With city support, Canandaigua's Steamboat Landing project chugs along
Meaghan M. McDermott, @meagmc Published 1:33 p.m. ET Aug. 17, 2017 | Updated 8:31 a.m. ET Aug. 18, 2017
Canandaigua still awaits promised lakefront project
The stalled Steamboat Landing project on the northern tip of Canandaigua Lake has generated plenty of derisive nicknames from locals frustrated by the steel skeleton that's hovered over the beachfront since construction stopped in 2015.
As they see it, "Pigeon Landing" or "the Birdcage" or "Eyesore Landing" has taxed the community's patience enough and it's time for developers who have struggled to find financing to either move forward or find someone else that will.
"If they could just finish it, it would be great," said Pat Baraclough of Canandaigua, walking his dog Mojo in Kershaw Park on a recent weekday. "It would be a great addition."
Despite more than a year of significant setbacks for site owner David Genecco, who twice lost his financing for the project, city of Canandaigua officials say they're still hopeful that the project — a mix of hotel space and condominiums — will pan out. City Manager John Goodwin said there's been recent movement and potential new financiers and renewed belief that the project is back on track.
The City Council even voted earlier this month to act as a pass-through for developers to apply for a federal grant that could speed along a construction restart.
"Having a hotel and conference center at that site has been something the community has wanted since 1989," said Goodwin. "We're very close to it, unfortunately, some of the partnerships fell through and the developer has had to start from scratch again; all of this takes time. The community has had to be more patient than we would have liked — especially with that half-constructed steel structure out there — but we are confident this project will be completed."
Canandaigua has been looking for a major development at that end of the lake since the late 1980s when the Roseland amusement park closed down after a six-decade run. But it wasn't until the 2000s that developers expressed significant interest in the site.
Believing Genecco had the juice to move a development forward, the city sold him about 3.4 acres of the 5.4 acres of former Roseland Park land on Lakeshore Drive it acquired for $1.7 million under eminent domain back in 2009.
Genecco, in turn, sold a slice of that — along the northern side of Lakeshore Drive — to other developers. Morgan-LeChase Development consolidated that with other parcels and went ahead with their $120 million Pinnacle North project. Phase I of that mixed-use endeavor, with retail spaces and 135 apartments opened earlier this year.
The $54 million Steamboat Landing project — dubbed the Canandaigua Finger Lakes Resort — launched in 2013 with plans for a hotel and conference center and premium condominiums overlooking the lake. It was financed then by Maryland-based North Star Funding and broke ground in 2014. But in 2015, construction ground to a halt after North Star was shut down by a lawsuit from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging bank fraud. Over that summer, a $2.8 million mechanic's lien was filed against the project developers, alleging that workers had not been paid.
There was renewed hope last year when Robert Morgan and David Christa, the forces behind Pinnacle North, announced they were joining with Genecco to restart the resort project. But that deal fell apart last July, for reasons none of the principals have ever disclosed in public.
Developers made another move to restart work earlier this summer, when they asked Canandaigua to approve a private 44-slip boat dock on the lake's northeast shore. However, that plan was nixed by city council out of concerns over its environmental impacts and effects on the views of Canandaigua Lane, said Goodwin.
"It was ultimately determined that dock would be detrimental," he said.
Although project co-developer Robert Murphy earlier said having those docks was essential to the project's new financing, he later said that the project was "still a go." City leaders wrote the lenders to explain why the docks were disallowed and offered alternatives for dockage such as slips at existing marinas and leasing at the public docks.
Genecco and Murphy could not be reached for additional comment.
Harry Sicherman, with The Harrison Studio in Lockport, has been hired to write the grant application to the state Office of Community Renewal for $750,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding. He said the developers are likely to secure their new private financing prior to the Sept. 8 grant submission deadline.
If approved, the City of Canandaigua would administer the funds, which would be used for furnishings, fixtures, equipment and working capital for the project's hotel and restaurant, he said.
The application involves a lengthy cost/benefit analysis "and in my experience, this is a good one," said Sicherman. "The benefit to the community is substantial."
The grant money is designed to help boost economic development that would affect low- and moderate-income residents. In the case of the hotel/restaurant project, it would do so by helping create more than 70 jobs.
Such a shame
Sitting on a tree-shaded bench by the docks of the Canandaigua Lady last week Caroline Appleby of Warsaw chatted with friends from her local "Red Hat Gals" club as they waited for their luncheon aboard the paddleboat.
For them, the unfinished steel hotel/condo structure seemed a shame. It's something they believe would draw more tourists and vacationers and enhance the already-lovely Kershaw and Lakeside park areas.
"I would love to stay there," said Appleby, sweeping her arm across the viewshed. "You've got the water, the lake view would be beautiful, if you had a nice restaurant in there you could have a nice dinner and retire to your hotel room and look out at all this."
Sharon Stone, also of Warsaw, said she'd consider coming to stay for a weekend with her friends.
"We'd just come up and have a ball," she said.
Pam Doore of Attica, however, said she hopes if a hotel does eventually get completed there, that it won't be out-of-reach for locals seeking an affordable family getaway.
"It would be nice if they figure this all out, and if it would be affordable," she said. "I just hope it's financially feasible for everybody to enjoy."
Vacationer Danny Lee of Cooperstown said he'd wondered every time he passed the structure what was going on with it. Spending a week in Canandaigua to enjoy the lake, Lee said such a beautiful spot should be available to tourists.
"It's kind of an eyesore now, isn't it?" he said. "But I think when it is finished, everyone will appreciate it, especially if it has a nice restaurant. It has so much potential in such a nice location."
As it stands now, there are no target dates for any new construction. The grant application will likely be filed in the fall, and it could be at least a month before developers learn if they're going to get that money.
Tax incentives from the Ontario County Industrial Development Agency were already key to the project moving forward: according to agency data the project has gotten about $25,000 so far in state and local sales tax exemptions and was approved for nearly $240,000 in total sales tax exemptions. There is no payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement and the project is estimated to create 70 jobs with a minimum salary of about $29,000 when complete.
Goodwin said there is no city money involved in the project, but it is likely when work begins again, developers will seek a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement from the Ontario County IDA.
He also said if developers plan to make changes to the project they already had city approvals for, they will have to come back before the various boards and ask for new permissions.
The last approved plan for the project included 134 hotel rooms, a spa, restaurant and a 600-person ballroom.
Goodwin said it's also very likely that the city will require developers to have a structural engineer certify that the steel framing and other portions of the building that have been exposed to the elements for more than two years are still safe.
"Once the difficulties are overcome, this will get completed," said Goodwin. "Canandaigua is one of the most valuable lakefront properties in the country, so this project will get done, it's just a matter of time."
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