The former owner of The White Inn believes more should be done by local leaders to make business easier locally.
During the recent Chautauqua County Legislature meeting, a public hearing was held about the county applying for a RESTORE NY grant for The White Inn.
The White Inn has been closed for the last four years and needs about $3.9 million worth of repairs. Local developers Steve St. George and Devin Jones have purchased the facility and are moving ahead with plans to restore it. Chautauqua County is offering assistance through tax incentives through the county Industrial Development Agency and also by applying for a grant on behalf of The White Inn.
One of the requirements of the grant application is a public hearing must take place.
During the public hearing, Robert Contiguglia of Fredonia spoke out. He owned The White Inn for 15 years, selling it in 2008.
While not outright opposing the application, he questioned the concept of the county applying for a grant on behalf of a private business. “The White Inn is considered the jewel of Fredonia, but it’s really just a private business — a business that competes with other businesses,” he said.
Contiguglia agreed that a renovated White Inn will attract businesses, but he believes it will also take business away from other establishments. “Every re-entrant takes a little piece from the existing businesses,” he said.
Contiguglia said understands the need for competition, but added, “the competition should be on an equal playing field, not a playing field where one business gets a lot of help and other businesses get no help,” he said.
He reviewed the requirements for the grant and noted that 15 years ago when he sold it, he would not have been eligible, even though he needed financial assistance. “The White Inn was not on the verge of falling apart because I spent a lot of money maintaining it. I was not creating jobs; I was merely retaining jobs — jobs that went away after I sold the property, because I was facing financial challenges myself,” he said.
He noted that had he received financial assistance back in 2008, it would have been a lot less than what is needed today. Therein lies the rub. “It’s fine to pay attention to projects that need specific grant criteria, but the county needs to continue to protect and promote all existing businesses, not just those deemed worthy of assistance by the powers that be. If so, then maybe there can be a lot of winners and the playing field can be a little bit more level,” he said.
Legislator Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, said as someone who has owned multiple businesses he understands Contiguglia’s point, but noted that there’s not grant money for what he’s talking about.
Scudder continued to voice support for grant funds for The White Inn. “The White Inn is known far and wide. … Restoring The White Inn is good for Fredonia, good for SUNY Fredonia, good for Chautauqua County and good for all of Western New York,” he said.
He believes restoring The White Inn may be a catalyst to revitalize the village of Fredonia. “The entire region will be better with a restored and open for business White Inn,” he said.
Legislator Susan Parker, D-Fredonia, agreed. “The White Inn operated continuously for close to 100 years as a hotel and restaurant. … Everyone has a story of the White Inn,” she said.
She noted RESTORE NY is designed for private businesses that help a community. “The program encourages community development and neighborhood growth through the elimination and redevelopment of blighted structures,” she said.
After the meeting, Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon said now that the public hearing has taken place, the county IDA will move ahead and apply for the grant.