February 06, 2007

Morning fire engulfs ski shop

Fire Ski

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Firefighters battle both the blaze and temperature at Tully Lakes Ski Shop this morning. There were no injuries, but three families living adjacent to the fire had to evacuate.

Staff Reporter

TULLY — The Tully Lakes Ski Shop was heavily damaged by fire this morning, closing off Clinton Street between its intersections with State Street and Grove Street as firefighters fought the blaze in blistering cold.
The Tully Fire Department received the alarm for a possible structure fire at approximately 7 a.m., said Chief Jeff Rothery. Firefighters arrived to find smoke pouring from under the eaves of the two-story Tully Lakes Ski Shop at 8 Clinton St.
Within five minutes, Rothery said flames had begun to lick out of the building.
The owner of the ski shop, Hilarie Zani, lived on the second floor of the building and Rothery said she was already outside the building when the fire department arrived.
No one was injured in the fire, but three families living next to the ski shop were evacuated as dozens of firefighters battled the blaze.
In addition to the Tully Fire Department, the DeWitt, LaFayette, Fabius and Nedrow fire departments responded to the scene, with Preble and Homer fire departments on standby.
By 8:15 a.m., thick clouds of dark gray smoke billowed from the light beige building, flames licking out of the eaves as ladder trucks from Nedrow and DeWitt poured water into the windows steadily.
When the visible flames picked up in strength, the ladders inundated the second floor and soon the ski shop was engulfed in a torrent of smoke and steam.
Fire and streams of water punched holes in the siding and the dark interior was visible when the smoke thinned out again.
Shingles and a chimney were knocked off the roof as the firefighters continued to drench the building.
Although Tully has a fire hydrant system, Rothery said tankers were necessary, and that the single-digit temperatures complicated the firefighting by freezing the equipment.
The street was sheathed in a combination of ice, slush and very cold water, and one firefighter slipped as he unbuckled his helmet. The uniforms of many appeared stiff from a coating of ice.
The Tully Central School District’s bus garage had donated a full-size bus for the firefighters to warm up in, and the basement of the HSBC Bank across the street from the ski shop was also pressed into use as a warm-up and coffee station.
“Right now, everybody’s OK except for a few cold toes,” Rothery told the news media.
The building is in “rough shape,” Rothery said, and although he hopes the ski shop would reopen, he had yet to speak with its owner as of 9:30 a.m.
The fire’s cause and point of origin had yet to be identified.
Standing across the intersection of Clinton and Warren streets, State Street resident Marty Hilfinger watched the commotion.
“I just hope that everybody’s alright, but I mean, that building is 120 years old,” Hilfinger said of the ski shop, which had a sign stating it had been built circa 1865. “It’s a shame. If these small towns just keep losing their old buildings, there’s going to be nothing left.”



Riverside Plaza could have new owner after foreclosure

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A mortgage company has filed a foreclosure action against the company that owns the Riverside Plaza for falling behind on payments on a $4.5 million mortgage.
Steve Newman, a New York City-based lawyer who is representing the mortgage company — Chase Commercial Mortgage Securities Corp. — said if the action goes as planned, in another few months another company will take over ownership of the plaza.
The company that has defaulted on its loan is 81 and 13 Cortland Associates, a limited partnership set up by the Bella Vista Group, based just outside of Buffalo, to own the plaza.
The Bella Vista Group manages the plaza, said Joe Cipolla, head of commercial property management for the Bella Vista Group.
Paul Yaman is listed in the action because he has a lien on the property, Cipolla said.
Cipolla said Yaman did roof repair for the Bella Vista Group as an independent contractor. He said Yaman filed a lien against the company because the company has not paid him $8,000 it owes him.
Until the foreclosure action is complete, another company will collect rents from tenants at the plaza. State Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey appointed William Colucci, director of the Syracuse-based Pyramid Brokerage Co., to serve as receiver at the plaza.
“A receiver’s job is to watch over the property and manage the property so that the shopping center is well taken care of and the rents are properly taken care of,” Newman said.
Several tenants said on Monday that they had been hand-delivered materials from Colucci explaining his new role.
Newman said Colucci has filed a $100,000 bond with the Supreme Court to ensure he fulfills his duties as receiver. He said the Bella Vista Group is liable for any payments Colucci should receive for his work.
Colucci was not available for comment Monday or this morning.
Cipolla said the Bella Vista Group intends to continue as owner of the plaza.
“Our intent has always been to struggle and maintain the shopping center as best we can,” he said.
Cipolla said the Bella Vista Group is working on doing one of three things: paying the Chase Commercial Mortgage Securities Corp. the money it owes, negotiating with the mortgage company or terminating the foreclosure and getting an alternate lender so it can continue as the owner of the plaza.
Cipolla said his father’s wife, Bonnie Ripper, has presented the Cortland County Empire Zone Development Board with an extensive marketing plan for the plaza, which includes proposing that two county services — the Department of Motor Vehicles and a combined public health and mental health office — move into the Riverside Plaza, he said.
“We’ve offered several options to the city and county for the relocation of vital services they’re trying to relocate,” he said.
Ripper said this morning other options include bringing a new big box retailer to the plaza that will attract other stores and having a convention center or hotel built inside the plaza.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency, said she thinks the foreclosure action is pressuring the Bella Vista Group to better market the plaza.
“It gives them the incentive to work harder,” she said.


Fallout from county land deal uncertain

2 houses are put on the market

Staff Reporter

Two of the six property owners involved in the county’s controversial land acquisition along south Main Street — apparently accepting the Legislature’s Jan. 25 decision to opt out of agreements to purchase their property — have put those properties back on the market.
After initially voting to purchase nine parcels totaling 2.46-acres for $894,000 in December to build a public health facility on south Main Street, the Legislature rescinded the original resolution in a Jan. 25 re-vote.
Now Cummins Real Estate has put property at 6 Randall St., owned by Steve Lissberger, on the market with an asking price of $80,000, while the adjacent property at 8 Randall St., owned by Annamaria Maniaci, has been listed for $104,900 by Cinquanti Real Estate.
The county had originally agreed to pay $73,000 for Lissberger’s property, and $96,000 for Maniaci’s, which, according to Steve Cinquanti, already has a buyer, pending closing.
Lissberger on Monday declined comment aside from verifying that the property is for sale. He bought the house for $55,000 in March 2006, according to the Cortland County Real Property Tax Services office.
Maniaci could not be reached for comment. She has owned the house since January 2004 when her parents gave it to her, according to Real Property Tax Services.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the other four property owners involved in the deal have maintained that the county’s initial decision in December to purchase the properties represents a contractual agreement, and have either submitted, or are in the process of submitting closing papers for the properties.
How the county will respond to these requests remains unclear.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel this morning declined comment, but  Friday he said he would be open to discussion with attorneys for the other property owners. Van Donsel said at the time that he felt the county’s reconsideration of its original vote was within its bounds.
“They have the ability to reconsider any action they take until the next meeting — that’s a protection every municipality has to reserve so that if anything comes up afterwards, they can go back and reconsider,” Van Donsel said.
After this morning’s county Highway Committee meeting, Van Donsel met in a closed-door session with the Republican caucus.
While Van Donsel would only say that the meeting was to discuss legal issues, Minority Leader Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) said the discussion was related to the failed health building project.
Van Donsel said he would offer a similar opportunity for the Democratic caucus.


Blogosphere gives rise to present-day penny presses

Dryden blogger, others give readers alternative source of varied local information

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Simon St. Laurent felt Dryden was not connected. People didn’t know what was going on around town.
So he created a blog fully devoted to Dryden.
“I’m just trying to build connections,” St. Laurent said.
St. Laurent, 36, of Dryden, is among a growing number of local bloggers — or people with a user-generated Web site where entries are made in journal style and displayed in reverse chronological order — who write about a certain topic that is important to them.
While the bloggers say they do not consider themselves journalists, as they mostly rely on news that has already been reported, they are like journalists in a sense, providing their readers with new information almost every day, interacting with their readers and serving as watchdogs.
St. Laurent’s blog, which he started three years ago, is called “Living in Dryden,” at
St. Laurent said he updates his blog every day but Sunday, either early in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening. He spends anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours a day updating his blog, and the work is compatible with his job, he said.
“I edit computer books,” he said. “So I work at home. The books I edit are on Web development so (blogging) wasn’t very hard to do.”
St. Laurent said he thinks he gets about 300 to 400 readers a day, and that he has received a few hundred comments from community residents since he started the blog.
He has never received any revenue for his work, though he did receive a free orchid once.
Mary Ann Sumner, a Freeville blogger who is a Dryden Town Board member, said she also gets feedback about her blogs — Dryden Democrats at and Five Wells at
Some people are her friends, while others she has never met, she said. One woman sought her help when trying to decide if she should move to Dryden, she said.
“I met someone who lives in that part of New York state west of the Hudson,” she said. “She was thinking of moving, and we were corresponding.”
Eight percent of Internet users, or about 12 million American adults, keep a blog, according to a July 2006 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. About 57 million Americans, or 39 percent of Internet users, read blogs, the survey found, up from 17 percent in a similar February 2004 study by the Pew project.
Sumner said she started Five Wells several years ago to practice her writing, while she started Dryden Democrats to help her party in the 2005 town election races and to disseminate local news.
People need more ways of getting local news, she said.
“It’s really hard to get local news,” she said. “People get national news on TV, and they don’t read the paper that much anymore, and other than publishing a newsletter this is the way to do it,” she said.
Frank Hogg, of Preble, started blogging in 2000 to get local news out to his neighbors. He was specifically concerned with educating them about the proposal to build a Flying J truck stop in Preble.
He said the facts he provided spoke for themselves: The Flying J would not benefit the Preble community.
“Economically it would have been a disaster,” Hogg said.


Cortland Transit is updating its bus fleet

First of seven new buses now in use; next bus expected sometime in May

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Public Transit System is upgrading its fleet, and the first of seven new buses — all of which will be emblazoned with a new logo and new color scheme — has been placed on a regular fixed route.
The 24-passenger bus, manufactured by International Transit, was put into service about two months ago, said Cortland Transit General Manager Sandra Perry.
The bus is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
First Transit, Inc. has been under contract to operate the county’s public transit since 2003.
The county Planning Department had applied for the funding for the new buses, but department director Dan Dineen was unavailable for comment late Tuesday morning.
The first bus, which cost $100,378, and the other six that are on the way, are being purchased with funding from the federal and state governments. Perry said that she expects the next vehicle to be delivered some time in May and put into use shortly thereafter.
The Federal Transit Administration provided 80 percent of the funding, with the state Department of Transportation footing 10 percent of the bill and First Transit Inc., which operates Cortland Transit, paying for the county’s 10 percent share of the cost.
All of the vehicles in the current fleet are wheelchair accessible, Perry said, but won’t receive the new color scheme and design.