Port Henry considers future of empty lot

PORT HENRY, N.Y. (WCAX) Port Henry, New York, has an opportunity to create new open space after a winning a legal battle to demolish a building partially destroyed by fire this spring.

"When it was standing we would always look at it and say we hope they take it down soon cause it was a hazard, but it also didn't really look nice," said Luis Medina of Port Henry.

Back in April firefighters from multiple agencies fought flames for nearly ten hours at the corner of Main St. in Port Henry. The building was left half-standing with bricks falling. It remained there for the next four months as the town fought with the owner to take action

In the end, the town had to take the matter to the New York Supreme Court to declare a state of emergency because the lot was on private land. Greg Cunningham, the landlord, never showed up to court and the judge ruled in the town's favor.

Now it's estimated that all the costs to bring the Cunningham Building down will cost tax payers $40,000.

"We will file liens against that property in an effort to recoup the tax payers dollars," said Moriah Town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava. "But if the property is sold, before it can be sold the town of Moriah has to be made whole as to what we have spent on that property."

Now the empty lot sits there not making money for the town, and anyone who would want to buy it will need to pay the $40,000 on top of it.

"It hasn't been really bad for us," said Don Foote, owner of the Port Henry Diner. He says he's found the silver lining in the rubble. "A lot of people said, oh they thought they'd be upset when they came down and saw this, but they came down and saw they weren't actually -- they kind of liked it. Everybody said, 'Wow, this is kind of nice.'"

Foote has spoken with other community members about keeping the space in front of his business open. "We'd like to put a band shell and have a music park," Foote said. "Just to kind of pump things up a little downtown here, because we really need it."

If the owner of the lot doesn't pay their taxes, Scozzafava says ultimately it will become Essex County property, which he believes will be handed to the town for community use. He says the state might be able to help. "if, in fact, the town does end up with the property at the end of the day, or even if it goes into private hands, there may be funds available to clean up the property where you could actually do something there," he said.

Greg Cunningham was not available for comment and his phone has been disconnected.