By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Emergency demolition of the city-owned Kohl Cycle building got under way Wednesday, less than 24 hours after fire devastated the 140-year-old canal stone structure downtown.
The city hired Mark Cerrone Inc., the Niagara Falls-based construction company, to take down the remnants of Kohl Cycle, 71 Gooding St., and another building behind it, 2 Clinton St., that was heavily damaged by the Tuesday afternoon blaze.
Demolition could cost between $225,000 and $275,000, Mayor Michael Tucker said. The expense apparently is fully on the local tax base, as the city is self-insured and a $200,000 brownfield cleanup grant that it received for the Kohl Cycle building several years ago cannot be applied toward demolition, he said.
Meanwhile, police turned up no good leads Wednesday as to the identity of three youths who were seen running away from the outside of the building just before the fire erupted. Authorities want to talk with the youths about what they might have seen, as it's all but certain the blaze was an act of arson, according to Chief Lawrence Eggert.
"We interviewed four people (who might have been near the building before the fire) and all of them had alibis or were otherwise ruled out as suspects, so we're still in the hunt," he said.
One of the interviewed persons was a young man who'd suggested in a Facebook posting that he might have been involved with the blaze. Police tracked him down and determined "he had an alibi .... he just thought it would be 'cool'" to claim credit for the act, Eggert said.
Police are seeking information from anyone who was in the immediate area before the blaze, which hit around 1 p.m. Tuesday, and might have observed suspicious activity. Anyone who hears another claiming to know what happened or who did it should call the police department too, at 433-7700.
Arson is strongly suspected because there's been no commercial activity inside the Kohl Cycle building, and no utility service, for at least five years. The city seized it from Walter Kohl in 2008, for nonpayment of back taxes.
The damaged building behind Kohl Cycle, at 2 Clinton, also is owned by Kohl's estate and is being foreclosed on this year by the city for past-due taxes. On Wednesday, the city appealed to state Supreme Court for an immediate foreclosure judgment, so the city can take possession of the building now and include it in the demolition job, City Attorney John Ottaviano said.
The Kohl Cycle building is listed in city records as being built in 1875, but it's believed to be older because it's built from hand-cut canal stone. The three-story structure was in terrible shape before the fire, as the foundation was rotted and support beams were snapping randomly, according to Tucker. The city tried pursuing its demolition several years ago and was stopped by the state Historic Preservation Office, which has authority over municipalities' designs on old buildings, he said. It finally got approval from SHPO on Tuesday, when Chief Building Inspector Jason Dool called in an appeal as the building burned.
Mark Cerrone Inc. will attempt to salvage some of the canal stone for future use by the city, Tucker said. Bricks that are not damaged will be washed off and stored at the city highway garage.
"There'll be enough of it that, some day, the city can do something with it," he said.
Two Clinton St., a one-story brick building listed in land records as built in 1900, is beyond repair after the fire, according to city officials.
Cerrone will try to reduce demolition waste disposal costs by burying some of both buildings' remnants in the basement of Kohl Cycle. According to Tucker, the plan is to fill the cavity with as much non-hazardous junk as possible, until it's nearly level with the ground, and cover it with soil.
Demolition should take between 10 and 14 days, he said.