The federal government has approved the transfer of ownership of the now-vacant Army Reserve building and property in Canandaigua to Sonnenberg Gardens and the state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for the state historic park to expand. Senator Charles Schumer, who has been working on securing the ownership transfer for three years, made the announcement Thursday.
With the federal property conveyance approved, ownership of the property will be transferred to the New York State-owned Sonnenberg Gardens, enabling Sonnenberg to pursue a plan over the coming years to repurpose and renovate the former Army Reserve building and property into a new visitor welcome and admissions center, a climate-controlled space to curate and archive collections, as well as new paved parking for visitors and tour buses, and areas to maintain equipment including their fleet of Tram vehicles. Additionally, the Park will be able to relocate its main entrance to E. Gibson Street (State Route 21) to improve visitor access. Schumer added that investing in Sonnenberg Gardens is an investment in the Finger Lakes economy, and promised to work lockstep with local and federal agencies to see the project come to fruition.
“Securing the federal approval for Sonnenberg Gardens to take over the vacant Army Reserve property is exactly what we needed to make Sonnenberg’s expansion plans a reality. Every year tens of thousands of visitors come to Canandaigua to visit Sonnenberg, walk the gardens, tour the mansion, and hold events here which is why I have spent years fighting to protect, preserve and expand this tourism magnet,” said Senator Schumer. “This is a win-win: it brings new life to a now-vacant federal building while solving Sonnenberg’s lack of a Visitor Admissions Center, space for educational programming, and adequate parking. I am so glad to announce that with this federal signoff, Sonnenberg Gardens can blossom into a world-class tourism destination and an even stronger economic driver for the Finger Lakes Region.”
New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said: “The Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park is a New York State tourism magnet and this acquisition and expansion will serve an integral role to further energize the Finger Lakes and tourism economy. On Wednesday, May 9 we are excited to join Senator Schumer’s team, state, and local community leaders to unveil in more detail the excitement yet to come which is all part of Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 initiative, a multi-year commitment and partnership to leverage public and private funding for state parks through 2020. Thank you to all of our partners as this announcement is another leading example of how NY Parks 2020 and its partnerships are connecting new generations of visitors and tourists to these astonishing places.”
Schumer said the Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens are a wonderful part of Canandaigua’s rich history and a jewel for the Finger Lakes region. The 3.5-acre site was an original part of the historic 19th century Sonnenberg Estate that was built by the original Thompson family owners. The site still hosts features of the original Sonnenberg Estate, such as the mortar and limestone perimeter wall. Schumer added that the re-acquisition of this parcel will restore the original Sonnenberg Estate’s lands, while the existing Army Reserve building and grounds will be repurposed to resolve many of the Park’s deficiencies that currently limit the visitor experience and hinder the site’s potential to spur economic development.
Schumer explained that the Sonnenberg Gardens attract over 30,000 visitors per year from all over the world. But, despite their world-class nature, and the important role the gardens play in the local economy, Schumer noted that they currently lack an official visitor welcome center and the parking it needs to fully accommodate visitors. In addition to lacking a parking lot and a welcome center, the Sonnenberg Gardens also lack a climate controlled space to curate and archive artifacts, as well as space for administrative offices, educational/historic/horticultural programming, and areas to maintain equipment including their fleet of tram vehicles.
Schumer said that the acquisition of the Army Reserve site will enable Sonnenberg to correct all of these deficiencies over the coming years, assist in fulfilling their mission and enable them to realize their vision to create a world-class tourism destination for the public’s benefit and for the economic vitality of the Finger Lakes, NY region. The current Army Reserve site already has several paved parking lots, which Sonnenberg will repurpose to provide the space and accessibility it needs to accommodate visitors. Much of the infrastructure that Sonnenberg needs for the visitor center is already available on the Army Reserve parcel. With this land, Sonnenberg officials can finally embark on their multi-year expansion plans to repurpose the Army reserve building into a visitor center that will include display areas for Sonnenberg Estate artifacts, rooms for educational programs, and space for administrative offices. This unique win-win opportunity will enable Sonnenberg to address deficiencies and expand so that it can provide these much-needed amenities to its visitors and attract more tourists to the area.
Following the Army’s announcement that it would cease using the Canandaigua facility by 2015, Schumer visited Sonnenberg Gardens to join local officials in announcing his push to help the park pursue acquiring the former Army Reserve building and property. Schumer connected federal officials at GSA and the Department of Interior’s National Park Service (DOI NPS) to Sonnenberg and New York State Park officials to help the park pursue acquiring the Army Reserve property via a federal public benefit property conveyance offered through the National Park Service’s Federal Lands to Parks Program. Under federal surplus property disposal regulations, prior to a property being offered for a public sale, a property is offered up for a qualified entity to acquire at no cost through a public benefit property conveyance. In this case, with Schumer’s support, the New York State Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) applied through the Federal Lands to Parks Program to secure a conveyance of this property, which the National Park Service and the GSA have now approved. The property is being conveyed at no cost and in return will be maintained by NYSOPRHP as part of the Sonnenberg Gardens state park. It is expected that the property deed transfer will now be finalized in a few weeks. The property is 3.47 acres with a 10,725 sq. ft. Administration/training building, a 2,752 sq. ft. vehicle maintenance building with a paved parking lot with an appraised fair market value of $520,000.