After almost 20 years of attempting to restore the Auburn Schine Theater, the Cayuga County Arts Council is set to sell it.
In a news release Wednesday, the council announced that it will work with a new partner, East Syracuse firm Bowers Development, to restore the 1938 movie palace.
Owned by Bryan Bowers, the firm is home of the Asbestos & Environmental Consulting Corporation, which specializes in remediating contaminated Brownfield sites like the Schine. Supporting that remediation will be $800,000 in city funds, whose allocation was approved this week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the release also said.
But "partner" may not convey the full scope of Bowers' role in the Schine's restoration. Auburn Office of Planning and Economic Development Director Jennifer Haines and arts council Chair Ed Onori both said Wednesday that Bowers will actually be assuming ownership of the theater from the arts council.
"(Their) ownership of the property is the reason for this incentive being provided," Haines said in reference to the $800,000 fund allocation.
Onori said the ownership transfer isn't official yet, as the council and Bowers are still working through the legal process. He called the transfer "the only way for us to actually get the work done."
Founders Day 2014 was a busy day at the Auburn Schine Theater.
Onori also said he's unsure what role the council will retain in the Schine's restoration after Bowers becomes its new owner. He said the council could continue helping shape the South Street theater's master plan, which lays out its restoration and subsequent function as a civic center-type facility with multiple uses.
"Right now what we're trying to do is what's best for the building," Onori said.
In its release, the council added that "there are absolutely no plans" to demolish the Schine. Its communication committee chair, Michelle Prego-Milewski, said the sale spells good news for the theater's future.
"It means that the building is being developed," she said, "and that is definitely progress."
Bowers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He founded the Asbestos & Environmental Consulting Corporation in 2009. Two years later, it prepared for the city of Auburn several reports on soil vapor intrusion and air monitoring at 1-7 State St., site of the Kalet's department store that was demolished that year to make room for a downtown performing arts center.
The Cayuga County Arts Council bought the Schine in February 1998, about 50 years after it opened. It immediately stabilized the building, and in 2006, restored its art deco doors. However, the council's efforts have stalled in recent years due to the presence of asbestos inside the theater — and the $700,000 price tag the council has attached to the carcinogenic substance's removal.
The city's $800,000 fund allocation will fully cover the remediation of the asbestos, as well as lead paint and mold inside the theater. The money was put in play, Haines said, by a recent HUD rule that municipalities must spend down any balances in their Community Development Block Grant accounts in timely fashion.
Haines added that the city will manage the funds and oversee the procurement of any services the funds support, such as contractors.
"The city is on the hook to ensure the money is properly spent," she said.