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North Side Improvement League will get new home on VanDuzee St.


WATERTOWN — Dormant for months, the North Side Improvement League will be making its new, smaller home in a former machine shop at 475 VanDuzee St., just on the north side of the Black River.

Carthage developer Michael E. Lundy, who has promised to pay off the civic group’s debt and provide it with a new home, announced Thursday night that he has purchased the former Nordic Welding company building and will refurbish the VanDuzee Street property for the 102-year-old organization.

The league is trading its current location at 633 Mill St. to Mr. Lundy in exchange for its new home.

“We’re very excited that we are able to move ahead, pay our debt and have a new home,” said finance officer Brenda L. Parker, wife of league President Joseph S. Parker.

Mr. Lundy’s development company will give the organization about $100,000, enough to pay off its $97,000 debt, Mr. Parker said, adding he is pleased with the new location.

“It’s just nice,” he said about its proximity to the river and having enough room to add a pavilion or patio and a gazebo that could be used when the group rents out the headquarters for wedding receptions.

Both the developer and a league committee looked at about a dozen properties before finally choosing the VanDuzee Street building, which is still being used for storage by Florida owner Chieftain Properties. The league had a goal to stay on the city’s north side, but its charter indicates only that it must stay in Watertown, Mr. Lundy said.

They liked this particular property because it has easy hookup to city water and sewer and room to expand the structure. Originally, Mr. Lundy and the group talked about a new home with 3,500 square feet, but the parcel will allow it to be about 4,500 square feet and accommodate about 170 people, Mr. Lundy said.

The smaller building will cut operational and maintenance costs that drained the organization at the 9,600-square-foot existing home, built in 1969, which could hold about 700 people.

The Mill Street building is in rough shape, needing repairs to the roof and the electrical, septic and water systems, Mr. Parker said. It has remained closed since last fall, when the organization failed to pay a $232 city water bill. The group owes $11,290.39 in back taxes to the city.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lundy said, he is working on plans to refurbish the Mill Street building, which he intends to rent to a tenant. He declined to comment further, except to say, “This is about the league tonight.”

While the 12-member committee liked the new site, longtime member William W. Parody, who also once served as president, has some concerns about potential flooding at the location. He would have liked a more central location on the city’s north side, he said.

During the announcement, Mr. Parody began to express concerns about the site chosen when Mr. Lundy interrupted to say that was an issue that he should address to the committee and not on Thursday night.

After the meeting, Mr. Parody questioned the financial feasibility of the organization and whether it can continue, even with a new, smaller home.

Mrs. Parker said the group has 600 members, but Mr. Parody said that figure would have to include active and lifetime members. The organization — which once played a prominent role in local politics — said it plans to begin membership and fundraising campaigns in the fall.

If all goes well, Mr. Lundy hopes the project will go through the city’s Planning Board approval process this fall, with work on the addition starting later this year and being completed for an opening in late spring or next summer.

The Mill Street building and property are assessed at $395,200 while the VanDuzee parcel has a $52,000 assessment, according to city property records. Mr. Lundy said he did not know how much the renovation project will cost.

Mr. Lundy has a similar arrangement with Watertown Aerie 782, Fraternal Order of Eagles, to build a new clubhouse. In June 2012, Mr. Lundy announced he was helping the Eagles Club move to a parcel at Northland Plaza, off State Street, in exchange for its Route 11 property, but that deal fell through.

He said that project is moving ahead and he may have an announcement about its new location next month.

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