A building at the former Erie Canal Village, 5789 Rome-New London Road, is being dismantled by the property’s new owner Rick Rios.
The structure, the Gordon Baird Transportation Building, was not historically significant, but had been used to house artifacts in the past. According to the city’s Code Enforcement Office, Rios received the proper permit to begin work on June 26.
Rios said that the demolition is being done in conjunction with drainage and access work at the site.
“We’re in the process of cleaning out drains and removing one of the barns that were out front, the red one,” he said. “We’re also going to kind of redo the entry way a little bit to make it more accessible, so that it has a more straight inward path towards the footbridge ... trying to make it a little more accessible.”
There are also tentative plans, Rios said, to “redo the portico porch” on the building that used to be the gift shop.
Rios purchased the Village site from Wheelhorse Development in the spring to open Cross Roads Redemption Church. However, the city’s zoning code does not allow for a “place of worship” in the area where the Village is located.
Rios could appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance, but he has not yet done so. Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo has predicted it would be “very difficult” for Cross Roads to get board approval.
Rios said last week that he “hasn’t even approached (the zoning issue) yet.”
“There’s already a church on-site, there’s already been services at that back church, so we’ll approach the zoning issue as we start moving forward, but my hope has always been — and I don’t know why this is so confusing to people sometimes — my hope is always to make it that we can get people out there again,” he said.
Rios continued: “We’re going to continue doing some of the initial work and I think are going to see that we’re trying to do something to it, we’re trying to get it open.”
He also pushed back on “radio commentaries” describing his effort to build “some religious compound or something” on the property.
“I want it to be community driven, and not community driven from the perspective of like, we’re going to make some kind of Waco, Texas thing. That’s really a joke for me, because I found the commentary so funny because it’s so off base.”
He also said he has already given permission to area historical groups to use the property for research on the Fort Bull and Fort Wood Creek sites, which are located on the parcel.
Other potential hurdles for Rios include a clause in the property’s deed, stipulating that the site be “operate(d) ... as a Museum/Tourist Facility” open to the public, or else “the title may revert back to the city of Rome.”
However, Rios has said he is “working with (Rome Historical Society Executive Director) Art (Simmons)” to arrange an event that would satisfy the clause.