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Article updated: 10/9/2013 11:35 AM

Council, would-be buyer question delay of Batavia building sale

Batavia aldermen have questioned the delay in determining what to do with the city-owned Thomle Building at 2 E. Wilson St. The city received proposals this spring for its sale and redevelopment, but nothing has come to the council since then. One of the proposed buyers criticized city administrators about the delay Tuesday night, and asked the council to put his proposal to a vote.

Batavia aldermen have questioned the delay in determining what to do with the city-owned Thomle Building at 2 E. Wilson St. The city received proposals this spring for its sale and redevelopment, but nothing has come to the council since then. One of the proposed buyers criticized city administrators about the delay Tuesday night, and asked the council to put his proposal to a vote.

 

Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer, May

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Selling the city-owned Thomle Building may pick up steam, after Batavia aldermen Tuesday asked about the delay in bringing the matter to a vote.

"It has kind of languished for a really long time," said Alderman Susan Stark, noting proposals were introduced to the council in May.

A would-be buyer of the property also criticized city administrators for the delay, and for conduct he deemed "unprofessional."

Michael Grudecki, who wants to put a martini-oriented bar in the building, said he was "no less disgusted" after hearing administrator Bill McGrath explain the delay. He also noted that when his proposal was initially published on the city's website, it contained his Social Security number and proprietary financial information about his Batavia-based decorating business.

He also said assistant city administrator Jason Bajor had questioned his integrity and did not show up at scheduled meetings about the proposal. "If that is his idea of 'professionalism,' then I will never do business in Batavia again," Grudecki said.

McGrath acknowledged there had been "gaffes" in communication this summer.

But a variety of factors slowed the project down, he said. Vetting the proposals was complicated as one of them involved the creation of a partnership, 246 E. Wilson LLC, to buy the Thomle Building and the one next to it, and requested financial assistance from the city to redevelop the buildings. Grudecki has requested a loan from the city.

While the city was reviewing the proposals, one of the potential partners in 246 E. Wilson LLC offered to sell the city part of the site in its proposal. The city council voted against that.

Then the city's economic development director quit. The city contracted a consultant for economic development, who conducted a broker tour of the property, resulting in a third offer for the property. That is still under review.

McGrath also said the staff has had a heavy workload, with other projects such as the downtown Walgreens redevelopment, union negotiations, and managing the construction of the new streetscape along Wilson Street.

"There's a lot going on in this town," said Alderman Dave Brown, who sits in on some negotiations with developers in his role as chairman of the community development committee.

"I wish it would happen quicker. I'm not happy about it," McGrath said, giving the city a grade of "'F' on process."

Grudecki questioned why a third proposal is being considered, given it didn't come in by the deadline set in the request for proposal. But several aldermen said they were interested in seeing the third proposal, to make sure they get the best project for the downtown.

"Vote on it. Vote on whether the Tini Lounge should be part of downtown Batavia," Grudecki said.

McGrath agreed to bring the third proposal to the council for review in two weeks.

The Thomle Building, 135 years old, is next to the Fox River. The city bought it in 1997 for $75,000, and tried to sell it in 1998. Failing that, it put in more than $100,000 of repairs, and Batavia MainStreet volunteers remodeled the interior in exchange for using the space for five years. It was then rented out as a business incubator; the last tenant moved out in July 2012.

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