New life sought for old Ehlers | News, Sports, Jobs – Evening Observer


Nov 5, 2022
OBSERVER Photos by M.J. Stafford From left, Dunkirk Planning and Development Director Vince DeJoy, Chautauqua County Land Bank Executive Director Gina Paradis, and Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas pose in front of the former Ehlers department store building on Central Avenue. The city and land bank are marketing the site for new development.
The old Ehlers furniture store sits silent and empty in downtown Dunkirk, testimony to the city’s grand past. The Chautauqua County Land Bank and Dunkirk Planning and Development Department have a plan to infuse new life.
They’ve put out a request for proposals to turn the building into a mixed use development. They want to help an entrepreneur put in retail businesses and/or offices on the first floor, and apartments on the second and third floors. “We’re not locked into that model,” said Vince DeJoy, the planning department director. “We’re open” to anything reasonable, he said. “We’re anxious to kind of shepherd the project through. We want a good, sustainable plan that respects the architectural history of the buildings,” said Gina Paradis, the Land Bank’s executive director. The property consists of two buildings: the original structure on the corner of Fourth Street and Central Avenue was built in 1872 (though Ehlers didn’t open there until 1892) and an addition was constructed in 1900.
“We have some warm interest,” DeJoy said. “Nothing firm, I would say.”
DeJoy and Paradis offered a tour of the buildings, last occupied by Old Sarge’s Drop Zone in the mid-2010s, Thursday. The buildings were purchased by the Land Bank earlier this year.
There is little damage on the first and second floors. Cavernous showroom spaces on the first and second floors still have signs overhead categorizing Old Sarge’s goods. DeJoy said the property offers more than 27,000 square feet of space.
The third floor would need more work. Broken glass and nails cover the floors of some of the rooms. A leak in the roof left significant ceiling damage in one spot. However, DeJoy said the rubberized roof is actually in good condition for a property of its age.
The buildings have working heat and electricity. The original service elevator is intact.
Acknowledging the high costs of doing business in New York, DeJoy said they are aggressively marketing this project because “development of these buildings doesn’t happen organically.” He thinks the state’s Restore NY grant program for downtown revitalizations would offer a great source of assistance, as it is geared towards abandoned and vacant buildings.
Paradis said the residential component is important, as it will help build business traffic on Central Avenue. DeJoy openly hoped for a more residential Central Avenue, “to bring back some vibrancy. We need a four-seasons city.”
Requests for proposals are due Nov. 29. The full request for proposals is on the city of Dunkirk and Chautauqua County Land Bank websites.
All proposals will get reviewed and a shortlist of no more than three prospective developers will get selected. The shortlisted developers will have an in-person interview and question-and-answer session. The Land Bank will then “begin exclusive negotiations with the developer who best matches the desired vision and qualifications for the project,” the request for proposals states.
“Really, it’s a keystone to downtown Dunkirk,” Paradis said of the property.
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