GENEVA — Geneva’s historic downtown Dove Block building is set to return to local ownership as part of a project that will secure the building’s future for years to come.

The Dove Block Restoration Group, which is made up of local business and civic leaders, announced an agreement and financing Thursday that will return the landmark’s ownership to Geneva and begin the initial phase of a multimillion-dollar renovation project headed by local contractor Chrisanntha Construction.

“Situated on the most important corner in the city, the renovation of the Dove Block is crucial for maintaining the unique character of Geneva’s downtown,” said Dave Bunnell, chairman of the nonprofit board that has worked for more than four years to save the building. “It took full community collaboration, but we believe our key, first and most difficult goal has been reached. This is a significant step forward for Geneva.”

With the Restoration Group’s purchase of the building from its British owner being financed by the Bank of the Finger Lakes, Bunnell expects construction to begin soon using the $1.4 million in grants awarded by the state through both its Downtown Revitalization Initiative and New York Main Street programs.

The Restoration Group will remain the legal owner of the building during the initial phase of the renovation work. A combination of apartments, retail space and a community art gallery dedicated to famed Geneva artist Arthur Dove are among the planned uses for the 1870s era building.

The Restoration Group is hoping to attract Hobart and William Smith Colleges to lease much of the first floor for a book store/spirit wear shop that would free up needed space on its campus. Discussions have been underway for months, and it is believed that such a move would have significant benefits to both the Colleges and Geneva’s downtown.

In addition, the board of a second nonprofit outfit, The Arthur Dove Tribute Group, continues planning for a first-floor arts space in the Dove Block which that will honor the artist and provide local artists with a high-profile gallery space in the Finger Lakes arts.

“This building played a key role in the evolution of American art,’’ said James Spates, a Hobart and William Smith professor emeritus who has been leading the Tribute Group’s effort. “Arthur Dove put Geneva on the map of great American art and made some of his most iconic images while living in the Dove Block. Keeping this building alive and connected to that history is extremely important.’’

Spates said his group will continue fundraising and planning for a flexible gallery space that will inject a strong artistic element into downtown’s street life. Preliminary architectural drawings have been commissioned by the Tribute Group to provide a sense of how the gallery space will be used when it opens (see image).

“When all is said and done, I hope we will have taken an iconic building with a great history and given it new life and sustainability, coupled with a strong remembrance of the importance of the great American art made within its walls,” Bunnell said.

Bunnell credited the city of Geneva for playing a pivotal role in supporting the Restoration Group’s efforts over the past couple of years, both in securing state grants and other aspects. He also credited the building’s current owner, Elizabeth Wenman of Surrey, England, with having played a crucial role in saving the building during more challenging times. Wenman, who has an ongoing interest in making the arts publicly available, bought the building in 2006 and paid for expensive renovations to fortify a failing rear wall.

“The road to this day would not have been possible without Ms. Wenman’s timely support,” Bunnell said. “We all owe her great thanks for her investment of time, treasure and care.”

Chris Iversen, the principal owner of Chrisanntha Construction, said he was pleased for his firm to play a role in the project.

“It is great to build new things,” Iversen said, “but it is an honor to help preserve and revive a Finger Lakes treasure like the Dove Block. We see it as an investment in both our past and future.”

Following completion of the reconstruction, the Restoration Group intends to sell the building to a private owner, assuring that the structure will remain on the local tax roll even if the Colleges become its major tenant. Iversen’s team has been involved with a number of Geneva projects, including Geneva’s Lakefront Ramada, the Hampton Inn, the Smith Opera House renovation, the Geneva Community Center, the new Finger Lakes Welcome Center, and the Friendly Ford and Harley Davidson facilities.

In addition to Bunnell and Spates on both boards, the Restoration Group’s board includes local attorney Murray Heaton; Chris Lavin, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva; and former Geneva Mayor Joanne Wisor. The Tribute Group’s board includes Lavin; museum executive Teddy Aiken; local civic leaders Charlie Bauder and Joanne Goff; Princeton professor Rachael Delue, a Dove expert; artist John Raimondi; and Kathryn Vaughn, former director and curator of Hobart and William Smith’s Davis Gallery.

Chris Lavin is a former newspaper reporter and editor who writes occasionally for the Times. He is executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva and serves on the boards of Success for Geneva’s Children, Geneva 2020, Geneva Community Projects and the Partnership for Ontario County.

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