Adaptive reuse of existing buildings is economic development.

It creates jobs, protects and increases property values, conserves resources, uses public and private investment, supports business, revitalizes downtowns, stimulates investment, and attracts tourists. It can increase a Town’s real property tax base.

There is no single strategy, policy, or program for achieving successful economic development. Communities differ in their geographic, natural, infrastructure, and political strengths and weaknesses. For four decades, Seneca Falls has been committed to adaptive reuse of historic structures as a key element of its development strategy.

In fact, Seneca Falls’ community values it, and commitment to maintain its remaining historic fabric led to its selection as the site of a National Park commemorating the Women’s Rights Movement and the initial step of the 70-year struggle for women’s suffrage.

Seneca Falls’ status as a world-renowned historic site overrides other development strategies. Its historic center deserves the same respect as the area surrounding Independence Mall in Philadelphia.

The fabric of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal National Historic Corridor and the U.S. Route 20/Fall Street corridor, a vintage railroad, the Genesee Turnpike, the NYS Heritage Area, many museums, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Ludovico Sculpture Trail, and the lower Fall Street and other historic districts, present insights into the context of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention.

The Seneca Knitting Mill and the National Yeast Company factory are important parts of that historic fabric. Both were built by abolitionists and social reformers: Jacob Chamberlain, Henry Seymour, and their families attended the 1848 Convention.

There are many examples in Seneca Falls of the adaptive reuse of existing buildings as successful economic development, including:

The former Seneca Knitting Mill, soon to be home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame; the Partridge building restored after a 1980s fire, the former Seneca Falls Savings Bank on Fall Street, home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame; the First Ward School, the Johnston Home, the Fourth Ward School; Shannon’s now “84” restaurant; the former Trinity Church, all now apartments; the former residence of Judge Sackett on W. Bayard Street, now a day care center; the Gould Hotel, the former Ludovico Laundromat, now the Wesleyan Chapel; the former Ludovico machine shop on Water Street, now the National Park Service maintenance building, the former Mynderse Academy High School, now Academy Square; the former Fornesi Movie theater, now the home of the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. It’s a long list!

As for the Circle K/Peter Koch proposal: Is a multi-acre convenience store with 14 fueling stations in the heart of Seneca Falls compatible with the vision that has guided our community’s decades of commitment to preserving its fabric as an important historic site?

The good news is that there are regional developers interested in the Huntington Building who are experienced in adapting historic structures to new purposes, using private and public financing and historic tax credits.

For example, a developer who doesn’t want to be identified but has completed similar projects in the region and expressed some interest in the Huntington building, stated:

“I don’t see anything here that is in as bad or worse shape than other projects we are involved in. If the floor plans are adaptable for housing and the market has a need for affordable housing, then a combination of Historic Tax Credits, Low Income Housing Tax Credits and other state/private resources are likely to be adequate to save this building if the community wanted to save it.”

The redevelopment of the Seneca Knitting Mill is an example. Ten years ago there was a clamor to demolish it, but the federal, state, and town governments — along with private citizens — funded and supported its successful reuse as the new home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Similarly, the Town should support the adaptive reuse of the Huntington building as an important economic development project. It should be the mainstay of its next Downtown Revitalization Initiative application.

Emil Bove Jr. is a former member of the Seneca Falls Town Board, the Seneca County IDA board and president of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce.

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