The Citizen's top 10 most-read stories during the month of February.
Owasco farm under investigation for worker living conditions
OWASCO — Nicole Catalfano said she wanted to cry.
Four adults and five children have been living in squalor on a dairy farm in Owasco since December, and Catalfano helped them pack up their belongings Friday and leave.
With temperatures dropping and a light sprinkle falling, young women and children carried out hampers and trash bags filled with food and clothes through the mud and to a van. A few baby calves looked out from their hutches at a nearby fenced-in area, while Melrose Farm owner Joe Tidd and his wife looked on, shaking their heads in disbelief.
The house for migrant workers on Melrose Road looks like a barn structure turned into living quarters. The bedroom ceilings are so low that most people can't stand up straight, and stained mattresses without bedding lay plopped on a dirty floor. The upstairs bedroom is a converted attic with sloping ceilings to an apex. Walls, ceilings and floors are made mostly from particle board, and mold and dirt cake the floors, carpet and cabinets. A sickly sweet manure and urine smell permeates the rooms, which have sheets covering the windows.
Tidd was issued a cease and desist order by the town of Owasco for housing workers, and the Workers Center of Central New York is helping the families file wage complaints with the state Department of Labor. The center, along with volunteers like Catalfano and others from local churches, assisted the families in moving out Friday.
They will be housed in a hotel for the short-term, but volunteers have found an apartment for the nine people, which they will move into soon.
Owasco Town Supervisor Ed Wagner said the Cayuga County Health Department, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, town code enforcement and other agencies are all investigating the farm. Wagner has seen photos of the migrant workers' living conditions and said they were horrible.
The town of Owasco has issued a cease-and-desist order to an Owasco farm regarding conditions inside a building where workers live.
"I think it will put an emphasis on other farms who are hiring this type of employment that they need to treat people fairly, and I wouldn't let my dog live in a situation like that," he said.
Meanwhile two workers are still living in a trailer adjacent to the house that the families were living in, said Rebecca Fuentes, lead organizer for the workers center. She said the trailer does not have hot water or septic.
Wagner said the cease and desist orders were filed around Feb. 10, and Tidd has 30 days to vacate the structures. Every day there are occupants, however, Tidd could be fined or receive jail time, Wagner added.
"He needs to close this and provide dignified housing for employees," Fuentes said. "Even if they don't charge rent, it's their responsibility to provide good housing."
Lady Mazariegos, one of the workers, spoke with The Citizen with Fuentes translating from Spanish to English. The 23-year-old said Tidd had not paid her all of her wages over the last couple of weeks. When she and her family arrived in December, she said the house was in terrible condition with lots of cockroaches, mice and rats running around, and a bad smell in the water.
The family was concerned about electrical wiring, too. It was not underground, and many light fixtures and sockets were exposed throughout the house. With young children living in the home, Fuentes said it was a very dangerous situation.
"Right now it's a little bit better, but when we came in it took about two days and two nights to clean it," Mazariegos said.
Tidd did not charge rent, but Mazariegos said if they had earned more, she would have been willing to pay.
Fuentes said there were other incidents with other workers prior, who had been fired at the farm for complaining about living conditions.
"Many times when they're working at the farm, they're very concerned about retaliation so they decide to just do it later or when they leave, put in complaints," she said. "In general it's very difficult for them, because they depend on housing for their jobs."
Marty Fefer, of Fleming, stood outside the farm to protest the conditions. He said he's been bringing food and clothing to workers on the farm for the past eight months.
Fefer said Tidd has also been discharging human waste into his farm's manure pit and spreading it on fields in the watershed, which Wagner confirmed. County Environmental Health Director Eileen O'Connor said her department was aware that the workers' housing did not have a septic system, and it issued a letter to Tidd requesting he install one.
Tidd said it was untrue that he was transferring human waste to his manure pit, and said he did have a septic system. O'Connor said she did not believe the health department had received a response from Tidd as of Friday.
Standing in the mud and watching the families move out Friday, Tidd appeared incredulous at the effort underway. Then he pointed up to the house with a gloved hand at an open window.
"The heat is on," he told a reporter from The Citizen. "That is constant. Constant."
He said there had been issues with this particular group of workers. On Wednesday, he said, he told them they could work until Friday, but they'd have to move out over the weekend. The families say they were told to get out right away.
Tidd said he has had multiple contacts with Owasco Code Enforcement Officer J. Patrick Doyle, and planned to address whatever needs to be addressed inside the house.
"I never ever deny we have to do something to the house," he said. "I get it. However, there are cows here, 350 cows that have to be milked three times a day."
Tidd said Dairy Farmers of America had conducted an animal welfare meeting at the farm earlier in the week and found the cows healthy and clean.
As far as the workers' wages, Tidd said they would come to the farm with the idea that "you got paid X." This group, he said, complained that they weren't getting enough hours. Finally, he said, he'd had enough and told them to leave by the weekend.
"They didn't like what we said, so here we are with all this demonstration," Tidd said.
Auburn hockey captures second Section III, Division II title with win over Clinton
SYRACUSE — The Maroons had the two most dangerous players on the ice and a goaltender to back them up.
That was the difference between winning a section title and losing it.
Auburn hockey captured the program’s second Section III, Division II crown with a 5-1 win over Clinton Monday at the Onondaga County War Memorial. The Maroons last won the section title in 2014 and made two other appearances in 1983 and 1989.
“It’s great for the group of guys we have,” Auburn coach Mike Lowe said. “These guys weren’t there the last time we won it. It’s a special group and we have some special talents. They’re special individuals that are working real hard. I know Clinton worked real hard too but I’m just really proud of the guys we have.
“It’s great for the community. There was great community support here today and it’s going to be fun back home.”
Jake Morin scored three goals for Auburn while Johnny Malandruccolo posted a pair of goals, including a shorthanded tally that ended up as the eventual game-winner. Malandruccolo also contributed one assist, while Austin Black and Aidan Hastings both added helpers.
Goalie Jack Kalabanka extended his stretch of strong play between the pipes. Kalabanka allowed the game’s first goal on a breakaway 3:54 into the game, but shut out Clinton the rest of the way.
He finished with 38 saves.
Auburn trailed 1-0 in the opening four minutes and nearly coughed up a second goal when the Warriors threw a shot on net from the corner that bounced off a Maroons defenseman and in the net, but the play was waved off by the referee as the net had come off its moorings.
The Maroons’ best chance came midway through the first when Malandruccolo slid a pass to a wide-open Morin beside the Clinton goal, but his shot was snared by the glove of Warriors goalie Brian Saunders.
“We weren’t worried after the first. We may have been down 1-0, but we had the offensive opportunities that we were looking to get,” Lowe said. “The goalie made a couple nice saves, but after the first period the kids knew it was only a matter of time. With the kids we have on our team, we can kind of play rope-a-dope a little bit.”
Morin wasn’t denied on his next great chance — with 5:21 left in the second period, the hulking center sped through open ice inside the Clinton blue line and wired a shot off the post and in to tie the score 1-1.
Less than four minutes later, Malandruccolo put Auburn ahead for the first time. With the Maroons killing a penalty, a bouncing puck eluded a Clinton defenseman in the Auburn zone, freeing up Malandruccolo for a breakaway and his five-hole shot was enough for a 2-1 advantage.
The Maroons came in waves in the third, starting with Malandruccolo’s second of the game on another breakaway 1:12 into the period.
“I’m just doing everything I can, looking everywhere and trying to score,” Malandruccolo said. “The first one I kind of lost (the puck) so I just did whatever at the end, but the second one I knew what I was doing.”
Auburn added two more goals in the next four minutes, both from Morin, to take a commanding 5-1 lead. Clinton peppered the Auburn net with 14 shots over the final 15 minutes, but Kalabanka was up to the task.
“Kalabanka played great,” Lowe said. “Clinton is a real hard team to play against. They’ll shoot from everywhere and anywhere, and then they come crashing in. … Very physical down low. Kalabanka knew that he had to focus 100 percent of the time. We just wanted to make sure our forwards and defense kept them to the outside. As long as we could limit them to that first shot from the outside and clear the front of the net, we thought we’d be in good shape.”
It helped the Maroons that they have Section III’s two leading scorers in Morin and Malandruccolo. The pair, who are linemates, combined for all five goals and an assist.
“It’s mainly him. He gets me the puck,” Morin said of Malandruccolo. “He’s doing the dirty work and I’m just in front ready to bury pucks. It’s a total team effort though, not just me and Johnny. It’s the defense, it’s all the forwards, it’s the whole team getting pumped up.”
Now the Maroons (15-6-2) move on to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association regionals, where they will take on Section X champion Ogdensburg Free Academy.
“They have some high-end forwards. I think the top two or three forwards in Section X play for OFA,” Lowe said. “We have to play our best game of the year Saturday to advance.”
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Inside the Schine: How the Auburn theater's prospective new owner will restore it
The effort to restore the Auburn Schine Theater may have more momentum behind it now than ever before.
It was 20 years ago in January that the Cayuga County Arts Council purchased the dilapidated South Street building in order to resurrect the art deco movie palace that opened there in 1938. The council started by replacing the building's leaky roof later that year and its distinct green and terracotta doors in 2007. But for the better part of the last decade, the project has stagnated.
It was also in January, however, that crews finished removing the source of that stagnation: the Schine's asbestos and other hazardous materials. With people now able to enter the building safely, and a recent $1.2 million grant from the state, the project once again has the room and the resources to move forward. It is expected to cost $6 million and conclude by October 2019.
Those estimates come from Bowers Development, of Syracuse, which has partnered with the arts council to restore the Schine — and plans to buy it.
The sale was facilitated by the city of Auburn. In June, the city allocated $800,000 from its Community Development Block Grant accounts to fund the removal of the Schine's hazardous materials. Office of Planning and Economic Development Director Jennifer Haines said Jan. 26 that the city allocated the money to attract a new private-sector owner who would move the project forward. Asked why the city wanted to do that, though, Haines declined further comment. Records suggest the council, a nonprofit, did not pay back a $13,434 loan from the city in the mid-2000s.
Per the city's wishes, the council initially planned to sell the Schine to Bowers. Later, the plan changed: The council would transfer ownership of the building to Schines Theater LLC, a company it would co-own with Bowers. But Feb. 2, board Chair Ed Onori said the council has learned it can't co-own an LLC with a private company without affecting its nonprofit status, leaving Bowers the sole owner of the LLC — and, if the sale happens, the Schine. Onori said the council would still advise Bowers on the restoration and retain a leadership role in the LLC, such as a seat on its board.
Regardless, any change in the Schine's ownership will require the approval of the state comptroller and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, plus a written opinion from the state attorney general. The requirement exists because the office holds a preservation covenant on the building until July 2036 due to grants it has awarded the council.
Onori said the council and Bowers are preparing their request for the office to approve the transfer of ownership. In an email, a representative of the office said only that it has guided the council and Bowers on submitting the request, and that when the office approves such transfers, the preservation covenant is "usually" transferred to the new owner.
Meanwhile, council communications Chair Michelle Milewski said in January that it's "working with the state authorities to lift the covenants. Although progress is being made nothing is finalized yet." She later added that the council has "no reason to believe" that the state will not approve the transfer. If the office doesn't approve it, she continued, "we will deal with any issues that arise." One issue would be the fate of the Schine's funds: The city allocated the $800,000 on the condition of Bowers' involvement, and Schines Theater LLC is the named recipient of the $1.2 million state grant.
Bowers Development President Bryan Bowers did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
However, The Citizen has obtained Bowers Development's plan to restore the Schine from the state historic preservation office through a Freedom of Information Law request. Consulting Bowers on the plan is Syracuse architect Crawford & Stearns, which has previously worked with the council on the project. The architect submitted the plan to the office for review in September.
In a Sept. 13 email to Crawford & Stearns architect Jonathan Carnes, also obtained through the FOIL request, Historic Site Restoration Coordinator Olivia Brazee responded to the plan: "We are very pleased to see a project that so appropriately adaptively reuses such a stellar example of an Art Deco movie palace. We anticipate that this will be a very successful project for Auburn."
Twenty years ago in January, the Cayuga County Arts Council purchased the Auburn Schine Theater in order to restore it.
In a Sept. 18 letter to Carnes, Brazee added, "It is SHPO’s opinion that the proposed undertaking will have No Adverse Effect on historic resources."
The 10-page plan is part two of a Historic Preservation Certification Application. It details the current status of every part of the Schine, stage to ceiling, as well as the work Bowers is proposing for it. The prefix "re-" appears throughout: In short, Bowers plans to restore what it can and recreate what it can't by referring to period photos and architect John Eberson's original drawings.
For instance, those who walk through the Schine's doors will see the historic paint scheme and finishes restored to the main lobby, which Crawford & Stearns called "the most intact space" in the building. The mezzanine lounge will be used as a bar and concession area, and the lower lounge, once filled with feet of water, will have its tile, molding and other features repaired or replicated.
The auditorium will be reopened to the lobby with the removal of the storage rooms and raised floor that were built under the balcony in 1980, the year the theater ceased to be the Auburn Music Hall and reopened as Charlie's Night Club. Gating access to the auditorium, atop a new leveled floor, will be automatic sliding glass doors.
The auditorium's historic ceiling and decorative features will return with new plaster-like finishes that mimic the originals. Decorative paint will be matched to salvaged samples, and surviving features like the faux balconies will be "carefully documented to allow for molding in either cast plaster or fiberglass," the plan says. The sound-absorbing auditorium wall system will also be "reconstructed and covered with period-appropriate fabric of similar characteristics and appearance." And the walls' signature shooting stars and other celestial imagery will return, Onori said.
The stage, where much of the building's water damage was concentrated, will be rebuilt with a new curved extension. Bowers' plan says the extension will cover the orchestra pit, its curvature following the pit's shape, but Onori said it has yet to be decided whether there will be a pit. The 15-foot stage extension and raised floor that were added in 1981 have been removed.
Seating, meanwhile, will be different. The Schine's rows of 1,700 fixed seats were removed along with its hazardous materials. In order to make the auditorium able to host not just artistic events but weddings, conventions and more, the angled section of its floor will be remodeled into three tiered platforms. Pipe railings will be installed at their transitions, steps and ramps. On those tiers, Onori said, will be movable tables and chairs that can be set up like a banquet hall, rowed or removed from the floor altogether, depending on what's taking place at the theater.
Balcony seating could be the same tiered setup, fixed rows like before or a combination, Onori said. In case the rows are rebuilt, he added, one seat and several end caps were saved for reference.
Onori also said the capacity of the restored Schine has yet to be determined because it is subject to inspection by the city's Code Enforcement Office. But 1,200 is an "unofficial target," he said. Milewski added that the capacity may decrease from the theater's heyday because its new seats will have to be "accessible and accommodating for the entire public."
While the new auditorium will be able to host movies, live music and other events artistic and non, it's unclear from Bowers' plan whether the restored Schine will be able to accommodate professional theater. In 2010, the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's then-producing artistic director, Ed Sayles, outlined several reasons the festival couldn't program at the building. Among them were its lack of space for a dock to load sets, its lack of a fly system to maneuver those sets, and its lack of space to house such a system without raising its ceiling.
Onori responded by saying the first priority for the council and Bowers is reopening the Schine so it can make money, which means "trying to see how we can accommodate people who want to use the space." The festival's current producing artistic director, Brett Smock, is not presently one of them: Smock told The Citizen last year that the venue is too big for the festival to program there.
Whatever graces the Schine's marquee in October 2019, the words could also look a little different than they did in 1938. Bowers plans to restore the structure's sign panels and metal trim, and "replace missing and/or heavily damaged components with new (ones) to match originals." Hanged letters will once again tout events on the section facing South Street, Onori said, but LED signs will be installed on the two sections facing the sidewalk. Bowers will also use Eberson's drawings to replicate and reinstall the vertical blade sign that was removed in 1970 "if funds allow."
For now, though, the Schine has been stripped to its brick and ironwork. Removing its hazardous materials meant removing the withered remains of the shooting stars on its auditorium walls and other defining characteristics of the art deco theater. But Milewski reassured those who saw the bare structure in January and felt worried about the fate of the historic building.
"The structure of the building is intact, and the original ironwork that held many of the details of the theater that made it so unique are still in place," she said.
And if the Schine does reopen after 20 years of anticipation in October 2019, it won't be exactly the same theater where people saw "Planet of the Apes" or "Star Wars" decades ago. Its rowed seats may be gone and the words on its marquee may be digital. But the state historic preservation office won't allow anything less than a faithful restoration, Milewski said.
"The theater has to have the same 'wow factor' or ambiance when you walk in that it did 80 years ago," she said.
Newest NY casino: Resorts World Catskills opens in Sullivan County
The newest casino in New York, a $1.2 billion project in the Catskills, opened its doors Thursday.
Resorts World Casino & Resort is the fourth state-approved casino to open since December 2016. There are three other commercial, non-Indian casinos in New York: del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County; Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady; and Tioga Downs Casino in Nichols, Tioga County.
The project was spearheaded by Empire Resorts, which also operates Monticello Casino & Raceway in Sullivan County.
"Today marks an exciting new era for us," said Ryan Eller, president and CEO of Empire Resorts.
The casino's 100,000-square-foot gaming floor has 2,151 slot machines, 150 table games and a poker room. There is 27,000 square feet of entertainment and meeting space at the venue.
There are a handful of dining options for customers. Cellaio, a restaurant operated by celebrity chef Scott Conant, will offer an Italian-style steakhouse menu. Two Asian restaurants are located within the casino: Good Friends Market, which will offer Asian "grab-and-go" cuisine, and Lotus, a more upscale restaurant.
Bar 360, Empire Lounge and The Doubletop Bar and Grill round out the casino's restaurant lineup.
Resorts World Catskills has a hotel with 336 all-suite rooms. Another hotel with 324 rooms, an indoor water park and spa will open next year. A renovated golf course will be part of the final project.
The casino has 1,500 employees and will add 600 more when the entertainment venue, golf course and water park open next year.
"Resorts World Casino will be a destination with a variety of gaming, entertainment and dining options for tourists near and far that will boost the region and the entire state," said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who attended the grand opening ceremony Thursday.
Resorts World opens as there are questions about the long-term viability of the non-Indian casinos in New York. Del Lago, which opened in the Finger Lakes region last year, fell $100 million short of its revenue projections. Rivers and Tioga Downs also didn't meet revenue projections outlined in their gaming license applications.
But officials are optimistic about the fate of Resorts World. State Sen. John Bonacic, who represents the Catskills, called the opening of the casino "an exciting new chapter" for the region.
"Resorts World Catskills' casino resort campus is a true destination that will deliver untold opportunities for the Catskills and we're incredibly optimistic for its future," he said.
Driver arrested after car crashes into Famous Footwear store in Auburn
An Auburn man was arrested Tuesday night after crashing his car into the Famous Footwear store in Auburn, police said.
Joshua LaClair, 31, of 19 Frazee St., was charged with second-degree unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor, and leaving the scene of an accident, a violation.
Auburn Deputy Police Chief Roger Anthony said police responded to the accident at 9:13 p.m. Upon arrival, officers discovered LaClair had crashed his four-door Pontiac sedan into the store at 217 Grant Ave. No one was injured.
The Auburn Fire Department, Auburn City Ambulance and Auburn Code Enforcement Office were also called to the scene. Assistant Fire Chief Bill DiFabio said approximately 30 feet of the storefront was taken out in the crash. However, he said there did not appear to be any structural damage to the building.
Following the crash, Anthony said LaClair fled the scene on foot, leaving an adult female passenger in the car. LaClair was located a short time later and taken to Cayuga County Jail on a violation of probation bench warrant out of Auburn City Court.
LaClair was convicted of third-degree grand larceny, third-degree welfare fraud and misuse of food stamps in 2012 and sentenced to four months of weekends in jail and five years probation. Anthony said LaClair's license had also been suspended for driving while ability impaired and failure to pay a fine. Although the cause of the crash was unclear, the deputy chief said there was no evidence of intoxication Tuesday night.
LaClair was issued an appearance ticket and told to appear in court Feb. 23.
Inside the Schine: Auburn theater's sustainability is a $6 million question
Twenty years ago in January, the Cayuga County Arts Council purchased the Auburn Schine Theater in order to restore it.
A less frequently asked question, however, has been why — why restore the Schine? Or, asked another way: Can a 1938 art deco theater be sustained in 21st century Auburn? Can it present enough movies, performing arts and other events, and draw enough people to them, to meet the cost of opening and operating it? Or will its star just fade once again?
The arts council, which seeks to sell the Schine to Bowers Development, of Syracuse, has proposed an all-purpose approach to programming at the theater. Council communications Chair Michelle Milewski said that when the Schine reopens — Bowers has estimated October 2019 — it will indeed screen movies and stage live music, theater, dance, comedy and other performing arts.
One specific possibility Milewski mentioned was showing the older movies that might have appeared on the marquee of the theater during its heyday. And if those nostalgic audiences are too small for the 1,000-plus seat auditorium, Bowers has devised a way to accommodate them: a roll-down projection screen, mounted over the middle of the auditorium floor, for balcony-only viewing events.
The screen is part of Bowers' plan to restore the Schine, which it filed with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in September. The Citizen obtained a copy of the plan from the office through a Freedom of Information Law request. Bowers Development President Bryan Bowers did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
To make the restored Schine versatile enough for the all-purpose approach, Bowers plans to reopen it with a flexible floor plan. The floor will no longer be angled but tiered, and atop the section surrounding the stage and the raised sections leading back to the lobby will be loose clusters of tables and chairs. While a banquet-style seating arrangement might be ideal for stand-up comedy, for instance, Milewski said the chairs can just as easily be rowed for movies or theater, or removed from the floor for concerts with younger audiences.
There'd be no shortage of local artists to program at the Schine, such as the Auburn Players Community Theatre, the Auburn Chamber Orchestra and Kaleidoscope Dance Theatre. Milewski said it'd be "premature" to say whether they will, but "nothing is off the table." The Schine could vie for those artists with venues like the Fingerlakes Mall Event Center, the theater at Cayuga Community College (500 seats) and the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's new West End Theater at the former West Middle School (650). But Milewski believes the downtown space is a unique draw.
"Schines will offer a large, restored venue with a long history of providing entertainment in the community," she said. "Local nostalgia is definitely a factor."
However, artistic events are not the only kind the council and Bowers hope to host at the restored Schine. Milewski said the theater's size and historic character will also position it to attract weddings, conventions and other large gatherings. The building's new capacity won't be established until its code inspection, but it once held 1,700 seats on its floor and balcony. That should place it safely above other spaces in the area, Milewski said, such as the Hilton Garden Inn (275), Euterpe Hall (350), the Holiday Inn (500) and the Emerson Park Pavilion (400 seating, 1,000 standing).
Milewski said the council and Bowers do not have a formal sustainability plan for the Schine that is up to date. Plans were previously commissioned in 1993 and 2001. But the resurgence of downtown Auburn's arts and culture scene in recent years is cause for optimism, she continued. Whether it's arts institutions like Auburn Public Theater and the musical theater festival, or restaurants like Mesa Grande Taqueria and Prison City Pub & Brewery, the success of that scene will only invite more, Milewski said.
"We're operating on a 'rising tide' theory for all the theaters," she said. "We're just hoping that with another theater in town, a rising tide floats all boats."
The Schine's 2001 sustainability plan was not available. But the 1993 plan, commissioned from Chicago architect Daniel Coffey, outlined an approach similar to the one the council and Bowers are taking. Coffey said the restored theater should have "maximum flexibility for a wide variety of arts, entertainment and business uses for the Auburn community. In other words, the facility should become the 'Schines Theater Community Center.'" With 200 arts events and 50 other events annually, it could have an economic impact of more than $1 million on the Auburn area, Coffey projected.
But Coffey's plan hinged upon a "preferred" manager and tenant for the theater: The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, now known as the musical theater festival. To that end, the architect suggested a configuration of 612 seats. Many of them would retract into a "storage pocket" — aligned with the edge of the theater's mezzanine level — when other events require an open floor, he proposed.
Coffey suggested the smaller house to stay proportional to the size of the festival, which seats 501 at its Owasco playhouse. The new downtown theater the festival planned until 2014, the Schwartz Family Performing Arts Center, would have seated 384 had it been built. But without an arrangement like Coffey's, the Schine's auditorium dwarfs the festival's audience. Speaking to The Citizen last year, Producing Artistic Director Brett Smock said the Schine's size is why he currently has no plans to produce shows at the theater despite continued overtures from the arts council and others.
That may not be the only reason the festival has stayed away from the Schine, though. Smock's predecessor, Ed Sayles, wrote in a 2011 letter in The Citizen that the building lacks, among other amenities, the space for a loading dock and a fly system. Both would be necessary to mount the sets and other equipment used by professional theater companies like the festival, Sayles said. Asked Feb. 2 whether the theater's restoration would address Sayles' concerns, arts council board Chair Ed Onori said, "We're trying to see how we can accommodate people who want to use the space."
Coffey's plan had addressed one of Sayles' concerns, calling the loading dock "ample." But in the 25 years since his plan was commissioned, much that would affect the Schine's sustainability has changed, namely market conditions and the way people consume live entertainment. Maybe the most significant of those changes was the 2005 opening of Auburn Public Theater.
Located less than a block away from the Schine on Exchange Street, the venue shares the same artistic scope of film, live music, theater, comedy and more. It doesn't share the same scale — Auburn Public Theater's cinema seats 65, its theater 200 and its Stage Right space 100, which Milewski called "a substantial size difference" from the Schine.
But Auburn Public Theater's effect on the artistic landscape downtown has been sizable enough that the council had to re-evaluate the Schine's sustainability plan, then-arts council board Chair Jim Loperfido said in 2015. And that was before Auburn Public Theater announced a $1.2 million expansion that will include a café and 12,000 square feet of community event space in its basement.
Regionally, a restored Schine could also compete for programming with other historic theaters of similar size, such as The Landmark Theatre in Syracuse (30 miles away), The Smith Opera House in Geneva (30 miles) and The State Theatre of Ithaca (40 miles). In his plan, Coffey said the proximity of Syracuse's performing arts venues could limit the Schine's reach to the Auburn area.
"Audiences rarely travel to smaller markets than their own home market for events," the plan says. "It is safe to assume that Syracuse attenders would not travel to Auburn for a theatrical event."
But Coffey could have been wrong, or his words could now be dated. Smith Opera House Executive Director Susie Monagan said that when the theater hosted legendary musician Steve Earle in December, for instance, only 57 of the 1,000-plus people in attendance were from Geneva. She said patrons commonly drive from as far as Buffalo for events at The Smith.
Monagan attributed the theater's pull to not just the performers it books, but the "incredible draw" of Geneva's food and craft beverage scene. Monagan described those audiences as "cultural tourists." And they could be swayed toward the Schine by downtown Auburn's own scene, which boasts the award-winning Prison City brewpub, among several other producers in the area.
Like the Schine, the 1,400-seat Smith is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and underwent a major restoration project in the '90s. It has taken a similar approach to programming as the one the Schine is eyeing by also booking weddings and other non-artistic events, including corporate meetings, political debates and Geneva High School's graduation, Monagan said.
"They're nice. The production costs are so low that we make a little money, but what's even better is that they keep my people employed," she said. "They keep them busy and paid."
Monagan said The Smith's operating entity, the nonprofit Smith Center for the Arts, sustains itself and its staff of about eight through a combination of earned (ticket and concession sales) and unearned income (fundraising). The center is working to grow the unearned portion to 40 percent, which is "going to come from homegrown sources — people who have an attachment and affection for the place," she continued. Auburnians have those same sentiments for the Schine, but it remains to be seen whether they'll translate into financial support for private ownership in Bowers.
The effort to restore the Auburn Schine Theater may have more momentum behind it now than ever before.
Earned income, meanwhile, is mostly made from concessions and merchandise, Monagan said. Bowers' restoration plan calls for a service bar and concession area in the Schine's mezzanine lounge.
"No one makes money from tickets," Monagan said. "You hope you can get 1,000 people into your space and they each have a drink."
Eating up the ticket sales are the performers, Monagan continued. Touring talent is often booked through promoters like Dan Smalls, who brings music to The Smith, The State Theatre of Ithaca and several other regional stages. Smalls also works with Auburn Public Theater to land some of its bigger musical names, such as Chris Smither in April and David Bromberg in July.
But the Schine could set itself apart by targeting musical performers Dan Smalls Presents doesn't. At del Lago Resort & Casino, for instance, "We haven't seen a lot there that we'd say, 'Oh dang,'" Monagan said. Outside of Trombone Shorty, which "would have been a great Smith show," she continued, the Tyre casino tends to cater to older and more mainstream audiences.
Onori said the council still has to sit down with Bowers to work out its "master plan" for booking such performers at the Schine. Hiring a promoter like Dan Smalls Presents is an option, he continued.
However, with the Landmark, Smith and State theaters less than an hour away, the Schine could have difficulty locking up a musician, comedian or other act sought by just one of those other venues. Kathleen Eads, executive director of the Reg Lenna Center for The Arts in Jamestown, said touring performers generally separate their stops by at least 75 miles.
"No agent in their right mind would put the same thing in all those areas," she said.
In Chautauqua County, the 1,269-seat Reg Lenna is no geographic threat to the Schine. But demographically, it may be a guide. Jamestown's population is 30,000 to Auburn's 27,000, and Eads said the area shares a "significant portion" of residents who winter in Florida. The former movie palace also underwent its own restoration, in 1989, and later absorbed Chautauqua County's arts council.
In the time since the Reg Lenna reopened, Eads said, programming such venues has changed. She presents six artistic events and 50 movies annually while renting the theater for weddings and other uses. But simply selling tickets and collecting grant money is no longer a sustainable model, she continued. As home entertainment options multiply, subscribing to seasons and owning seats has given way to single-ticket sales and last-minute purchases. That's why venues like the Reg Lenna — and the Schine — have to be as versatile as possible to survive, she said.
"You just can't be a theater anymore if you're going to be successful and sustainable," she said. "You have to utilize every square foot that you have in whatever creative ways you can."
Sheriff: Auburn woman struck by car, killed in Onondaga County
A 26-year-old Auburn woman was struck by a car and killed in the town of Cicero, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office said.
According to a press release, Heather Lardeo had been driving north on Route 298 Thursday evening when her 1994 Ford Ranger pickup truck crashed into a ditch. After walking to a nearby business to seek help, Lardeo was struck by multiple vehicles as she returned to her truck on Route 298.
The sheriff's office said members of the Cicero Police Department and sheriff's deputies initially responded to the area of Route 298 near East Taft Road at around 5:23 p.m. for a disabled motor vehicle complaint. However, first responders found that Lardeo had exited the disabled vehicle and had been struck.
Lardeo was pronounced dead at the scene.
Deputies said it was not clear why Lardeo's truck ended up in the ditch. The cause of the accident remained under investigation Friday, and no tickets had been issued.
Cayuga Centers to cut 120 jobs in Auburn, close residential treatment program
Cayuga Centers is closing its residential treatment program in Auburn and cutting about 120 staff members, according to a press release issued Thursday.
The organization's board of trustees made the decision to end its residential services on Wednesday. The program has lost more than $2 million since July, President and CEO Edward Hayes said.
Records show the program served 147 children from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, but as of Thursday, just 14 were left in the program, Hayes said.
Hayes said he is working with the respective counties where the children are from to get them placed in other housing. They will have 90 days to get placed, and staff will have 90 days before the program officially closes.
Auburn Enlarged City School District operates a school on the Cayuga Centers campus for those children, but Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said Cayuga Centers had not notified him of the closure. He had found out through a district staff member at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, he said, and he emailed Hayes to confirm that the news was true. Hayes responded that it was, and Pirozzolo said he is planning to meet with staff and the school board early next week.
The district employs 19 people in the school, and Pirozzolo said he does not see being able to save all of those positions. The positions include teachers, aids and administrative staff.
About two weeks ago the school was serving about 24 children, Pirozzolo said, adding that Cayuga Centers had told him it was hoping to have 30 children in the school by March 1. He did not know that only 14 remained.
"It's very unfortunate with the closure and the impact and the effect that it has had not only at Cayuga Centers, but the school district and the community as well," he said. "We've been in partnerships with Cayuga Centers for over 20 years, and it's unfortunate to hear this information third-hand, and not directly from Cayuga Centers leadership and board."
The positions Cayuga Centers is cutting include group care workers, unit managers, assistant managers, clinicians, case planners, maintenance and kitchen staff, Hayes said. There are also some cuts in human resources and in the administration that had supported the residential treatment center in different ways.
"Trustees and senior staff members deeply regret having to lay off so many excellent people," said David Connelly, chair of the board, in a release. "They have been working extraordinarily hard, heart and soul, trying to make our residential program work under increasingly difficult circumstances. It grieves us to have to let them go."
Because of the program's residential neighborhood location, "it experienced increasing difficulty attracting youths appropriate for the setting. It has declined to accept sexual offenders, for instance," the release said.
Tax records show that the residential treatment program, which has been part of Cayuga Centers since the 1950s, has 53 beds in four housing units licensed by the state Office of Children and Family Services. Three homes are located on Hamilton Avenue. Two can serve 15 people each, and can be single-gender or co-ed. The third housing unit is a 10-bed facility for girls. The fourth home is located on Franklin Street and can serve 13 youth. It is a co-ed facility.
The girls-only unit received children referred from OCFS and the other three units accepted children from various counties' social services departments. Hayes said children came from all over the state.
When asked about the future of the houses the center owns, Hayes said "no future decisions or announcements are pending at this point."
Hayes added that changes to youth services also instigated the closure decision. The agency is focusing on foster care services that he said "produce wonderful outcomes at much lower cost than congregate care placement."
Cayuga Centers continues to operate all its other programs in its nine locations in upstate New York, in addition to New York City, Palm Beach County, Florida, and Delaware, according to the release. About 734 positions remain in the agency, of which Hayes said between 150 and 200 are in Auburn.
OCFS said it was notified of the organization's decision to shut down the residential treatment center.
"The program closure was a business decision made by Cayuga Center's board and was not prompted by an OCFS corrective action plan," the office said in a statement to The Citizen. "Youth in their care who are ready to leave the program will be discharged to their homes. The remaining youth will be transferred to other residential programs with OCFS oversight of the placements."
Auburn Plaza welcoming new tenant from down Grant Avenue, relocating another
Auburn Plaza will be the sight of some movement in the coming months as it welcomes a tenant from Grant Avenue and relocates another.
LZ Army Navy will move to the plaza from its current location at 393 Grant Ave. in Sennett. The new store will be located where GJP Italian Eatery was, and its grand reopening is scheduled for May 1.
Store manager Dawn Baker said Thursday that LZ is moving because it has outgrown its current location. Opened by veteran Ed King more than 25 years ago, the store sells military replicas and artifacts, as well as tactical and camping gear, boots, emergency supplies and more. Baker said the new store will be at least twice the size of the current one.
"It's like I'm in a little mouse maze right now," she said. "It's going to be easier for everyone all the way around."
Meanwhile, current Auburn Plaza tenant Rent-A-Center is moving from its current location in the middle of the plaza to the former site of Hong Kong Buffet.
Michael Wachs, of plaza owner Auburn Associates, said Thursday that the rent-to-own business will go from a 3,600-square-foot space to a 5,000-square-foot one. Wachs added that the new Rent-A-Center will be "the most current prototype" location for the Plano, Texas-based company, which also has a downtown Auburn location at 85-89 Genesee St.
Rent-A-Center has been in Auburn Plaza since before Auburn Associates purchased it in 1999, Wachs said.
"It's a real upgrade, a real recommitment," he said.
Wachs said Auburn Associates does not currently have anything to announce regarding the space Rent-A-Center will be vacating. In November, the Auburn Code Enforcement Office issued a permit for an illuminated sign for Harbor Freight Tools, a California-based discount tool and equipment retailer, at Auburn Plaza. Wachs declined comment on the permit.
Wachs said the former Rent-A-Center will be the only empty space at the plaza and Grant Avenue Plaza, which Auburn Associates also owns. He also revealed that Metro Mattress, located in an Auburn Plaza outparcel across from McDonald's, extended its lease for 10 years this week and will remodel the space. The mattress retailer is based in Syracuse.
State police: Stranger attempted to pick up 9-year-old girl in Moravia
New York State Police have opened an investigation in Moravia after a 9-year-old girl reported that a man she didn't know offered her a ride.
Police said the girl was walking in front of Moravia High School on South Main Street at about 11:45 a.m. Monday when a man stopped his car and asked if she wanted a ride. The girl was reportedly walking to a babysitter's house nearby.
Troopers said the man was in a light gray car and did not attempt to make physical contact with the girl. The girl was not harmed and continued walking to her babysitter's house where she reported what happened.
Police are still investigating, but said it seemed to be an isolated incident. In a statement Thursday, troopers reminded parents to "educate children on personal safety and stranger danger."
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact state police in Auburn at (315) 255-2767.