By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — One year ago, the Elks Lodge 860 building on the corner of Sweeney and Main streets stood as a testament to the organization's history, famous for the weekly Friday fish fry dinners held there, its lavish interior and its landmark presence in the center of North Tonawanda's business sector where it was anchored for 90 years.
Since the building was decimated by a December fire, then torn to the ground, speculation has ensued as to the future of the local chapter of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, and the property itself, which sits next to the multi-million dollar Remington Lofts on the Canal.
Just prior to the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas in July, the empty dirt space where the building stood was coated in stone and pavement and enclosed with a metal fence. This week that former landmark became a parking lot, at least for the near future.
Jim Sutton, who would not state his title with the Elks but was its exalted ruler when the fire took place, confirmed Wednesday that a lease has been formed with Mark Hutchinson and Paul Jenkins, the owners of the Remington Tavern and Seafood Exchange.
However, Sutton refused to elaborate on the length of the lease or any future plans for the property, which is considered highly sought after because of its location on the Erie Canal and its proximity to the Remington building.
Instead, Sutton deferred to Paul Ertel, who became board chairman for the Elks earlier this year. He has not returned repeated phone calls from the Tonawanda News since January to answer questions about the property's future.
The Elks are expected to move into a property owned by the Knight of Columbus in the City of Tonawanda at 55 Main St., a building they purchased last month after it was put up for sale for $150,000 in May.
While Ertel, Jenkins and Hutchinson did not returned calls on Wednesday, a sign now hanging from the recently installed fence indicates the deal has been formed. One Remington employee who wished to remain anonymous said they believed the lease was for one year.
Dale Marshall, the city engineer, said the Elks had been delinquent on demolition costs for the structure until recently. And while he said the need for parking around the Remington building is a good sign that business is booming there, he believes the Elks' property is not living up to its potential.
"It's a nice problem that they're that busy that they need more parking," Marshall said. "From the perspective of planning though, I don't think a parking lot is a good idea."
Other North Tonawanda officials also were quick to denounce the parking lot as a long-term option, many of whom said they were unaware of the lease arrangement between the restaurant and the lodge, including council president Rich Andres and Mayor Rob Ortt.
"I don't want to see it being used as a parking lot," Ortt said. "I want to see something there that's going to create jobs and add property tax dollars. And I'm going to do anything I can to help facilitate that."Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.