Good things happen when people work together.
Despite one frustrating setback after another, it looks as though a long-held dream will finally come true for the Village of Cattaraugus and the old Setter Brothers Plant at 26 Mill St.
If the Federal Marshal's Office acts in a timely manner, the building can soon house a wood-products manufacturing facility, refulfilling the purpose for which it was originally built (as the Perkins Mill) well over a century ago. Once rehabilitated, it will furnish needed jobs to a community and area starved for them.
Long simply a ghostly landmark looming on the hillside above the village of Cattaraugus, the Setter Brothers building may yet breathe new life into the village.
P-J photo by?Arvilla Pritchard
But this miracle didn't "just happen." It's a tribute to the never-say-die attitude of committed citizens, notably village Mayor William Myers and Cattaraugus Local Development Corporation (CLDC) Executive Director Rick LeFeber. Above all, it's due to the forbearance and good will of the eventual buyer, Mr. Robert Raber, owner and operator of Quaker Millworks and Lumber, in Orchard Park. He's been trying for two years now to buy the old factory at 26 Mill.
Only last fall, the deal appeared dead--the problems, insurmountable. Months of negotiations between the village and the U.S. Marshal's Office for the property's release or sale had failed, until finally, Raber informed the village that his patience and will to continue were exhausted.
But Mayor Bill Myers and his trustees never completely gave up on the idea. How could they? If realized, an industry would be coming to town, rather than leaving it--jobs would exist within the village, rather than forty or fifty miles distant. The vision was too tantalizing to abandon.
"Hope springs eternal," especially when the snow melts, and as temperatures climbed in Western New York, a few tentative feelers were sent in Raber's direction through his friend, Cattaraugus Police Chief Don Veith. Amazingly enough, Mr. Raber proved cautiously receptive. (Veith, by the way, is another person important to the story. He's the man who originally showed Raber the empty building and planted the seed in his mind for starting a branch factory in Cattaraugus.)
Mr. LeFeber, ever a champion for the community, rose once more to the challenge. He attended a village board meeting, urging members to reopen formal negotiations with Raber. In addition, he suggested a detailed plan of action, and offered his services "as a foot soldier for the cause."
The board agreed it was imperative that the village quickly respond to Raber's renewed interest. To promote a more unified approach, they passed a resolution naming the not-for-profit CLDC (in the person of LeFeber) as the village's "point man," and asking him to coordinate village efforts to regain the 26 Mill Street property.
At the county level, Crystal Abers, director of the Cattaraugus County Office of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism, saw great potential in the project. Attending a Sunday morning village board meeting, she told them she was interested in "seeing it happen," and would do what she could to help.
Abers added that she believed the process, if successful, could be employed as a blueprint to help turn around other job-strapped communities in the county. "All our little towns have these empty buildings," she said. "Bringing just one come back to life--will be a start."
LeFeber immediately set in motion several necessary procedures, including a survey of the property, and a required title search by Cattaraugus Abstract. Mr. Rock Termini was contacted by village trustee Patrick McGlew, and agreed to conduct an Environmental Phase I on-site review, to be completed by the week of May 24th. Termini has told LeFeber that so far, his study has disclosed no major environmental issues.
LeFeber enlisted other people and groups in the effort. The offices of United States Senator Charles Schumer (D) and New York State Assemblyman Joe Giglio (R) expressed their support, as did that of New York State Senator Catharine Young (R).
"Locally, everything's being done that can," reported LeFeber. It remains only for the United States Marshals to divest themselves of the property. They've held it ever since its seizure in the fall of 2008, after its then owners (Joseph I and Joseph III Tigano) were arrested for running an on-site marijuana farm.
Since then, the marshals have held several auctions, both on-line and on-site. (Mayor Myers actually placed a personal bid on the property during one of the auctions, trying to keep it from the hands of would-be scavengers.) By now, nearly everything of value has been removed from the premises, although a formidable cleanup remains.
Mr. LeFeber said that he's spoken repeatedly with Property Custodian of the U.S. Marshal's office in Buffalo, Beata Hoskins. He reported that Ms Hoskins has been cordial and cooperative, telling him, "The government understands that the village is interested in the transfer of the property to them."
LeFeber said he has emphasized to Hoskins, the importance of a quick turnover. Having waited almost two years, Mr. Raber has no incentive to delay further. The structure needs extensive rehabilitation to make it OSHA-compliant and factory-ready, and Raber wants to tackle that work this summer, during favorable weather, so that he can get the place up and running by fall.
Incidentally, in the spring of 2009, when Raber made his first offer for the building, he planned to bring 25 jobs to the village. Due to the long delay and pressures of the recession, he's reduced that initial estimate to 8 to 12. He still feels, however, that once the factory is in production, he can grow his local crew back to 25. He has assured LeFeber that ninety percent of any jobs he furnishes will be "new hires," or positions that did not formerly exist in the area.
Good things do happen when people work together. Village and county officials, the CLDC and Bob Raber himself, are trying their best to bring a measure of economic recovery to the Cattaraugus area.
Perhaps Mrs. Abers expressed it best. "My true belief," she said, "is that we must all put our differences aside and pull together. We'll never make things happen unless we can do that."