LOCKPORT – The City of Lockport had condemned the former Kohl’s site at 71 Gooding St. a number of years ago, barring anyone from entering the dilapidated building.
But that didn’t stop thieves and adventurous kids from crawling in the broken and boarded-up windows. And it also apparently didn’t stop an arsonist from getting in and setting a fire that destroyed the building.
The city took ownership of the 53,360-square-foot building in 2008 and had planned to tear down the 1870s-era stone-brick building, which had once been part of the Holly Manufacturing Co. That plan was stymied when it was deemed historic.
Mayor Michael W. Tucker said city officials ran into resistance from the state Historic Preservation Office, and Tucker agreed that the building had historical significance.
Tuesday’s fire ended that dispute, and by Wednesday afternoon, crews started removing what was left of the building. Tucker said the demolition should be completed in two weeks.
He said the city was in contact with the Historic Preservation Office shortly after the fire and was given the go-ahead to tear the building down.
Chief of Detectives Capt. Richard Podgers said that was the good news following the two-alarm fire.
“It’s a good thing they can finally rip this down now. They have been trying to get rid of it for years. We’ve had policemen injured falling through the floors over the years, trying to find kids, and people who have stolen parts. There’s been multiple fires in the past. It’s been a really dangerous place for youth who just go in there to explore,” Podgers said.
He said just last week, investigating an unrelated report on the nearby trestle, he found an overhead door in the building propped open by a barrel.
“It’s wide open, and no matter how much you try to board it up, it just seems like there was always a stream of break-ins,” he said.
Police Chief Lawrence W. Eggert agreed.
“We wouldn’t even let our people in there. The floor was too dangerous, and there are two sub-basements,” Eggert said of the old building’s wooden floors. “It would have been nice if it could have been repaired. It was visually appealing, but you would have had to rebuild the whole inside.”
Podgers and Eggert said their investigation continues, and they are still following tips they have received. The demolition of the building is not expected to affect the department’s arson investigation, Podgers said.
Podgers said all the remaining contents of the building had been cleared out prior to the fire.