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Seaway Trail Discovery Center may vacate historic Union Hotel in Sackets

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SACKETS HARBOR — Dwindling finances may prompt the Seaway Trail Discovery Center to vacate the historic Union Hotel this year, a possibility that is spurring historical groups in the village to find ways to help the nonprofit in distress.

Since 2000, the Seaway Trail Foundation has been a tenant at the three-story stone building, which was built in 1817 and is owned by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The discovery center, currently closed for the winter, features a gift shop and interactive exhibits on the region’s maritime heritage, lighthouses, wildlife and military history.

Under its lease agreement with the state, the Seaway Trail Foundation is responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the West Main Street facility and its utilities, including electricity, water and sewer expenses, said Kevin A. Kieff, Thousand Islands regional director for the state parks office. The state agency covers the cost of heating and major maintenance projects at the building, such as roof and plumbing repairs.

Mr. Kieff said the nonprofit foundation is expected to decide in the coming months whether it will continue operating at the Union Hotel.

If the building is vacated, it would be the state agency’s “desire to continue the tourism-related mission of that building, and that could be with groups in the community that are looking for space for exhibits, meetings and offices,” Mr. Kieff said.

Groups that have expressed interest in leasing the space include the Sackets Harbor Historical Society and Sackets Harbor Battlefield Alliance.

David W. Altieri, the village’s heritage area director, said the historical groups are developing plans to collaborate with the Seaway Trail Foundation to offer educational exhibits at the Union Hotel.

“The approach we’re taking right now is focusing on what we can do to help the Seaway Trail group stay there,” said Mr. Altieri, a member of the Seaway Trail Foundation’s board of directors. “The exhibits need to be updated, so we’re focused on how the historical society and other nonprofits can help replace the exhibits. We’re exploring ways to work together.”

If the group does choose to vacate the hotel, Mr. Altieri said, historical groups would seek to repurpose the building into a historical center that would represent Sackets Harbor’s rich maritime and military history.

“One of our main attractions is our history,” he said. “And that’s the first thing we always look at, is how we can exhibit our history in a way that’s an attraction and will get visitors here.”

Along with displays that showcase history at Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812, Mr. Altieri said, new exhibits could tell the story of commercial shipbuilding in the village.

“It could potentially be a big attraction,” he said. “Sackets Harbor had one of the major shipbuilding efforts in the U.S. during the War of 1812.”

John Hall, Seaway Trail Foundation board chairman, did not respond to a call seeking comment Thursday.

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