Firefighters abandon Obici plan

Published 9:58 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blaming the city for its decision, the Suffolk Professional Firefighters Union announced Wednesday it would withdraw a plan to restore and reuse historic Obici House.

According to Lt. Mason Copeland, president of the Suffolk chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the organization received a letter this week from city officials asking for an amended proposal that included moving the building from its current location adjacent to the 18th green at Sleepy Hole Golf Course.

“We received notification from the city saying that whoever acquired the property would have to have the structure moved,” he said. “That would more than double our costs.”

Copeland’s organization had sought to take over the city-owned former home of Amedeo and Louise Obici and convert it into a union hall using the “sweat equity” of firefighters who hold certifications in various building trades.

The group had presented an unsolicited proposal to the city in which it projected materials costs of well under $150,000, Copeland said in December.

Moving the 1920s Italianate structure, he said Wednesday, would entail running new electrical and plumbing service, setting a new foundation and dealing with the fact the home has a basement — not to mention the possibility of damages incurred during the move.

“That just kind of took it off the table for us,” he said.

Copeland said he had not personally seen the letter from the city. The organization’s secretary received it on Monday, he said, and called Copeland, who quickly convened a meeting of the union’s leadership, which then voted to send a letter back to the city stating the union wished to abandon their proposal.

“If we’d known this up front, we’d never have put in a proposal in the first place,” he added.

Citizens for the Preservation of Obici House, the second group to submit an unsolicited proposal for saving the structure, had not received a similar letter from Suffolk officials as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Susan Blair, the group’s president.

Even if such a letter arrives, she said, it’s unlikely the group would be able to change its proposal, which relies heavily on tax credits and historical grants to finance the comprehensive $1.77 million renovation the group has envisioned.

“If we move the house, we lose the tax credits,” Blair said, noting that the federal credits account for $800,000 to $900,000 of the expected renovation funds.

Besides, she asked, “Where do you move it?”

During a City Council meeting last week, council members discussed the possibility of moving the house to another part of the golf course, where it wouldn’t interfere with the development plans of Planning Commission member Ronnie Rountree, whose company won the right to operate and develop the course last year.

Even if that happened, however, there would be no guarantee the building would be safe in its new location, Blair said Wednesday.

“What’s to keep another council in five years from moving it again?” she asked. “And why move it in the first place? It was there first (before the golf course).”

Blair said she doesn’t believe the City Council has any real intention of moving the structure, anyway, especially following the discussion at last Wednesday’s meeting.

“My biggest feeling is that they’ve already made their minds up, they’ve already decided,” she said. “I came out of there with the impression that they want to tear it down.”

As evidence supporting her charge, she pointed to comments by Councilman Jeffrey Gardy suggesting the city should open the building up for interested citizens and organizations to come in and remove items and fixtures that might be of interest to them.

“They’re already trying to find somebody to come in and gut the house … ,” Blair said.

Copeland, from the firefighters’ union, held a similar opinion.

“I have a feeling that what’s going to happen is they’re going to tear it down,” he said. “I’d hate to see that building torn down, because of the history. Amedeo Obici kind of revived Suffolk.”