LYONS — A Wayne County building that was to be developed into the Erie Canal Cultural Center many years ago could soon be the home of a new military museum.
Next Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is expected to set a July 16 public hearing on a proposal to transfer the failed center on the shores of the Erie Canal to an organization that wants to convert the site into the Wayne-Finger Lakes Veterans Memorial Museum.
It’s the brainchild of state Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, R-130 of Lyons, who began working on the project while serving as Lyons town supervisor.
“I’m driving the project forward,” said Manktelow, an Army veteran who said he was inspired to start the museum in Lyons after seeing one in a small town in Iowa while visiting his son at college. “I’ve got some really good ideas there. Our children and grandchildren will never forget who our vets are.”
He wants to chronicle the region’s connections to the nation’s military history — from the earliest wars to the most recent.
Manktelow said the project is in the “early stages,” but that the organization has filed a DBA (doing business as) with the county. He said they will soon be setting up a nonprofit organization that would take ownership of the county property that consists of two buildings connected by a walkway.
If the county does transfer the buildings, it would be a relief for many county officials. Supervisors were ready to sell the property at 165 Water St. in 2017, but found out a state easement on the parcel related to the Erie Canal Cultural Center requires its principal use be for cultural purposes. That severely limited the scope of potential suitors.
Members of the Board of Supervisors’ Public Works Committee reviewing the property transfer proposal were told by county officials that a museum would be a permitted use.
Manktelow said the property has great potential for a military museum.
“I think I have a way of making it (museum) work in that building,” he said Tuesday from Albany.
Additionally, Manktelow said there is a section of the former Enlarged Erie Canal on the ECCC grounds that he would like to clear, re-water and use for placement of a small military boat. Other ideas include a small chapel for military funerals, he said.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said.
County Administrator Rick House loves Manktelow’s vision.
“I think it’s an extremely worthwhile project,” he said Tuesday. “Brian, of all people, can make this work. He’s put in an awful lot of time and research into the project. It’s great for the county that the building will be used.”
It’s only used for storage right now, said the administrator, and that can be done elsewhere.
“It’s a benefit to the county to not have to maintain that building,” said House, adding that it has no pressing structural needs now, but likely will in the future.
He stressed that there is much work still to be done on the transfer of ownership, including the state signing off on the proposed use.
It’s the second proposal in three years for a building that Butler Supervisor Dave Spickerman once called an “albatross.”
The ECCC called for a number of agencies — from the Wayne County Arts Council, to Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, to the state Department of Labor and the Lyons Public Library — to become tenants. All pulled out one by one, eventually leading to the project’s derailment.
In 2016, the Wayne County Action Program proposed redeveloping the site into a commercial kitchen and dining facility. County supervisors unanimously rejected applying for a planning grant to consider that project, called the Bounty for Wayne County, based mostly on the failed effort to see the ECCC come to fruition.