By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Like a beehive that masks the intense work of making honey, the covered windows of the former Bresee’s Oneonta Department Store hide the hammering and sawing of carpentry crews building apartment and retail space inside.
On four floors, wooden beams run from floor to ceiling in the Main Street building, creating a skeleton framing office suites on the ground floor and apartments upstairs.
“It’s pretty neat,’’ project developer Charles Klugo repeated as he moved from ground to top floor, pointing out historic ornaments and spaces during a tour Tuesday afternoon. He pointed to the red oak of the original staircase, the wallpaper from the last century and the windows where sashes are being preserved.
“If the walls could talk … there are so many stories,’’ Klugo said. “I can imagine.’’
Klugo Oneonta LLC has been working at the site about a year, Klugo said. His purchase of the property for $400,000 from the Otsego County Development Corp. is expected to be finalized at a closing next week, he said, and he will be able to market the property, though he already has had some inquiries.
The anticipated closing is a significant step in a multiyear economic revitalization effort to save the downtown area near Chestnut Street.
Under Klugo Oneonta plans in the Bresee’s Redevelopment Project, the building at 155-165 Main St. will be converted into commercial spaces on the first floor and dwelling units on the upper floors. The project includes a parking lot with about 55 spaces, and the nearby three-story building at 1 Dietz St. is being converted into a five-unit apartment house.
Klugo said he expects the project to be completed by year’s end, and occupancy by yet-to-be-determined retailers on the first floor could be in late autumn.
The project’s status prompted a broad smile by Carolyn Lewis, Otsego County economic developer and administrator of the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency. Property easements, a tax abatement agreement and other documents are ready for a closing next week, she said.
Lewis said she hopes the community realizes the significance of the project, and that it is on schedule.
In the IDA-approved payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, the assessment for the project is set at $1 million for 15 years, with a 90 percent tax abatement for the first and second years, then a reduction by 10 percent annually, Lewis said. The abatement, which applies to city, county and school district taxes, is zero percent in years 11 through 15, she said.
Previously, Mayor Dick Miller said the $6.2 million redevelopment of the former Bresee’s store building and property at 1 Dietz St. will be “an enormous, positive boost for downtown.’’
The Oneonta Planning Commission approved site plans for the project in September, and in October, the Common Council gave the PILOT a green light.
The family-owned and operated Bresee’s Oneonta Department Store opened on Main Street in Oneonta in 1899 and closed in 1994.
The city of Oneonta purchased the complex between Main and Wall streets in 2007 and transferred the title to the OCDC, a nonprofit economic development group with ties to county and city governments. The bulk of funding for the redevelopment project is several state grants.
A firm hired in 2008 to develop the property didn’t meet OCDC’s expectations, and its contract wasn’t renewed. Klugo Enterprises, which committed $800,000 in capital, signed an agreement with OCDC in 2011.
Some facade work in the former Bresee’s building was done last winter, Klugo said, and asbestos abatement and demolition work started in spring and was completed in September, in time to zip up the building for work this winter.
A large rectangular opening awaits an elevator that will run from the first floor to the “penthouse’’ fourth floor, Klugo said. The shaft is feet away from an original staircase made early in the last century of red oak, he said, and boasting most of its original banisters.
Klugo said he has been to the library and done homework to find out about the history of the building and store. He can describe the location of the store’s Health Bar, a popular restaurant.
Klugo said the first floor will be open to the public, with access from the parking lot on the Wall Street side to the Main Street doors. The idea, he said, is to have “two fronts.’’
The 8,000-square-foot first floor will be divided into spaces, including his office and four or five retail suites.
The basement will have 10-by-10-foot storage areas for renters, Klugo said. He pointed to first-floor areas that would be retail spaces, an office, restrooms.
The second floor will have six apartments, the third will have five apartments and the fourth will have one apartment, Klugo said. Apartment sizes will range from studio to three bedroom and will rent at market rates, he said.
The site has been one of discovery, too, Klugo said. Layers of wallpaper and plaster on top of brickwork, tell of renovations during the building’s history, along with carpeting and dropped ceilings revealed during gutting.
“It’s kind of cool,’’ Klugo said. And some of that history will be preserved and displayed. A giant cabinet on the first floor will be used for a historic exhibition that will be arranged with help from Marc Bresee, Klugo said.
Klugo said he has worked with state officials on historic preservation. On the second and third floor, apartments will have original window sashes. Wooden ornaments on the staircase will be preserved, he said, and brickwork will be cleaned for display.
“It really creates that artsy, urban feeling,’’ he said.
No two apartments will be the same, or as he said, “no cookie-cutter’’ or “vanilla’’ apartments. A 1,350-square-foot apartment on the third floor will be built around space that in the department store was used for creating artwork and window dressings, he said.
The 1,250 fourth-floor apartment will have two bedrooms, a fireplace and roof deck, Klugo said. The view from the Wall Street side includes Hartwick College and the upper portion of the First United Methodist Church.
Klugo said the former Bresee’s post-and-beam construction is the most-structurally sound of any project in his experience. Hundreds of tons of debris were removed from the site, he said.