Rochester, N.Y. – Genesee Brewing Company is undergoing a renaissance. Earnings and employment are way up. The dab yellow buildings are gradually being painted red and green. There are plans for a visitors center that will include a museum and restaurant to go inside a century-old former warehouse.
“We really want to emphasize the heritage of the Genesee beer,” said North American Breweries CEO Rich Lozyniak. “There’s not many breweries that have been around since 1878.”
But the brewery believes there’s something standing in the way – 13 Cataract St.
Built in 1889 by the old Standard Brewing Company, Genesee abandoned the structure in 1986. It has badly deteriorated, paint is chipping off, and many windows are boarded up. Genesee would like to tear it down to provide parking, sightlines, and landscaping for the visitors center.
“It would be a challenge for us to entice people” to come to the visitors center, Lozyniak said, with the decrepit building looming large on the property.
The building, however, is a designated historic landmark. It’s eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Genesee needs a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. A hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Local preservationists oppose the application. The director of the Landmark Society said he has seen buildings in worse shape restored.
After several weeks of controversy over the proposal, Genesee officials invited 13WHAM News to tour 13 Cataract. Our crew had to sign a waiver to tour the building because it’s considered dangerous.
The first floor has no windows and resembles a dungeon. There is a stench of mildew and animals. The walls are two feet thick.
The upper floors are well-lit by windows, very few of which face the falls. The floors are covered in bird droppings. The floors and ceilings are deteriorating in many places. Some of the rooms have giant ceiling beams little more than 6 feet off the ground, and engineers consider them to be integral to the structure’s integrity. Some of the floors are oddly-shaped, with multiple levels. There is only one way in and one way out of the all of the rooms.
Genesee officials say they marketed the building for a year and got no takers. They estimate it would take $8 million or more to rehab the structure.
“One developer told me this building is awkward,” said the brewery’s director of engineering, Mark Minunni. “I thought that was a great statement.”
“From the road, it looks pretty nice,’ said Lozyniak. “When you get inside, you see that this really couldn’t be a commercially viable property. I understand people’s desire to keep it here, but the reality is it is falling down.”
The Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to make a decision next month.