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Two Utica Common Council members want to put a temporary halt to Bleecker St. building demolition

By GARY LIBERATORE

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica Common Council members Frank Vescera and Jim Zecca say they will introduce legislation at next Wednesday's Common Council meeting to put a temporary halt to the demolition process of a building on Bleecker Street.

The building in question at 208-214 Bleecker Street is called the Hulking Building and sits right across from The Utica School of Commerce.

It is in disrepair, and its roof is collapsed.

The building is now owned by the City of Utica and it is the city's responsibility to pay the estimated $300,000 to tear it down.

Common Council members Frank Vescera and Jim Zecca are questioning why the city acquired the property from previous owner Charles A. Gaetano, owner of Charles A. Gaetano Construction Company here in Utica, for one dollar just a month before the end of former mayor David Roefaro's administration came to an end.

Vescera says the Codes Department began citing Gaetano for code violations back in 2006, but they were never taken care of.

Vescera says the city had previously filed a lawsuit to get Gaetano to demolish the building, but then that lawsuit was suddenly dropped late last year, when the former mayor, along with the then-head of Urban Renewal Agency, Randy Soggs, agreed to purchase the property for the Urban Renewal Agency from Gaetano for one dollar.

Vescera says that transaction is questionable and wants some answers surrounding the purchase before allowing city taxpayers to foot the $300,000 demolition bill.

"In my legislation, we're asking for things to slow down a little bit here, put a halt on the demolition of that property, and I want to get this off the taxpayers backs, and get the agency that bought the property (Urban Renewal Agency), they purchased it, they should be responsible for the demolition and for it coming out of their budget," Councilman Vescera said.

Vescera says he and Jim Zecca will also introduce legislation at next Wednesday's Common Council meeting to change the law, so that in the future, any properties acquired by the city through the Urban Renewal Agency will be put to a public hearing and then put in front of the full Common Council for a vote.

Currently, only the sale of Urban Renewal Agency properties, and not the purchase, go through that process.

We tried contacting Charles A. Gaetano to get his comments on this story, but a woman answering the phones at his Utica office told us Mr. Gaetano was out of town and there was no way to get a message to him.

Former Mayor David Roefaro says the decision was made by the Urban Renewal Agency, and he believes it was a good decision.

"It's an initiative by the City of Utica to make downtown vibrant again," Roefaro said.

Roefaro says a proposed parking lot was planned to be put in place of the building to add to the $5.5 million new bus terminal project.

"It's unfortunate that, that building wasn't put in the original spec (of the bus terminal project), and that the cost of the tear down didn't come out of the FTA (Federal Transportation Administration) funds," Roefaro said. "But if I were this administration, I would ask for a special dispensation, if they can take they $300,000 of out the FTA funds."

We also tried contacting the former head of the Urban Renewal Agency Randy Soggs, as well as current head Brian Thomas, but so far have not been able to reach either.

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