OLEAN — North 11th Street residents and Rural Revitalization Corp. officials are breathing easier after a neighborhood eyesore had a date with the wrecking crew.
April Ramadhan, executive director of nonprofit Rural Revitalization Corp., said she was relieved to have Wilby Inc. demolish the structure at 306 N. 11th St. on Wednesday morning.
“I didn’t think the house could look any worse — and then they took the asbestos (exterior wall shingles) off,” she said.
The group purchased the house for $1 from the city of Olean government in May 2018, hoping to renovate it and sell it to help fund community garden efforts on Reed and West Greene streets. The lot on Reed Street was purchased at the same time, with a house being leveled to clear the site.
But by the end of the 2018 construction season, it became apparent that the project was a lost cause.
“The foundation was just too bad,” she said, adding the only way to save the property would have been to hire an engineer to redesign the foundation. “The money was just two much. The neighbors always wanted it torn down, and they voiced their concerns to us.”
Under the sale terms, RRC had 11 months to get the property in good condition and receive a certificate of occupancy from the city’s Code Enforcement Office. The group came back to the city in May asking for an extension, and to change to a demolition.
The property was one of 13 acquired by the county in 2016 from Cattaraugus County, all of which have now been torn down or renovated.
Neighbors gathered around the site to watch the excitement, with half a dozen having front-row seats on the front porch of John Gray, who has lived across the street from the site for 42 years. Oohs, ahs and chuckles came from the observers as a backhoe tore apart the building, wondering when “the money shot” causing the final big collapse would occur.
“That thing’s been in bad shape for four years,” he said, noting the previous owner let it go for back taxes after finding it too expensive to rehabilitate. “He completely gutted it.”
For many years, he said it was the home of Doris Hunger.
“Her dad had an ice cream store” down the street a bit, Gray said, adding he would like to see a small memorial to his friend on the site.
What exactly will happen at the site is still on the drawing board.
“I want the neighbors to have their say — it’s their neighborhood, not my neighborhood,” Ramadhan said, adding her goal is “just trying to make it a better place than it was … It doesn’t have to be just gardens.”
Neighbors have suggested benches and a Little Free Library-style book box for the property. Ramadhan said many of the neighbors are very handy, “and some of those same neighbors came over and helped us at the garden” on West Greene Street with raised flower beds.
All of the work done at the site before it was leveled was not for naught. The new windows installed were reclaimed, as were old wood details.
“Even old pieces — people who are redoing old stuff, we just let them come in and take it,” she said.
The upgraded water system will also be maintained, as it will serve as a water source for the space and the garden on Reed Street.
(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)