By JOHN ANDERSON
A group of community-minded business professionals have purchased the Wellsville Railroad Depot on East Pearl Street from former owner Robert Salevsky.
After a walk-through with the new owners and Salevsky on Wednesday, the deal was finalized at 4 p.m.
Andrew Sisson, a Wellsville businessman who also has a home on Rushford Lake and recently moved to Melbourne, Fla., put together an ownership group with his lifelong friend Garrett Stephen (Wayne Paving & Gravel) and Chan Whitford of the L.C. Whitford Co.
The deal was made when Sisson promised to return the Wellsville Erie Railroad Depot, which was built starting in 1907, to its original glory and make it part of the community. Sisson, who worked eight years on historic preservation as an architect, said that is the priority. They have ideas for what to do with the building, but they are also looking forward to hearing ideas from the community.
“Bob Salevsky has had offers for years from different people who wanted to buy the depot,” Sisson said in an interview with the Wellsville Sun. “But a lot of people wanted to tear it down or change the look. He didn’t care about selling it until someone had a plan to restore it the way it once was.”
There’s another thing Salevsky has the public was not aware of. He has thousands of the terra cotta tiles needed to fix the roof on the Depot.
“We are looking into the historic designation of the depot,” Sisson said. “Depending on if it is registered or just a designation, we may be able to replace the entire roof with material that will look exactly like the terra cotta. If not, we have tiles and we will work on the original restoration.”
As for the building, Sisson was surprised at the condition.
“I always saw it as an architectural marvel,” said Sisson. “It’s obviously in rough shape but it’s an amazing building. Even today, sitting that long, the masonry is in great shape. The roof is bad but the bones are amazing. I know it can be fixed.”
Sisson attended a meeting hosted by Wellsville businessman Mike Raptis (Texas Hot, Rub-A-Dub) concerning the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The state awards $10 million to municipalities who have a plan to fix downtown locations for economic development.
The Wellsville DRI applied for round six of the $10 million. The state is currently reviewing and awarding round five.
“The committee would be more than happy to help facilitate any development with this purchase,” Raptis said today.
Sisson said, “As an owner, you can go after grant money and foundation grants. We will look at private and grant money.”
Sisson and Stephen are both 34. They graduated from Portville together and would drive by the depot and always liked the building. Sisson graduated from Alfred State College and started a company in San Diego. He then worked as an architect in New York City for eight years. He was recently married and has started a firm, Centerline Architecture + Design with his wife, Haley Padgett Sisson.
Sisson admits this is a sentimental purchase and something he has wanted for years. His last local architectural work was the new Quicklee’s in Belmont.
“I’ve talked to my dad a lot about it and last night I talked about it with my mom at L’italia,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in it and I started asking Bob about purchasing the depot three years ago. The timing was finally perfect.
“One of the key things is, Garrett and I are two young guys from the area and for whatever reasons we left to pursue other areas, but we have ties here and come home as much as possible. For us, and Chan Whitford, it’s not a project we are looking to make money on … it’s a passion project.”
But a passion project with a plan.
“Bob Salevsky was excited about my vision. I knew if he was going to sell it to me, I had to have a solid plan,” Sisson said. “Garrett’s family owns a massive concrete and paving business and Chan’s background speaks for itself.
“Alfred has a long history of terra cotta roofing and I’m sure the roofing we need to replace came from Alfred. We need to fix the beams that are rotted. We have a lot of research and we will be using local contractors,” Sisson continued. “I think we have enough resources and technical products to get this done.”
The new owners were worried the inside was vandalized as the doors have not been open in over two years. That was not the case.
“I was expecting empty beer bottles or grafitti and there is nothing on the floors or walls,” Sisson said. “I don’t think anyone has been in there.”
The other burning questions are what will it be used for and who owns the road the depot is on that runs behind the Wellsville American Legion and post office.
“What we are going to do with it will be a moving target, there will be ideas and those ideas will change,” Sisson said. “When the Wellsville Sun wrote the article the depot there were a ton of comments on Facebook and I read them all, they were very interesting.”
The first priority he said is to get it restored and have the doors all wide open in the summer for the public to walk through the building. He said at first, they would like to have an office inside and use part of it for a museum or displays.
“We want to serve a community function. I’d like to have all the doors open in the summer and out front, the old gaslight-looking lamps,” Sisson said. “When we walked through it on Wednesday we were surprised how big it was. We are thinking of dividing it into two spaces. The second space could be private development for an event center or a restaurant.”
Sisson also has another long-term vision which community members have commented and wished for.
“I have some lofty dreams. I would love a commuter rail that goes around the local towns for designations,” Sisson said. “Wouldn’t it be awesome to work with Alstom for a specific train? You can have a meal and go to the next town, But I’d love to hear the community and what their ideas may be.”
In Hornell, there is an old train stop on Loder Street where the Erie Museum is near restaurants and in Wellsville, the depot is within 100 yards of the Beef Haus, Texas Hot, L’Italia, Better Days, the Legion, the Wellsville Brewery, Giant, the Wellsville Creative Arts Center, other small shops and stores and even Pizza King and Sugar Daddy’s ice cream in the summer.
The new owners also own the road.
“Based on our survey and title research, it seems like it’s not actually a road at all. We have a right to shut traffic down and make it completely pedestrian,” Sisson said. “However, the post office uses it and there is access to the American Legion parking lot, so it is an important road.”
“I’d like to work with the village and maintain it as a road, but shut it down at times when we want to have an event or the village wants to have an event,” Sisson added.
Across the street and between the post office and the American Legion building is a vacant building Salevsky owns that was at one time SuperSound. Sisson said he would like to see that purchased and torn down as parking is needed in the area for the Legion and post office.
“If that building is torn down, you would have a beautiful view coming up Jefferson Street or East Pearl Street of the depot,” Sisson said. “We want to work with the Legion, post office, private lot owners and the village to have as much parking as possible for the public. Right now, we have space on either side for the depot, but not a lot for parking.”
Sisson said the railroad is still active but it is not used very often.
Wellsville Mayor Randy Shayler is excited about the sale. The artist rendition of the project Sisson provided to the Wellsville Sun will be put on canvas and will hang in the village offices on Main Street.
“Ever since I came to Wellsville, people have talked about the depot,” Shayler said. “And since I became mayor, they ask me once a week, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ Well now I have an answer!”
Sisson adds, It’s going to take an extreme amount of work. They say it takes a village and it will take the village. I have a solid plan and I have the right people on our team to get it done. I want the village to have confidence in the product and be confident in the people working on it. We are going to need everyone’s help.”