine. The city of Oswego has lost many historic buildings.”
(Historic buildings) need to be preserved, he said, adding, “Please, consider saving this building.”
“I just want to tell you how much it pained me, all the times I’d come back (to Oswego) to visit my family, and see old historic buildings that had disappeared between visits,” Mary Kay Stone told the councilors. “I see the city kind of being pot marked by empty lots. That’s why I feel passionate about the Cahill Building. It is the oldest commercial building in Oswego. Other cities where I have lived, they’ve taken beautiful old historic buildings and built on to them. They become tourist magnets. People love to go to look at architecture and hear the story. We have a great story. If we don’t have the building – we don’t have the story. If it just boils down to dollars and cents in your decision, I hope you weigh the value … there are thousands of people in Oswego who feel passionately about this, and would be very upset if you decide to sell it to someone who only wants to tear it down. I don’t care who you sell it to; but, please only consider offers that will keep it with the history of Oswego.”
Following the public comments, the councilors went into executive session to discuss their possible options.
They later reconvened in public session, but no action was taken.