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Demolition of Mill Street warehouse could be catch-22 for city

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An old warehouse with a collapsed roof at 160 Main Ave. has been a public safety hazard for more than three years. But the city of Watertown is still seeking state Supreme Court action that would compel owner P.J. Simao to pay for the demolition or repair of the two-story brick building.

If it does that, though, it would have to pay to rebuild a common wall connecting the warehouse to a separate structure at 144 Main Ave., which was recently bought by Mr. Simao.

That 2,244-square-foot building has been put up for lease by the Alexandria Bay developer, who purchased it May 31 for $72,000 from Nehemiah Property Group, Carthage, according to city property records.

The building housed the Coughlin Printing Group at one time.

At first sight, the building’s purchase by Mr. Simao may seem puzzling. But facts suggest it could be a strategic move.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the warehouse complaint filed by the city in May 2010, Mr. Simao would be forced to pay the city to demolish the building, including the shared wall on the left side of the 144 Main Ave. building. But if that happens, the city then would be responsible for rebuilding the previously shared wall using its own funds, city Code Enforcement Supervisor Shawn R. McWayne said.

“If we end up tearing it down, we’d have to repair that wall,” Mr. McWayne said. “It’s just something you have to do to make compensation for the adjoining property.”

The demolition of the building could cost Mr. Simao anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000, Mr. McWayne said. The city’s cost of rebuilding the wall could be in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $25,000, he said, depending on the work involved.

The city’s warehouse complaint was filed at the Jefferson County clerk’s office against Mr. Simao’s firm, Lobut Development LLC, in May 2010. The Times previously reported that the document lists a handful of problems with the building’s condition, including broken windows, an unsecured entry and its collapsed roof. City police also received complaints about people going inside the high-risk structure, which is covered with “no trespassing” signs.

The gaping hole created by the collapsed roof of the warehouse has created a serious public hazard, Mr. McWayne said. He is frustrated with how long the complaint has been left unaddressed in court.

“What I’m concerned about are the upper walls that the roof’s collapsed on possibly separating and landing in the street,” he said. “Unless (Mr. Simao) comes up with a solid plan to rebuild it on a scheduled deadline, we’re seeking demolition. I would have liked to address this a year ago, but it’s in the court’s hands. This particular action has taken longer than any action I’ve dealt with.”

City Attorney Christine E. Stone, who is leading the court case, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

The 6,720-square-foot warehouse at 160 Main Ave. was built in 1950 and has been swapped by four owners during its lifetime, according to city property records. Mr. Simao bought the building in 2008 for $10,000 from Richard Warner.

Mr. Warner purchased it 2005 for almost three times that amount at $27,555.

Mr. Simao said Tuesday that he has not developed a plan to repair the old warehouse. He now owns about 3 acres of land neighboring Main Avenue, including the DealMaker headquarters across the street from the warehouse.

“I’m evaluating my options for the building at the present time,” he said, declining to provide more information.

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