Council helped plot path of methadone clinic

OBSERVER Photo About nine years ago, city of Dunkirk officials paid 50,000 times more than the previous owner for the former Flickinger building.

Call it a reprieve of sorts — for at least three current Dunkirk Common Council members. On Wednesday, Mayor Wilfred Rosas announced that Hispanos Unidos of Buffalo would be seeking another location for its proposed opiod and methadone clinic in the city.

It’s unfortunate the Park Avenue and Third Street location — near the Northern Chautauqua Catholic School — had to be considered. But another building, back in February 2017, just did not sit well with elected officials Don Williams Jr., Martin Bamonto, Andrew Woloszyn and former council members Adelino Gonzalez and Stacy Szukala.

Beginning in September 2009, the Dunkirk Local Development Corp. was attempting to be proactive in reviving a depressed 200 block of Washington Avenue. Instead of looking for a bargain, the agency approved forking over up to $50,000 for the former Flickinger property. At that time, there was some momentum for the idea thanks to an investment by the state and Brian Burke, a Buffalo-area developer, in the current Chadwick Bay Lofts location. But $50,000 for a structure that did nothing but deteriorate over the years?

That’s what happens when government or an arm of the government is doing the purchasing. To those representatives approving the decision, there’s an unlimited pot of funds to spend.

Owned by a former Dunkirk businessman, he was happy to unload the site — and thrilled with his return on investment. He had previously purchased the structure for a minimal amount.

Just $1.

Dunkirk, at the moment, may have something in the works for the location. Rebecca Yanus, current city development director, is doing a commendable job with a number of other projects, including plans on the waterfront.

But judging from the lack of activity at the downtrodden 208-214 Washington Ave. site, we doubt it.

What city residents must not be as skeptical of, however, was a decision made — behind closed doors — by that council group.

It came around March last year, after an article appeared in this newspaper regarding the possibility of bringing a methadone clinic to the city at that Flickinger site.

“We’re on a fast pace because we know that for every day that we don’t build it, somebody’s going to die,” said Hispanos Unidos of Buffalo Executive Director Eugino Russi during a city economic development committee in 2017. “So we know that’s the situation and our goal is to get this done as quickly as possible.”

This was no surprise to Bamonto, Williams and Woloszyn. They were aware of the organization’s interest in that location.

Yet, they did not want it going into a property owned by the city of Dunkirk. Word of the rejection — again never publicly — got back to Russi, which led to his organization looking for another site.

Hispanos Unidos of Buffalo found one: at Park Avenue and Third Street.

That choice, unsurprisingly, led to a number of community members proclaiming opposition. The loudest of voices came from the community of the Northern Chautauqua Catholic School, which is located within a whisper of the building. Parents pleaded with city leaders about the decision, some even blaming Rosas.

Council members, including the three who nixed the Flickinger location, as well as Michael Civiletto, Shaun Heenan and County Legislator Robert Bankoski then shared their disappointment with the choice for the clinic location. “We are respectively requesting that (Hispanos Unidos of Buffalo) cancel the purchase of the building at Third (Street) and Park Avenue in Dunkirk for the purpose of operating a methadone clinic,” the group wrote. “We would also like to respectfully request that they either find another viable location to purchase or look to leasing space at either the Save A Lot plaza or D&F plaza, both located within the city of Dunkirk to operate their clinic to serve the Dunkirk and surrounding area to help patients with their opioid addiction.”

It was an attempt at damage control for a lack of vision more than a year ago. No one was objecting to the Flickinger site — except for those who were elected.

Today, the Washington Avenue eyesore is apparently off the table — and still on the city’s hands. Another potential site will be considered soon.

It will bring the same worries and objections from agencies and neighbors when it is announced.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.