By GIB SNYDER
OBSERVER City Editor
Prior to February 2010, Dunkirk's 300 block of Central Avenue was graced by the presence of the Masonic Temple, a three-story structure completed and opened in 1909.
A view of the Masonic Temple property from its heyday in the early 1900s.
The fire which led to its destruction and demolition.
The Masonic Temple in Dunkirk was built in 1909 and housed businesses, churches and medical offices.
The empty lot where it formerly was located. The property has been purchased recently by 323-325 Central Ave LLC.
A fire that month damaged the Temple to the point where it had to be demolished, leaving a large hole in downtown Dunkirk, which remains to this day.
Now with the sale of the property, officially 323-325 Central Ave., there may be movement to develop the vacant land.
The buyer was listed as 323-325 Central Ave LLC, and purchased the property for $10,000, according to the city assessor's office. Along with the Central Avenue land, four adjoining parcels on Lark Street were part of the sale. Prior to the sale, the Central Avenue part was listed on assessment rolls as vacant property with a full-market value of $13,500, while the 90- by 153-foot lot was assessed at $11,100.
The Masonic Temple had been owned by Connecticut resident Robert Lesser and had a full market value estimated at $374,500, prior to the fire and demolition. The new buyer was familiar with the property - and the Temple - having been involved with the demolition of the Temple.
Frank Bodami is a principal with Titan Wrecking & Environmental LLC, which did the final demolition. The articles of organization for 323-325 Central Ave LLC were filed in Erie County in February and lists Bodami as the contact person.
Contacted by the OBSERVER, Bodami said there were no plans at present for the property, adding he sees a future for the city he would like to be part of. Bodami also said he would be interested in hearing ideas from the general public on the property.
While Bodami had not been in contact with city officials and had not looked into zoning issues, one city official, who looks at the empty lot from his office window, is anxious to help with the plot.
Development Director Steve Neratko inherited the view from the second floor of the Stearns Building when he began the job in January 2012. He was asked what the city could do to help Bodami with development of the property.
"Financially, there isn't a whole lot of assistance we can offer. Most of what we could do came through (Community Development Block Grant funding), but working with the county, there is some funding available. We'll be glad to look into tax assistance and a (payment in lieu of taxes), that sort of thing," he replied. "I guess the other big opportunity would be depending on his plans, Empire State Development does have funding available throughout the year."
Unlike the time frame involved with the state's Consolidated Funding Application process, Neratko said the ESD can be approached any time. He added the property has been discussed before with the ESD and the city was asked to keep the agency updated on the property, particularly due to its downtown location.
"As soon as there is a site plan, we would be happy to help the new owners navigate that process," Neratko stated. "It would be a huge thing to have that back on the tax rolls and to see it in productive use would be great. We're happy that someone is really interested in it and we're looking forward to working with them and getting something located on the property."
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce said the city was "willing to assist in any way possible to aid development in downtown Dunkirk."
"I think it's encouraging to know that there is a new owner," he added. "It gives us some hope that we may soon see some development on the property. There are some avenues we can assist and we would be more than willing to do so."
When the building opened in 1909, the Masonic Lodge was joined as first tenant by the Safe Store. Over the years, the building housed organizations from stores to churches to medical offices and fitness-related businesses.
What its successor will house remains to be seen.
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