After six years of abandonment and controversy about how it might be reused, the old Gardiner Library building and former firehouse has finally been sold by the Town of Gardiner, using a novel online auction tool. The successful bidder, Skydive the Ranch owner Bill Richards, purchased the structure for $100,000, and the closing will take place in December.
Originally a horse barn, then expanded bit-by-bit to house Gardiner’s first fire company, the rundown white building on the west side of Station Square, off Route 44/55 in the center of the hamlet, served for many years as the notoriously cramped Gardiner Library. In 2008 it was vacated and its ownership turned over to the town as the Library moved into its gleaming new home across Farmers’ Turnpike on the south side of the Square.
“I’ve been trying to sell this thing since 2009,” related Town Board member Warren Wiegand. But it took a turnover in town government officeholders before he could muster the majority of votes needed to unload the property, long viewed by many Gardinerites as a white elephant but cherished by local history buffs as the former home of the town’s original horse-drawn firefighting wagon. Twice the Town Board voted to sell the building, after declaring it “surplus,” and according to Wiegand, “Finally last spring we got serious about it.”
Once the town decided to unload the property, local volunteers led by the Gardiner Historical Society’s Mary Beth Majestic mounted a campaign to acquire, restore and preserve it as a firefighting museum, but the group was unable to raise the necessary funds. “The Fire Department didn’t have the wherewithal to do it,” Wiegand recounted. “Fire commissioner Luke Lyons concluded that the only way would be to raise Fire District taxes. He said, ‘Our mission is to fight fires, not to redo buildings,’ which I thought was an incredibly mature response.’”
Wiegand noted that Majestic had requested at a Town Board meeting that part of the purchase price be dedicated to the Gardiner Fire Department. “We said we would consider it,” he said. “The preliminary discussion is that we would put [the $100,000] in some kind of reserve for infrastructure for the town, but nothing has been decided as yet.” He added that the closing would occur too late in the year for the welcome infusion of revenue to be part of the current discussion formulating Gardiner’s 2015 town budget.
In a departure from the usual sealed paper bid process, the sale was transacted between October 13 and 15 using www.aarbids.com, a real estate auction website operated by Absolute Auction & Realty, headquartered in Pleasant Valley. “It works like eBay,” said Wiegand, with a minimum reserve price and online bidding in increments of $500. “You had to send a cashier’s check for $5,000 before you can bid.” About six bidders participated in the auction, including Richards and Majestic, according to Wiegand, who expressed satisfaction with the way that it was conducted: “The people at Absolute Auction were very professional about it.”
Purchaser Richards, who owns several adjoining properties and had been following the fate of the old Library building for years, was less enthusiastic about the online bidding process. “I offered to buy the place seven years ago for the same price I paid last month,” he said. “The auction company is not stupid. A realtor would be lucky to get six percent on the purchase. They got ten percent.” Richards is responsible for paying the commission, according to Wiegand, and “There are no stipulations regarding what he can do with it.”
Characterizing the old Library as being “in horrible shape,” Richards said, “I’m the only one it’s worth anything to, because I own all the adjacent properties.” Several of the adjoining structures have gone vacant and unimproved for years, with many Gardinerites wondering what Richards had planned for them, and when. “Before I could do anything with them, I had to know what was happening with the old Library,” which sits right in the center of his cluster of empty buildings, he explained.
Now that the suspense has finally been broken, Richards is beginning to consider his options and formulate a vision for the structures. “I don’t really have a next step yet. What I’d love to see done is the properties consolidated and make a little retail center of the town…to provide retail services that people normally go to New Paltz for.” He cited dental and law offices, a restaurant or market, office space “that a local artisan could afford” or “smaller boutiquey-type retail” businesses as potential occupants of the buildings once they are refurbished.
Noting the presence of the Kiss My Face bath products factory right across the street, Richards said, “I talked to Bob McCloud and asked him, ‘Why don’t you open a Kiss My Face retail outlet there?’” But his true dream tenant is an Apple Computers store, the nearest outlets of which he said are in Danbury, Connecticut, the Route 59 Mall in Nanuet and northern New Jersey. “What a great place to put in an Apple Store,” he enthused, “a sleepy little community whose center of agrarian economy is apples!”
The “vetting process” for Apple to consider a store site is long and complicated, Richards said. In the meantime, there’s plenty of work to be done to renovate the shabby old buildings to a point where they will be inviting homes to such small businesses, and there are partners and investors to be lined up. But Richards sees his hamlet-within-a-hamlet as, ultimately, an asset to the town center as a future shopping destination. “I think all boats will rise with the tide,” he said.