Opportunity came knocking Oneonta’s way in January 1978 in the form of filling a large vacant lot on Academy Street with a senior citizen retirement center. Oneonta embraced the idea but in the end, the developer had a change of heart. The dividing issue was over property taxes.
Ever since the old Oneonta Junior High School closed on Academy Street after June 1976 and the two school buildings had been torn down, a vacant lot had been created, destined for some kind of development. On that site today are the Academy Arms and James F. Lettis apartment complexes.
What was then called the Wyoming Conference of the United Methodist Church approached the city of Oneonta with a plan for a three-building multimillion dollar senior citizen complex on that empty lot. Included in the plan were about 100 jobs, to stimulate the local economy by about $150,000 a month. The Wyoming Conference made it clear that the property could not be taxable by the city, or else they might look elsewhere.
Mayor James Lettis and city assessor Calvert Bailey discussed the matter. Lettis said the proposed center “should be taxed like any other private development property.” Most of the city’s Common Council agreed, as reported Saturday, Jan. 28.
The Daily Star conducted an informal, unscientific poll Jan. 30, with names selected from the city’s telephone directory. Out of 30 people contacted, 17 felt the proposed retirement complex should be taxed.
S. Lowell Barnes, executive director of the Methodist Homes for the Aging in the Wyoming Conference said: “We’re trying to bring new industry to the city. We will also be providing a needed service to 150 older citizens.”
Barnes added that if the tax is levied, “it could influence our organization not to build in the city because of the possible ramifications it could have on our other facilities.” The Methodist Homes for the Aging paid no taxes on similar facilities in an area covering northeast Pennsylvania and New York’s Southern Tier.
The city sought a ruling in February from the state Board of Equalization and Assessment about whether the property was taxable. The Methodist Homes Agency, the organization planning the complex, voted Saturday, Feb. 4, to forbid any construction in the Oneonta area until a tax exemption was granted.
The state advised the city Friday, March 10, that the proposed complex was not tax exempt.
A paid advertisement with a headline “News Release” appeared in The Daily Star of March 15, stating, “The Homes Agency would like to assure the 75 older people who have made reservations for the proposed campus that a similar service oriented housing program will be developed and construction initiated…either at another location within the Oneonta District or on one of their other campus properties in New York State in the Spring of this year.”
The Homes Agency had planned an April groundbreaking on Academy Street, and had been so confident their project would be non-taxable that they had completed the deal on the property with the city, paying more than $325,000.
The city stood its ground on taxation, and later purchased the Academy Street property back from the Homes Agency at a lower price.
On Friday, April 14, Barnes said the Homes Agency got a green light from the town of Norwich to build its multimillion dollar campus, after the town said it would grant the agency tax-exempt status. It was later reported that both the Sidney village and town boards had also voted against tax exemption after being approached by the Homes Agency.
Within days in Norwich, a committee was formed to locate a site for the retirement complex. The process took a few years and the site was finally confirmed in the Valley Heights area in the City of Norwich.
At first it was named the Doris L. Patrick Campus, on Calvary Drive. It consisted of the Graceview Manor and the Pearl and Everett Gilmour Health Care Facility. The campus was named after Mrs. Patrick, whose donation in the 1960s made the land purchase possible.
New owners have since taken on the operations, beginning Jan. 1, 2011. It is now called the Norwich Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
This weekend: Area residents rushed for Klondike gold in 1897-98.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.