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Lewis County Legislature chairman defends bowling alley purchase (VIDEO)

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LOWVILLE — In a news conference called Thursday afternoon to set the record straight on events leading up to the county’s purchase of Lewis Lanes, Legislative Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, said the move was prompted by a failed attempt to purchase Lowville Commons and was recommended by Buildings and Grounds Committee Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, who later voted against it.

Mr. Tabolt read from a prepared timeline that detailed how, within two days, the Board of Legislators went from attempting to purchase one building to making a million-dollar offer on a different building that never was listed for sale, and how four days after that, a contract was signed.

“On Oct. 22, the county’s offer to pursue the purchase of the Commons was rejected,” Mr. Tabolt said. “That same afternoon, I received a call from the owners of Lewis Lanes, asking if Lewis County would be interested in purchasing their property.”

Mr. Tabolt said the owners requested no publicity.

“If the agreed offer was turned down by the board, then they’d go on as if nothing happened,” he said. “They were just extremely nervous if word got out that we didn’t want the place, that it would ruin their business.”

The following day, Wednesday, Mr. Tabolt said, he notified the Buildings and Grounds Committee.

Thursday, that committee, which consists of Mr. Bush; Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, and Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, and other legislators met at the bowling alley to view the property.

When the committee was asked for a recommendation, Mr. Bush and Mr. Hathway said they would support the purchase, while Mr. King was opposed.

“Pending board approval, an offer was made to the owners with myself, Jack Bush and Phil Hathway in attendance,” Mr. Tabolt said.

The $1 million offer came with three contingencies: an appraisal would be done and meet or exceed the purchase price, a state environmental quality review would be done and an engineer would issue a report that the building can support the county’s needs. Lewis Lanes’s owners agreed to all contingencies.

At that point, Mr. Tabolt said, the special meeting was set for Monday.

Donald G.M. Coon III, Watertown, visited the property Saturday, where Mr. Tabolt said, “We spent approximately an hour gathering data.”

Sunday, Mr. Tabolt said, Mr. Coon called him with a preliminary figure, showing the value of the property at $1.120 million.

That figure was delivered the following day to legislators when they voted to approve the offer.

“The resolution to approve the purchase of the property was moved by Legislator Stanford and seconded by Legislator Boyd,” Mr. Tabolt said.

The two have since changed their minds about the project, now saying they were given misinformation on which they based their vote.

“To many of us, it seemed like the right thing,” Mr. Tabolt said. “We had turned down a $10 million project. We found a million-dollar building,” which “with meager, modest renovations, would meet our needs.”

“It’s everything we’ve been looking for,” Mr. Tabolt said.

The property has a kitchen that can be used by the Office for the Aging and space for the Board of Elections, both of which now rent space in the Lowville Commons. Mr. Tabolt said the county could move the Department of Motor Vehicles or other offices to the building, as well.

Mr. Tabolt was asked whether honoring the owners’ wishes to keep the potential purchase a secret was putting a private concern ahead of the interest of the public.

“We were concerned about destroying a private business, so we had to approach with caution. That’s one of the reasons,” Mr. Tabolt said, calling closed session negotiations “typical” in real estate acquisition.

Such discussions are allowed to be held in executive session under the state’s Open Meetings Law.

“Theoretically, when a real estate transaction becomes public, then it could have an impact on the purchase price either positively or negatively,” County Attorney Richard J. Graham said.

Mr. Tabolt answered questions concerning the engineering aspect of the project, confirming engineers had not yet looked at the building.

“I’m sure we’ll get criticized, but again, we handled it with our internal crew and felt confident with a four-year-old building,” he said. “The building was designed to accommodate 600 people. Our buildings and codes officer assured us that the sprinkler system and everything had been taken into consideration.”

Mr. Tabolt was asked how he could get fellow legislators to stick with last week’s decision, and not support a resolution to rescind it, as Mr. Stanford and Mr. Boyd have said they would.

“I guess it would be the individual legislators’ responsibility to ask them questions before they vote,” he said. “Everyone has an opportunity and if there was enough legislators that were opposed to this on the start, they had every opportunity to table it.”

Mr. Tabolt was asked what he thought the ramifications would be if the board, at Tuesday’s meeting, votes to rescind the offer.

“I can’t speak for the other legislators,” he said. He said he would not support that motion. “I believe when a deal’s made, you stick with it.”

As for potential ramifications, Mr. Graham said, “The short answer is, we have a signed contract.”

He said there could be potential consequences, but he couldn’t speculate as to what.

Mr. Tabolt was asked how, the day before, five legislators were unaware the contract called for a Dec. 15 closing date and for the county to act as a landlord to Lewis Lanes until May 15.

“We did make it clear during our meeting that they wished to keep their commitment to the bowling league in place through the season,” he said. “Part of the negotiations was to determine how long they would need to complete the season and to move their equipment out.”

As for the closing date, Mr. Tabolt said, “That was put in the contract prepared by our attorney.”

Mr. Tabolt was asked whether any legislators were part of negotiation to determine the amount of rent collected for use of the bowling alley.

Mr. Tabolt said he knew the county needed to recoup some money if it was retaining ownership during the bowling season.

Mr. Graham said, “My impression was that the legislators were aware of all of that.”

County resident Duane Hoffman asked Mr. Tabolt how the county can own an establishment that sells alcohol.

Mr. Tabolt said if there are problems concerning that, perhaps the takeover date could be renegotiated.

Mr. Hoffman then asked why this wasn’t determined before the contract was signed.

“I guess I’ll have to admit we didn’t think of every little detail,” Mr. Tabolt said.

Mr. Graham said the liquor license is up to the Lewis Lanes owners to work out.

To see the purchase agreement for Lewis Lanes, visit http://wdt.me/Lewis-Lanes-Contract.

An excerpt of Mr. Tabolt’s comments can be found at http://wdt.me/tabolt-graham.

Excerpts from interview with Michael Tabolt and Richard Graham
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