Former owner has interest in White Inn

Over the last few weeks, The White Inn has been a topic in this newspaper. The current owner, Jeff Gambino, hopes someone local will reopen the food and beverage operations. This newspaper opines the business is viable. Fredonia Mayor Athanasia Landis is watching the situation.

As one of the former owners of The White Inn, I would like to offer my opinion about The White Inn and its current state.

When my business partner and I purchased the inn in 1993, we were not locals, but we brought many years of hospitality experience to the business. However, we bought the property with no money down, so we were always under-capitalized. After operating the inn successfully for many years, we needed help to continue. We approached all the local banks, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, SUNY Fredonia (to purchase the property), and the village of Fredonia. After being rebuffed by all local sources, we refinanced with an out-of-state institution.

The only person who helped us was former trustee Susan Mackay, who included The White Inn in a grant application for downtown beautification funds. As the financial crisis of 2008-09 loomed, we had no choice but to sell the inn to an unqualified buyer. Most local residents tell me The White Inn has been in a state of decline since my partner and I sold it in 2008.

Mr. Gambino stated he hoped to find a qualified local buyer to purchase The White Inn. Last summer, I had extensive discussions with Mr. Gambino to do just that. Based on a financial analysis with data he provided, I determined his asking price of $1.125 million — listed on Buffalo-Hotel Realty, LLC — was higher than the property was worth. I made a counter-offer, which he promptly rejected.

I do not believe The White Inn is worth $1.125 million. There is no White Inn hotel or restaurant. There is no White Inn brand or goodwill which would make the property more valuable. Since 2008, no operator has shown the sophistication to run the property at the level that would fetch his price. It is an empty building that generates no revenue.

Mr. Gambino says that food and beverage operations are really necessary to drive the business. There is no bar and there is no restaurant. He made sure of that when he gutted the dining rooms and kitchen of ALL useful equipment.

So, the next operator has to spend $1.125 million and another $75,000 to $100,000 to refit the restaurant. The renovation to what was formerly known as the Concord Room is in violation of the village building code. Anyone purchasing the property would have to incur a significant cost to correct his code violations.

And let’s not forget the taxes owed on the property. If Mr. Gambino does not pay the property taxes of approximately $100,000 (current and in arrears) by April 15, the county will own the property and put it up for auction in June. Whoever contracts with Mr. Gambino will want a clean title to the property, so the tax bill must be settled.

If the property goes to tax auction, past due taxes are expunged and there is no minimum bid at the auction. At this juncture, it appears imprudent to purchase The White Inn before April 15, since the property would likely sell at auction for less than any price negotiated between a buyer and Mr. Gambino.

If The White Inn is sold at auction, I plan to place a bid on the property, and would reopen the hotel, and food and beverage operations. After 25 years in the area, I think I can now be considered a local buyer. I would welcome the input of local banks, the Chautauqua County IDA, the village of Fredonia, local residents, and The OBSERVER to undo the tarnish to a valued institution, and return a great deal of pride to Fredonia.

Robert Contiguglia is a Fredonia resident.