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Empsall Plaza’s mural soon may disappear from downtown landscape

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A three-story mural symbolizing Watertown’s association with Fort Drum met with mixed reactions when local artist Jason E. Brown painted it on the Empsall Plaza building five years ago.

Now the building’s new owner, Vina Aileen C. Bonner, intends to remove the mural showing two soldiers near a river with an orange sun blazing in the background.

Mrs. Bonner, who purchased the rear portion of the Empsall Plaza in October, said she wants to restore the wall to its original brick exterior. She’s also toying with the idea of painting something about Watertown’s historic downtown in Victorian lettering.

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Bonner floated the idea to the members of the Watertown Local Development Corp., also known as the Watertown Trust.

Donald W. Rutherford, the Watertown Trust’s CEO, said Wednesday he was not a big fan of the mural painted in 2009 by Mr. Brown, a graduate of LeMoyne College, Syracuse, with an art degree who operated an art studio inside Empsall Plaza.

“The message was fine,” he said. “But I don’t know if the color scheme was that good.”

Some of the mural’s critics have complained that the soldiers and river are visible only from a hill near a small parking area at the building, so most people only see the orange “psychedelic”-looking sun that dominates the painting, Mr. Rutherford said.

Mr. Brown was hired by the building’s former owner, Psychedelic Entertainment LLC, Englewood, Calif., to create a mural on the 4,600-square-foot stucco wall that would be dedicated to Jefferson County, the Afghanistan war and soldiers fighting for freedom. The mural is on the building’s southeast wall and faces the J.B. Wise parking lot.

Mrs. Bonner acquired the building from a Florida-based lending company, Bayview Loan Servicing LLC, for $132,000.

She plans to open FunScape, an indoor children’s play area, in a portion of Empsall Plaza near where Velocity, a similar business, abruptly closed in July. She intends to complete a $624,000 renovation on the section of the building. Last week, Mrs. Bonner said she is waiting to hear about bank financing before proceeding with the business.

Neighbors of Watertown Inc. bought the other two sections of Empsall Plaza and plans to renovate them for commercial space.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said he has no problems with Mrs. Bonner eliminating the mural.

“It’s her building,” he said. “It’s fine with me.”

Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, said many communities have downtown mural programs. However, the city had nothing to do with the Empsall Plaza painting.

“He just showed up one day and started painting,” said Mr. Mix, who expressed no opinion on the way it turned out.

Previously, Mr. Mix said the city of Watertown had another mural painted on the Watertown Urban Mission, 247 Factory St., through a $15,000 grant from the state Environmental Protection Fund.

A short distance from Empsall Plaza, another mural is featured on the Court Street side of the parking garage at the former Stream Global Services call center, now owned by the Convergys Corp.

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