currents

Saving the castle

The Sullivan County Land Bank’s latest project is underway

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 10/21/20

LIBERTY, NY — The Spanish Castle has stood, radiating past glories and history, for 90 years. But now the abandoned property is more of a destination for urban explorers than the village jewel …

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currents

Saving the castle

The Sullivan County Land Bank’s latest project is underway

Posted

LIBERTY, NY — The Spanish Castle has stood, radiating past glories and history, for 90 years. But now the abandoned property is more of a destination for urban explorers than the village jewel it used to be.

The Sullivan County Land Bank intends to change that, and the result won’t just improve the building but will also ultimately give the neighborhood something to be proud of.

“We’re looking for anything to make it shine again,” said Jill Weyer, executive director of the land bank.

Land banks are a creative answer to abandoned properties. The programs acquire places that have gone into foreclosure, Weyer said, and maintain them until a developer can be found or another solution presents itself.

They have a board overseeing projects, and those boards “make sure that development happens.” 

Why does this matter? Well, leave a broken house standing, and you have a silent, ongoing testimony to a general disinterest in a neighborhood. Nobody wants it. Nobody cares. Finally, the house becomes a beacon for the curious, which isn’t safe.

And, for the historically-minded, letting the castle fall into disrepair is just sad.

The land bank has a lot to offer.

One priority is to get the property back on the tax rolls, but that’s not always the ideal solution. Restore a theatre or playhouse, says Weyer, and open it to community theatre groups. That can “spark development in a downtown,” even if the theatre itself isn’t paying taxes.

Another priority is to work with a village or town to make sure that any development is in keeping with what the local community wants. That “makes sure it meets the needs of the village,” Weyer said.

And they can steer a developer toward available funding. The Spanish Castle, for instance, is a historic building, and various historic-structure reports might be useful. That suggests the New York Preservation League, funding that the Land Bank can apply for.

Even just maintaining a property will discourage the curious from going exploring. That means cleaning it up and making it look like less of a target. So, the next step is a decorative boarding-up project. 

Plain boards on a broken window basically scream urban blight. So the Land Bank has recruited the Neighborhood Foundation, which designs painted panels to cover windows in abandoned buildings. Christopher Toepfer, the president, told the Chicago Reader in 2014 that the boards had “proven to decrease the chance of break-in and vandalism, and may even attract the interest and investment necessary to save the structure from demolition.”

“This isn’t an instant solution,” Weyer cautioned. “It’s improving the market.” And she’ll know she’s been successful when the abandoned buildings are gone and “the Land Bank goes out of business.”

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