The former boss of The White Inn believes local leaders should do more to make local business easier.
At the recent meeting of the Chautauqua County Legislature, a public hearing was held to discuss the county’s application for a RESTORE NY grant for The White Inn.
The White Inn has been closed for four years and requires approximately $3.9 million worth of repairs. Local developers Steve St. George and Devin Jones have purchased the facility and are moving forward with plans to restore it. Chautauqua County provides assistance through tax incentives from the County Industrial Development Authority and an application for a grant on behalf of The White Inn.
One of the requirements for a grant application is that a public hearing must be held.
At the public hearing, Fredonia’s Robert Contigulia spoke. He owned The White Inn for 15 years and sold it in 2008.
While not outright against the application, he questioned the concept of the county applying for grants on behalf of private businesses. “The White Inn is considered the jewel of Fredonia, but it’s really just a private business — a business that competes with other businesses,” He says.
Contiguglia agreed the refurbished White Inn would attract business, but he believed it would also take business away from other venues. “Every reentrant gets a cut of the existing business,” He says.
Contiguglia said he understood the need for competition, but added, “Competition should be on a level playing field, not one where one business gets a lot of help and others get no help,” he said. He says.
He reviewed the grant request and noted that when he sold it 15 years ago, even if he needed financial aid, he wasn’t eligible. “The White Hotel wasn’t on the verge of falling apart because I spent a lot of money maintaining it. I didn’t create jobs; I just kept jobs — jobs that disappeared after I sold the property, because I myself faced economic challenges,” He says.
He noted that if he had received financial aid back in 2008, it would have been far less than what he needs today. Herein lies the problem. “It’s fine to focus on projects that require specific funding criteria, but the county needs to continue to protect and promote all existing businesses, not just those deemed worthy of assistance by the authorities. If so, then maybe there will be a lot of winners, and the playing field Could be fairer,” He says.
R-Fredonia legislator Bob Scudder said that as someone who owns multiple businesses, he understood Contiguglia’s point, but pointed to what he said was no funding.
Scudder went on to express support for The White Inn’s grant funding. “The White Inn is a household name. … Restoring the White Inn is good for Fredonia, it’s good for SUNY Fredonia, it’s good for Chautauqua County, it’s good for all of Western New York benefit,” He says.
He believes that restoring The White Inn could be the catalyst for revitalizing the Fredonia Village. “The whole area will be better off if the White Inn reopens,” He says.
D-Fredonia legislator Susan Parker agrees. “The White Inn has been in business for nearly 100 years as a hotel and restaurant. …Everyone has a story about the White Inn,” she says.
She noted that RESTORE NY is designed for private businesses that help communities. “The program encourages community development and community development by removing and rebuilding damaged structures,” she says.
After the meeting, Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon said that now that public hearings have been held, the county IDA will continue to apply for funding.