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Long-established Bull’s Head business falls victim to eminent domain

Long-established Bull’s Head business falls victim to eminent domain

A successful small business owner who has been a fixture in the Bull’s Head neighborhood for a quarter century is on the verge of losing his property as revitalization efforts for the area move forward.

The city of Rochester will use eminent domain to seize a property at 22 York St., home of Andy’s Automotive Enhancements.

Owner Andy Winterkorn, 59, has operated the business on York Street for 25 years. The collision and repair shop sits just beyond the intersection where Chili Avenue and West Main Street meet, near the St. Mary’s Medical Campus.

Andy’s Automotive Enhancements, located at 22 York St. in Rochester, will close after the City of Rochester exercises eminent domain to acquire the property. (Photo by Kevin Oklobzija)

He’s befuddled by the city’s decision to close or force relocation of a thriving business in the name of progress.

“You’re going to expect other people to come here that don’t exist,” Winterkorn said. “Once something is knocked down, it never comes back. Why would you eliminate more?”

City officials say a three-bay, cement-block auto repair shop doesn’t fit with redevelopment goals of the Bull’s Head Revitalization Project or zoning regulations.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate in the area,” Dana Miller, commissioner of neighborhood and business development for the city, said Monday night when city officials provided a project update for neighbors.

The project developer, The Dawson Company of Atlanta, is expected to unveil a preliminary conceptual plan for the core of the Bull’s Head neighborhood in late June or early July. Infrastructure work is also progressing, with street redesign expected to be completed in 2025 and road construction to start in 2026.

The revitalization vision launched in 2009 and redevelopment began in earnest in 2016. The plan, a priority for city leaders, includes the creation of residential and retail space for an area that was once the hub of activity on the city’s west side but is now rather desolate.

“Bull’s Head is a special place; historically it has always been a place of commerce and place for people to come together,” Miller said.

“There used to be an A&P (Grocery), a Wegmans and a Star Market; a Cole’s department store and S.S. Kresge. Bull’s Head was a tremendous place and now, unfortunately, not so much. We’d like to get back to that.”

An auto body shop is not part of the vision. Not only does it not fit within how the city reimagines Bull’s Head, but there are also two other issues, Miller said: The area is not zoned for auto body work, nor are any adjacent properties, and the city fears that the soil beneath the building is contaminated since the site has been home to an auto repair business for at least five decades.

More than $1.2 million in federal grants have already been secured for remediation efforts within the Bull’s Head redevelopment area, including neighboring properties on York Street, as well as Bull’s Head Plaza at 835-855 West Main St. and 68-92 Genesee St.

Winterkorn said the soil around his building perimeter was tested and no contaminants were found. But he has not granted permission to the city to test the soil beneath the building, Miller said.

And therein lies a big problem. If contamination is found before the city buys the property, then Winterkorn is responsible for remediation “and that could be over $1 million,” Miller said at Monday’s meeting.

If sold before testing and contamination is then found, the city would be responsible for clean-up.

The city will pay $121,000 for the property, Winterkorn said. Miller said the city is willing to help Winterkorn find another property, and there would be required compensation for relocation fees and re-establishment costs concerning equipment, etc.

“We asked him, ‘Is there some way we can help you relocate’ (because) it’s much easier to keep a good business than recruit a new one,” Miller said.

Winterkorn said so far it’s not feasible to relocate. The properties he found would cost between $250,000 and $300,000, and then there would be considerable expense to convert one to an auto repair business. Taking on another mortgage at this point would mean a significant loss, he said.

“I’m a single dad; I raised three daughters — this is their generational wealth,” he said. “There is nothing out there at the value they’re buying my building. I’ll be 60; I can’t pick up and start over.”

Winterkorn bought the auto repair property as well as the adjacent building at 934 W. Main St. in 2012.

“I paid off my mortgage in August and for the first time in my life I haven’t had a mortgage or rent payment over my head,” he said. “I don’t want to have to work six days a week just to cover my overhead with a new mortgage.

“I was here when things were really bad and I never bailed,” Winterkorn said.

His Main Street building has retail space on the ground floor — he operated Andy’s Southern Deli from 2019 until a pandemic-forced closure — and four unleased apartments. The apartments need renovation before they can be occupied.

Andy’s Southern Deli, located at 935 W. Main St., Rochester, will also become part of the Bull’s Head revitalization.
Andy’s Southern Deli, located at 935 W. Main St., Rochester, will also become part of the Bull’s Head revitalization. (Photo by Kevin Oklobzija)

That property will be allowed to be a part of new Bull’s Head. But without help from grants or other programs, Winterkorn said he’s not sure how will pay for renovation once his income disappears from the auto body shop.

“That shop is my backbone and I need that steady income,” Winterkorn said. “Without that shop I have no stability.

“I’ve watched generation after generation here. Friends, their children and now their children. I don’t want to leave here.”

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