In the heart of Lancaster, a “monstrosity” is being torn down to clear a path on West Main Street that hasn’t been accessible for more than 40 years.
When the path is clear between Central Avenue and Aurora Street, and the huge structure known as the former BOCES Building is razed sometime before Christmas, the original West Main Street will be restored. And with that, a more walkable, accessible village center will be re-established.
The big complex bisected Main Street in the early 1970s, when it was built.
“It’s a positive move,” said Alan Kurtzman, owner of The New York Store, an apparel shop on the corner of Central Avenue and West Main Street. “It’ll be open for development, and that’ll be good for the whole area. It wasn’t the loveliest-looking building in the world.”
Originally, West Main Street in the village extended from the Lancaster Opera House on Central Avenue to Aurora Street. A large fire in the early 1960s destroyed half of the West Main Street block, and the complex was constructed in its place about a decade later.
A few villagers looked on Friday as politicians were invited to take swings with a sledgehammer at the vacant building, before a giant excavator rolled in to begin some heavy-duty clawing.
“The county, basically, helped shepherd this through the Environment and Planning Department,” said County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who attended the demolition with other public officials Friday.
The village’s Community Development Corp. received $650,000 in federal block grant funds through the county to help pay for asbestos removal at the complex – officially called the Lancaster Village Partnership Complex – and its eventual demolition. Money also was provided through the office of Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak to help pay for the reconstruction of West Main Street between Central Avenue and Aurora Street.
“What we’re doing is restoring Main Street and re-creating the original access point that has always existed between Central and Aurora and, along the way, we believe this will spur future growth and development, returning it to a village instead of something you might see on Transit Road at a strip mall,” Poloncarz said.
The start of the demolition Friday was about 10 years in the making, which was about the time that the village developed a new master plan calling for the reinstallation of the original West Main Street. That required the razing of the complex, which is owned by the village’s Community Development Corp.
“Safety was a real big issue, and it was becoming vacant. It was hard finding retailers to come in and rent,” said Lancaster Village Mayor Paul Maute, regarding the complex Friday.
Maute said village officials had long been anxious to get moving on the demolition.
“That was the desire of this whole village. It was starting to become an eyesore, so we wanted to get rid of it,” he said.
Tracy Diegelman, owner of Bloomsbury Lane Toy Shoppe on the corner of West Main and Central, said she hopes the demolition and street reconstruction will spur new retail development to give the area more of “a neighborhood feel.” She described the complex as “kind of like a monstrosity.”
“And it was doing absolutely nothing. It was like a dead-end,” Diegelman said. “It needs to go, so we can have this street (do well). I’m hoping people will see we’re here.”
Once the building site is cleared, village officials intend to rebuild West Main Street between Central Avenue and Aurora Street, which will include replacing the water and sewer infrastructure, a project that is not expected to begin until early 2014.
The complex has been subdivided several times over the years. Parts of the complex remained vacant throughout that time.
Once the demolition and street restoration is complete, the aim is to attract new development to that part of the village’s central business district, possibly a mix of retail and office space, according to Jeffrey L. Stribing, the village’s community development director.