October 18, 2021

Restoration posed ‘challenges’

Hopkins Block building ‘almost wasn’t salvagable,’ co-owner says

Kevin Smith/staff reporter

Denver Metzler, left, and Tim Johnson, workers with Stiles Contracting of Cortland, remove nails from an old window frame at the Hopkins Block building on Main Street in Cortland. The building, constructed in 1890, is undergoing a complete renovation and will include three floors of apartments.

Steel beams are hung between walls of the Hopkins Block building at 83-85 Main St. in Cortland to hold the building together, repairing damage from past renovation projects and salvaging one of the oldest buildings downtown.

The four-story building, owned by Jamie Yaman and Steve Franco, was first constructed in 1890. It’s been under renovation for the past nine months by Scott Steve — an independent project manager — along with Jeremy Stiles and his business Stiles Contracting.

Yaman said it almost wasn’t salvageable due to the condition it was in.

“Every developer takes a good, hard look at a building like this and eventually just moves on and does not entertain the idea of developing it,” he said.

Developers approached Yaman and Franco, saying they needed to think twice about working on a building of this magnitude.

“We were grateful for the advice, but all of the right pieces to this project fell into place at the right time,” Yaman said.

Others wondered why the project was happening in the first place, or why they wouldn’t go with a newer building.

“It would’ve been much easier for us to find a building ready to go,” Yaman said. “But it was a move we were willing to take because it was a great project for downtown Cortland.”

Steve said at one point the building was renovated and work was done without the proper code approval.

Steve added the building went through severe structural damage on the top three floors. Concrete was poured on all of the floors, which made the floor system unstable.

He also said there was an attempt to build a garage that was attached behind the building. Previous attempts tried to install an overhead door by cutting a hole into the brick wall.

This led to a third of the building collapsing, Steve said. He added that there was an attempt to build a new brick wall, but it was still unstable.

“This building has been a challenge to redevelop,” Steve said. “It’s a good thing it was done at the time it was done because Cortland would’ve had a four-story hole downtown.”

Yaman said the building was no more than five years away from having to be demolished. When parts of the building were pulled back to see what was behind the walls, Yaman knew the building was in a dire state of disrepair.

“If we lost this building, it would’ve been a real tragedy,” he said. “This building at first glance was in much worse shape than we thought.”

Yaman said large components of the building were compromised, but “now it’s perfect.”

Stiles said by the time the building is done, it will feature new, re-leveled floors, wall framing, restoration of old trim and doors, new stairwells, new windows and framing and the addition of an elevator.

“It’s in great shape now,” Steve said. “It’s just as good or better than it was before.”

The goal is to also preserve the historic character of the building by keeping some of the original exterior brick walls, Stiles said.

“We take pride in projects like this, especially when the building is a local one,” he added. “It’s been great so far.”

Yaman said repairs to the building inflated the budget to $2.4 million, up from an initial estimate of about $2 million, but $500,000 each in Downtown Revitalization Initiative and Anchor Business grants — with an additional $100,000 grant from National Grid — helped to make the project work.

“This one has definitely been a learning process, one that I’m extremely grateful for,” he said. “I think that at the end of the day, this is going to be one the community is going to be proud of.”

Yaman said the project will hopefully be finished by the end of the year. It will include three stories of apartments — 12 in total — on the upper floors and on the first floor a new Cortland County Chamber of Commerce office and a barbershop called Dapper Rascal.