By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — After years of unpaid taxes totaling more than $50,000, North Tonawanda has taken ownership of a Webster Street building that for decades housed the local bar Ava’s Place.
Now, one of the establishment’s longtime owners said he will continue to pursue legal options to regain possession of the property.
While the business closed on Dec. 4, proprietors Randy Siford and his mother, Effie Ava Siford, owed more than $23,000 in back taxes to the city, the school district and Niagara County, according to City Attorney Shawn Nickerson.
The younger Siford said another $25,000 in delinquent taxes was also paid in November. While Siford said he had the funds to pay off the rest last week, the city instead denied the payment and moved toward foreclosure.
Nickerson, however, said over the last five years Siford had blocked previous foreclosure efforts, filing for bankruptcy six times during the same time frame and holding up the entire legal process.
“He’s been jerking around the city for years,” Nickerson said. “He would play games where he would file bankruptcy and dismiss and we would have to stop our court proceedings. If that’s not an abuse of the process, I don’t know what is.”
But Siford countered that much of the unpaid taxes had to do with his 83-year-old mother’s battle with cancer, which took time and resources away from the business.
“My mother only has a few years left in her life,” he said. “Why do they have to do this now. It’s not that they’re not going get their money. They’re definitely going to get the money and we already closed our business, we were already selling it. Why does the city have to do that now. It doesn’t seem right.”
Siford said he has switched lawyers since the Jan. 31 decision of Niagara County State Supreme Court Judge Frank Caruso, and will now challenge it.
He said the property was already under contract with Jay Soemann, who owns Walker Bros & Monroe Jewelers as well as the building rented to the Canalside Creamery. Soemann said in an January interview that he had plans to gut and refurbish the former Ava’s Place structure and described the sale as “close.”
Siford believes the city will now likely sell the building to Soemann, for a drastically reduced price from the negotiated $140,000 agreement. Soemann could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, though Nickerson confirmed the assessed value of the property is $75,000.
Siford said the assessment doesn’t include the restaurant equipment inside the building that has since been locked and sealed by the city since it obtained ownership of it.
Nickerson said he felt the city could move on from the long-standing issue, saying that the common council and Mayor Rob Ortt’s office are looking at options for the building, though a sale to Soemann could still proceed.
“When someone is gaming the system like Mr. Siford has done for so many years you realize its not fair to the other taxpayers of the City of North Tonawanda,” Nickerson said. “And I’m just happy to say that this chapter is closed.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.