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Ogdensburg council mulls whether to save historic building

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An iconic building which harkens back to the city’s booming heyday is in dire need of repair or it could be lost to the forces of time and nature.

The three-story building at 212 Ford Street, owned by the city, suffers from a leaking roof that allows water to pour in on rainy days.

Kit W. Smith, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, and representatives of Tisdel Associates, the Canton firm contracted for city engineering work, will enter the building today to look at the extent of the damage and estimate the cost of repairs.

“We’ve hired Tisdel Associates to go through the building and to come up with a plan to renovate it or replace the roof on it if in fact the council wants to move forward with it,” Mr. Smith said.

The moisture left in the building has resulted in an infestation of mold, Mr. Smith said.

“The back wall of the building is compromised by the water, there’s a couple of issues that go along with that,” he said. “There’s mold in there, there’s deterioration of the sheet rock on the wall.”

At the Sept. 24 City Council meeting, Councilman William D. Hosmer inquired into fixing the roof.

“If we don’t put a roof on it, we’re going to have to take it down,” he said. “I don’t want to lose the building.”

Despite exposure to the elements and years of neglect, the building is still structurally sound, Mr. Smith said.

The city has a couple of options, one to patch the hole in the north side of the building as a stopgap measure to prevent any further damage. Mr. Smith emphasized that is a temporary solution.

“Ultimately, you’re going to have to replace this roof, there’s no getting around that,” he said. “Whether it is the city or a buyer, someone will have to totally repair the roof.”

The city could elect to replace the entire roof, a much more expensive proposition, or to repair the building to a state of use. Failure to act could lead to a total loss of the structure, Mr. Smith said.

“The city has unsuccessfully tried to sell the building twice in the past six months. In July of this year and November 2011 the building was offered at public auction but received no bids.

A more permanent roof repair is preferable to a stopgap patch, said Councilwoman Jennifer Stevenson.

“I don’t want to spend $50,000 for a temporary patch and have a buyer say the roof is still not sound — then we just wasted $50,000 and have to take the whole roof off,” she said. “I would like to stop the elements from getting at it. I would like to do more than the patch.”

Councilman Wayne L. Ashley said repairing the roof would make the building easier to sell.

“I think we should put it up for auction again,” he said. “Maybe people were deterred because the roof needed to be repaired.”

The building is one of few standing that are of its era. Much of downtown Ogdensburg was demolished during a period of urban renewal in the 1960’s, with other buildings falling victim to fire and neglect.

“It would be great to see that building brought back to reuse,” said Andrea L. Smith, interim city planner. “It is one of the few buildings in that area with historical value and architectural character — things that I would like to keep.”

Ms. Stevenson agreed the building was worth protecting — up to a point.

“Definitely, it is our downtown, it is part of our history and it is an asset to the city,” she said. “It is a careful balance between is it an asset or is it a stone weight? We need to decide how the city is best served by looking at the costs.”

Not all of Ogdensburg’s council favors saving the building. Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley said the city’s money would be better spent elsewhere.

“I would support giving it to anyone who would want to come and take it off our hands,” he said. “If we can find no one who wants it, I think we should raze it, get it out of there. Why fix the roof if we might have to knock it down anyway?”

Ownership of the building passed to the city in 2010 through nonpayment of taxes. The building has over $50,000 in back taxes owed on it.

Once the home of the J. J. Newberry Store, the late 1800s structure is now commonly identified as the Desperados Building, after the restaurant and tavern that closed there in 2003. Subsequently, the first floor was used as a furniture store while former owner R. Jamie Johnson planned to convert the second and third floors to offices and studio space for artists.

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