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City of Auburn issues 'repair or demolish' order to Schine theater owners, hoping for dialog
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AUBURN

City of Auburn issues 'repair or demolish' order to Schine theater owners, hoping for dialog

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Auburn Schine Theater

The Schine Theater on South Street in downtown Auburn.

The Auburn Schine Theater is one of a few dozen city properties whose owners have recently been issued "repair or demolish" orders, the city's Code Enforcement Office said.

The full text of the order, which carries the description "determination of unsafe conditions," says: "This structure has been deemed unsafe due to continuous, unattended vacancy in excess of five years, is considered a nuisance and must be repaired or demolished."

However, the purpose of the order isn't as dramatic as its language would suggest.

Jennifer Haines, director of the city's Office of Planning and Economic Development, said the order is simply meant to start or maintain a dialog with its recipient about their building's fate. In the case of Schine owners the Cayuga County Arts Council, Haines continued, that dialog is ongoing.

"The Schine is a building like any other as far as code enforcement goes. That said, it's for sure iconic, and requires special attention," she said. "We are committed to working with the council to make sure the city's goals for compliance with code are met, and that the council's goals to redevelop the building are met."

Haines said the city doesn't currently have a specific list of code violations for the Schine. It will determine them based on the council's goals for the building's use, she continued, which is one subject of its dialog with the city.

Beardsley Architects & Engineers Project Manager Ed Onori, who was elected the Cayuga County Arts Council's new board chair in March, said the Schine's "repair or demolish" order doesn't represent any significant change in the council's restoration efforts. It will continue working to address the city's concerns about the building as it has before, he said.

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The order was issued in late 2016 by Code Enforcement Officer Lane Pausley. He said "nothing in particular" about the state of the Schine prompted the order, but rather its 25 to 30 years of nonuse and disrepair. Pausley added that the order does not take into account the theater's historic landmark status with the state Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, nor its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The arts council, which bought the 1938 art deco movie theater in 1998, has been working to restore it since. The multimillion-dollar project has been stalled for the past several years due to asbestos contamination in the theater, which the council has said will cost about $700,000 to remediate.

Haines said the city's "repair or demolish" orders are part of a recent effort to enforce its vacant building registry. Since 2014, the program has seen the Auburn Fire Department place red "X" placards on the Schine and several other city structures. The placards signal to emergency responders that the structures are unsafe to enter.

Last year, the state Office of the Attorney General granted Auburn $138,000 to address such abandoned, or "zombie" properties. Haines said the funds will help the city expand its Code Enforcement and Corporation Counsel offices to "get a handle on" the upward of 230 vacant structures in Auburn, including the Schine.

Meanwhile, Auburn City Council approved April 6 an update to its historic preservation law. Under the new law, demolition of landmarks like the Schine can proceed "only in case of economic hardship" or a finding by the Code Enforcement Office that they present "an imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare." Additionally, "Demolition of any such building may be approved only in connection with approval of a replacement project."

The city has touted the law as increasing the protections it offers historic properties like the Schine theater.

"The building is iconic, part of Auburn's history," Haines said. "It's a building in our downtown that needs to be addressed as part of the renaissance we're going through."

A proposed local law promoting the general welfare by providing for the identification, protection, enhancement, perpetuation, and use of buildings, structures, signs, features, appropriate improvements, sites, and areas within the city of Auburn that reflect special elements of the city's historical, architectural, cultural, economic or aesthetic heritage.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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