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(3:10 PM) Welch’s Building In Westfield Sold To Developer

Pictured is the Welch's building located a 2 Portage St., Westfield. The Westfield Town Board approved the sale of the property to a Buffalo developer. P-J file photo

WESTFIELD — A historic building nearly 120 years old and previously the headquarters to Welch’s Foods could see new development in the near future.

The Westfield Town Board on Wednesday approved a resolution authorizing the sale of the 48,000-square-foot Welch’s building, 2 Portage St. in the village, to Landmark Development Consortium LLC of Buffalo for $350,000.

The town purchased the property in 2014, and with it 14 acres of nearby land, in an attempt to preserve the building once considered the cornerstone of the Westfield business district. The sale includes the building and 2 acres of land it sits on; the town will retain 12 acres of land it purchased in 2014, a move that was just recently criticized in an audit by the New York State Comptroller’s Office.

Town Supervisor Martha Bills said officials are excited the property could see new use after largely sitting vacant for many years. The town purchased the property and nearby land for $355,000 with hopes of preserving its history.

Bills referenced the Portage Inn, an iconic century-old warehouse-turned-hotel along Portage Street, that was demolished in December 2015 after sitting vacant and falling into disrepair.

“The opportunity came up for us to save the building,” Bills told The Post-Journal of the Welch’s property, constructed in 1910 and used as the company’s headquarters until the mid-1980s. “We determined that the cost of demolishing the building was more than what we paid for. … We were trying to be proactive and we were hoping to prevent what happened (with the Portage Inn).”

In an audit released two weeks ago, the state Comptroller’s Office questioned the town’s purchase of the building for $355,000 despite an estimated market value at the time of $243,000.

“The board and supervisor told us that although they had concerns about becoming a landlord of a large office building, they wanted to ensure the property would be sold to a buyer who would be committed to maintaining and redeveloping it,” the audit states. “In addition, an abandoned historic building in the town/village was recently demolished and they did not want that to happen to this property.”

As part of the audit, the Comptroller’s Office issued several recommendations for the town. They include using a thorough process when purchasing property to ensure the best price is obtained; obtain one or more independent appraisals on property the town plans to buy; and review long-term financial impacts before making a decision.

Town officials have disagreed with the audit’s findings. In a letter dated Sept. 12 and sent to the comptroller, Bills noted that the town worked with a committee established through the Westfield Development Corp. to analyze the purchase.

“The committee included a real estate appraiser, certified public accountant, real estate attorney and other long-time professionals in Westfield, all of whom were familiar with the building and the Westfield real estate market in general,” the letter to the comptroller states. “They knew that the $200,000 assessed value for the building was an artificially low number, reached at the conclusion of lengthy litigation as a compromise in order to maintain higher assessments at the Welch plant.”

See Friday’s edition of The Post-Journal for complete coverage.