been looking at this building since I bought the liquor store thirteen
years ago,” Feehan said of his own reasons for purchasing the historic
hotel. “To be in a position, finally, to be able to do something
really great with it is very exciting. I love the fact that so many people
have come to me with ideas about this. I welcome it.”
“What I’d love to see is a really nice small hotel with a
pub and a restaurant.” Feehan continued. “I’m talking
with an architect, and what I’ve asked for is a design that will
blend into Phoenicia, but also stand out because it’s beautiful.
Something along the lines of a Victorian style building with a wraparound
Turning this vision into reality, though, will be no easy project. Feehan’s
purchase price from former owner Richard Stokes was $395,000, and demolition
costs for the condemned structure will add about $50,000 to the upfront
expenses. Helping with the financing was the fact that both the Catskill
Watershed Corporation and the SHARP committee essentially rolled over
their existing loans to the previous owner, about $60,000 from CWC and
$55,000 from SHARP.
Feehan had to provide the balance personally, using equity from a number
of residential and several commercial buildings he owns in Shandaken,
Olive, and Woodstock. He estimates that the total cost of the project
would likely he envisions would fall, in the end, somewhere in the $4
million to $6 million range.
CWC’s maintaining of an interest in the property via its loan decision
could indicate a willingness on the regional agency’s part to participate
further in his coming development process.
Before the hotel burned, CWC was considering a plan to purchase the property
and rehabilitate it with hopes of then selling a turn key operation to
someone in the private sector, something similar to what the agency is
now doing in the Village of Stamford with another historic hotel property.
Now that Feehan has taken the property, that particular approach by CWC
would no longer be viable, but Feehan has been in discussions with CWC
officials about ways it could participate.
The hotel building, first opened in 1854, had a long and colorful past,
according to local historians and authors Lonnie and Ruth Gale. From about
1900 to 1920 its front porch was a nationally known center of fly-fishing,
when the Esopus widely known as the premier trout stream in the Northeast.
In the late 1920s, Babe Ruth often drank and held forth there, and sometimes
spent the night when he couldn’t make it back to his regular boarding
house at the mouth of Woodland Valley.
Notorious bootlegger and gangster Dutch Schultz was another regular during
Prohibition years; his allegedly buried treasure remains undiscovered
somewhere in the area to this day.
The hotel’s reputation as an elegant though somewhat rough and tumble
establishment continued through the 1940s, say the Gales, when “somebody
would go through the plate glass window just about every weekend.”
In the late 40s and early 50s its storefronts were added to house Rudy’
restaurant and Ilene’s dress shop.
The building’s last 30 or so years had been a period of continual
decline, culminating in its condemnation several years ago for unsolved
structural problems and the revocation of its liquor license.
On July 29, 2007, it was destroyed by fire, later determined to be “of
suspicious origin.” Earlier this winter, modest repairs compelled
by the town were made to prevent a portion of the building from collapse.
What’s next for the property’s redevelopment is uncertain
at the moment, except that Feehan is planning to have the burned-out structure
demolished sometime this spring. In the short term, he’s planning
to develop a hotel design and explore construction funding options.
“The truth is,” he says, “the whole site is only two
thirds of an acre, and there’s no place for anything larger than
a very small septic field. So the viability of any hotel project is completely
dependent on the availability of municipal wastewater treatment. If Phoenicia
gets that, then I think it can also get a beautiful hotel on this site,
a real centerpiece of the hamlet. If we can’t figure out how to
do that, I’ll have to go back and look at other options.”
Those options, according to Feehan, do not include partnering with other
local developers, though he is hopeful that perhaps public sector participation
in any final project might play a significant role. And no, he laughs,
he has “no plans” to build any self-storage units on the hamlet’s
historic commercial center, even though he does have experience with the
construction of such operations.
Last February 2, voters in what would be the Phoenicia Sewer District
defeated a referendum which would have permitted the construction of a
$17 million New York City funded septic treatment system.
Funding for such a system remains available until early this summer, should
a negotiated resolution and voter approval permit.
As it now stands, any such resolution appears very far off. On Monday,
February 25, town Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said there is no way he
would even ask the people of Phoenicia to reconsider the deal that was
turned down last year, even though the DEP has made it clear that offer
would not change.
It did not appear that DiSclafani was doing anything to negotiate a better
deal and he was adamant that he saw no point to assemble some type of
sewer committee to take on the negotiating chores.
But Feehan, 39 and the owner of the Phoenicia Liquor Store, who started
his business career working with Town Tinker Tube Rentals, remains hopeful
such a solution may be possible. He grew up in Phoenicia after his parents
moved here in 1973, and except for his years at college, has lived here
“Truth is almost everybody in town has been thinking about this
building or this site and its future,” he said of his new purchase.
“There’s a lot of great ideas out there.”
it’s not expected to be released for public perusal until next Wednesday,
March 5, at the earliest. Even though a form of the document, which serves
as something of a blueprint for longer environmental statements subject
to intense review, was available two weeks ago, as originally proposed
by the state.
“According to protocol, it goes to the applicant to look at first,”
said DEC Region 3 spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach on February 25. “They
have an option to review it. They can also suggest changes.”
Rosenback added that whether suggested changes are made is the state’s
prerogative, something she couldn’t address at present.
“All I know is that it’s a very long document and it’s
very comprehensive,” she added. “It’s a big production.
Added DEC Region 3 Director Willie Janeway, in a February 26 e-mail, “Availability
of the expanded Belleayre Crossroads Scope should be announced, as per
regular process, in ENB.”
He was referring to the weekly Environmental Notices Bulletin the DEC
publishes on its website each Wednesday. Rosenbach added that she didn’t
see any release before March 5, and noted that the process had been complicated
by the need for the Scope to address the long-hinted at but never formally
proposed ski center expansion, as well as the Unit Management Plan the
DEC would need to achieve such changes.
On the eve of an earlier anticipated Scoping Release date, pro development
forces joined forces Monday, February 18 to try and spin their view of
the region’s need for such investment in a press conference at Ulster
County Chamber of Commerce offices in Kingston.
Simultaneously, a coalition of groups and local landowners opposing the
project, first proposed nearly a decade ago by Shandaken-based developer
Dean Gitter, sent out their own spin documents noting how their beef wasn’t
with skiers or the state-owned ski center at Belleayre, but the private
resort planned to buttress what they note was originally planned in the
1940s as a populist recreational facility.
Two news items seemed to have triggered the press conference called by
Joe Kelly of the Coalition for Belleayre, which announced its intentions
to change its name back to the Coalition to Save Belleayre, and Partners
for Progress, a Margaretville-based coalition of local business owners
and other supporters of what they call “the governor’s compromise.”
One was a January 10, 2008 letter from The Greene County Coalition for
Economic Equality to the state DEC as a comment on Scoping, per the state’s
request. The detailed letter, handed out at the Chamber meeting, noted
how two of the new coalition’s members, Hunter and Windham mountain
ski areas, as well as the entirety of Greene County, would be adversely
impacted by any major expansion at Belleayre Mountain, which they said
was already hurting them via the state’s unfair business practices.
Hunter Mountain President Russ Coloton, who attended the Monday session
in Kingston without comment, later handed over a full 20-page White Paper
stating their position that Belleayre has been able to undercut other
area’s prices because the public, via state coffers, covers so many
otherwise heavy industry-related expenses.
The other point of opposition that Kelly and others said the press conference
was called to counter involved the Greene County Legislature’s passage
of a resolution backing their ski areas’ objections to the expansion,
as well as a more serious state Senate bill calling for the establishment
of a statewide “Blue Ribbon Commission on fair competition in the
outdoor recreation industry,” which Coloton later said had been
unanimously approved by the Board of Directors of Ski Areas of New York,
the industry’s main advocacy group.
The latter bill, put forth by State Senator Jim Seward on January 28,
asks Spitzer to okay the naming of an 11-member commission by his office
and the state legislature to look into Hunter and Windham’s charges,
as well as similar complaints elsewhere in the state, with a report due
by year’s end.
Kelly opened his session for five members of the press with talk about
how his coalition was originally formed in the early 1980s to battle a
previous state move to close Belleayre.
“We’re here today because Belleayre is under attack and it’s
time to fight back,” Kelly said, as members of Partners for Progress,
several Delaware County chambers of commerce and governmental agencies,
and representatives of a number of key local unions stood around and nodded
in agreement as the talk veered between the ski center’s expansion
and the private resort plans.
Also on hand were David Donaldson, Chairman of the Ulster County Legislature,
who noted his support of the ski area but withheld comment on the private
resource; legislator Susan Zimet, who withheld all comment excepting a
few words of interest; and Ulster County Development Corporation and Industrial
Development Agency head Lance Matteson, who would eventually speak about
the importance of bringing investment dollars to the county.
Former Ulster County Chamber chairman Joan Lawrence Bauer, currently a
member of the Delaware County IDA and director of the not-for-profit M-ARK
Project, a housing and local development agency, as well as a former Gitter
employee, aided Kelly with his presentation and handed out materials,
including a “Rumor Control” set of pages apparently created
by the resort developers countering various assertions it has been saying
its opponents are touting.
Gitter’s Vice President of Public Relations, Paul Rakov, nodded
approvingly as presentations were made but did not say anything publicly
“We think the state is doing a fantastic job of being in the ski
industry,” Kelly said, after lamenting the attacks of Ulster’s
“northern neighbors.” He talked about how the New York constitution,
“mandated the state to be in this industry” and that any problem
private ski areas were having had nothing to do with state business.
Sam Fratto of the Hudson Valley Building Trades union talked about how
“We give too much credence to the opponents of projects” and
noted the promises of full employment that Gitter has made to his and
other area unions.
Others spoke of possible ghost towns should the resort and ski center
expansion not go through. Several people denigrated environmentalists
for holding back the local economy, and Lawrence Bauer again spoke of
the state constitution as though any failure to meet its maximized ski
center size were an affront to some unnamed founding fathers.
Planned business rallies for the resort, including one at Cold Spring
Lodge in Olivera on March 5, and a new billboard campaign of giant signs
labeled “Say Yes To Compromise” were mentioned.
Asked whether Belleayre was under actual threat of closure, and whether
the purpose of the press conference was more about support for Gitter’s
private project, Kelly and others talked about “the cost of paralysis,”
“a culture of decay,” having to “grow or go,”
and “a thousand little pinpricks of pressure” similar to what
led to the state’s 1984 attempt to close the ski area.
“I think what you’re seeing here is our frustration coming
out,” Kelly said.
Could the entire problem actually reflect an industry-wide fear, much
reported in the national and international press, that climate change
pressures are increasing competitive worries amongst ski centers?
“When and if that comes technology will have to deal with it,”
Kelly said as others rolled their eyes. “If it gets too hot I’ll
pull out my Speedo and go to the pool at the resort.”
What, Kelly was asked, would be the problem if Seward’s bill passed
and a Blue Ribbon Committee was put into place to study public/private
competition in the recreation industries?
“Delay, delay, delay,” Kelly replied. “We can’t
afford any delays.”
Would there be further such press conferences throughout the coming process,
including the impending release of the Scoping Document whose comments
this event was indirectly focused on?
“The Coalition will have a constant opinion as this continues to
move forward,” he replied. “We have been pushed into a corner
Meanwhile, Save The Mountain, the coalition of groups opposing the current
expansion and resort plans outlined in Spitzer’s AIP, sent out a
press release the day after the Chamber press conference touting their
support of the state owned ski center and noting, in a headline, “Don’t
be fooled by attempts to confuse! There are 2 Belleayres”
“Some statements made by others are intended to blur the lines between
our PUBLIC Belleayre Mountain and its Ski Center, part of the Catskill
Park, vs the proposed PRIVATE Belleayre Resort, a real estate development,”
their release reads. “On the contrary, we say put Belleayre Mountain
and Ski Center first. We’re concerned that building the huge PRIVATE
high-end, for-profit Belleayre Resort, as proposed, may impede expansion,
overwhelm the great PUBLIC Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, and even raise
lift and rental prices… We are also concerned about using our tax
dollars and yours to build and maintain private ski lifts, trails and
snowmaking for the enjoyment and private profit of a few.”
On Morgan Hill
Police say sometime after
10:30 p.m. on Monday, February 18 - the time stamp on a long, rambling
internet blog entry about his wife's alleged infidelity - Leshkevich,
52, attacked his wife Deborah, a popular 55 year-old sixth grade teaching
assistant at Woodstock Elementary School, in the couple's home on Morgan
Hill Road in Hurley.According to police, Leshkevich beat her about the
head with a blunt object and suffocated her. Then, leaving his wife's
lifeless body in the bedroom, he made his way to a large attached garage
stuffed with boxes of merchandise for his online auction business where
he hung himself.
Police discovered the apparent murder-suicide around 11 a.m. Tuesday
after Deborah Leshkevich's co-workers became concerned when she didn't
show up for work and called police to ask that they check on her.
On Tuesday, state police investigators donned white protective suits
as they prepared to enter the two-story home with a Christmas wreath
on the door and a large pile of firewood in the front yard. Police removed
evidence from the home including computers and a number of firearms,
and say they're checking to see if the guns were legally owned.
At Woodstock Elementary School, where the Deborah Leshkevich worked,
crisis teams were deployed Tuesday, February 19, and Wednesday, February
20, and Onteora Central School District superintendent Leslie Ford has
been speaking in the classrooms to students and teachers who were shocked
by her death. "I spent the day telling the kids," said Ford.
The portraits of Deborah Leshkevich that emerged from those who worked
with her and from the parents of students who came into contact with
her were vastly different from the internet ramblings of her attacker.
"Mrs. Leshkevich was a person who went the extra mile, providing
much more than just her daily job to the school," said Ford. "Our
district stands behind Mrs. Leshkevich's positive reputation, and encourages
the community to join us in remembering her warm smile, sense of humor,
and legacy of caring."
Most parents knew her as the person who checked off names of children
during dismissal, so the kids would not get lost in the shuffle during
pick-up time. The kids called her Mrs. L.
Some parents who knew her were shocked to hear she was even married
to him. They said she never spoke about him, and instead poured herself
into work while also teaching Catechism at St. John's Roman Catholic
Church in West Hurley.
Others were shocked by her husband's blog and said that the posting
continued the spousal abuse, making her a victim even after her death.
Angered by his distorted views, some parents wanted to make sure that
it was understood that she was a person and a professional who was the
total opposite of her husband.
She was president of the Onteora non-teaching employees association
(ONTEA) and ran the student council, was part of the conflict management
team, and was on the Site team for many years. She also worked on environmental
projects around Woodstock school and helped raise money to buy flowers.
Ford also said that many in the community were sad and angry at the
way the media covered it. "We're taking it one day at a time, and
counseling is available for as long as they need it," she said.
Morgan Hill Road neighbors say the house, on a rural road of ranch homes
and bungalows, was the site of frequent loud verbal arguments between
the couple, but the only time they'd seen police on the scene was a
few years back when opponents of Leshkevich's white supremacist, anti-Semitic
views organized a small protest outside his home.
"I didn't even know who lived there until that happened,"
said one neighbor who asked to remain anonymous. "After that I
started calling him Adolph Hitler."
Another neighbor, Casey Bann, said he'd heard the fights but was unaware
of any serious problems in the home until a detective knocked on his
door Tuesday morning asking if he'd heard any screams coming from the
house. Bann said Deborah Leshkevich was rarely seen outside the house
while her husband spent hours in the front yard chopping firewood.
"I only met him one time," said Bann who moved into the home
next door to the Leshkevich's four months ago. "He seemed like
kind of an oddball, an ignorant redneck type for lack of a better terminology.
When I told him I was from California he went right into a whole thing
about the Mexicans."
Bann said he was especially disturbed when he realized Leshkevich was
expounding on his views to neighborhood kids. According to Bann, one
13-year-old neighbor related James Leshkevich's reaction to him and
his girlfriend moving into the neighborhood. "He told him 'thank
God they're white, if they weren't white I'd be hanging my flags.' This
is a 13-year-old kid he's talking to!"
But Jim Leshkevich broadcast his views far beyond Morgan Hill Road.
At least as far back as 2002 when he handed out anti-Zionist literature
at a pro-Israel rally in Uptown Kingston, Leshkevich has been active
in the white power movement. In November 2005, Leshkevich helped organize
a rally led by white supremacist radio host and (unknown at the time)
FBI informant Hal Turner. The rally, prompted by an attack on a white
Kingston High School Student by a black teenager, brought out Neo Nazis
from as far away as California along with hundreds of counter-demonstrators
It was on the internet though where Leshkevich most loudly disseminated
his overtly racist views. He was a frequent visitor to the online reader
response forum of the Daily Freeman where he seemed to delight in the
outraged reactions to his rhetoric. On his blog dubbed - much to the
horror of staff at the daily newspaper - "The Hudson Valley Freeman",
he would repost articles from local media along with commentary from
white nationalists from across the country. He also hosted a weekly
internet radio show titled "Free Talk Live."
The final entry on Leshkevich's blog is dated Monday at 10:30 p.m. In
it he describes the dissolution of his marriage and Deborah's purported
relationship with a local man over the course of 2,553 words. Supposed
excerpts appear from a cell phone conversation he says he secretly recorded
between his wife and her alleged lover on January 19. He goes on to
detail a series of arguments which ensued after he confronted her with
the recording. More ominously, he rants about recently divorced friends
of his wife who he blames for egging her on to leave him and pursue
On Wednesday, February 20, State Police Capt. Wayne Olsen of the Troop
F, Major Crime Investigation Unit, said police were aware of the blog
entry and had contacted all of those identified in the post and some
who were not. The angry rantings on the blog, which also identifies
Deborah Leshkevich's alleged lover, are of particular concern because
of James Leshkevich's status as a well known and popular presence on
white racist internet message forums. On one such forum where tributes
to "Yankee Jim" were accompanied by laments that he had not
gone out on a "martyrdom operation" after killing his wife,
several posts explicitly threatened or encouraged violence against the
alleged lover and one poster claims to have called him and left a message.
"We are aware that [the alleged lover] is not on their fan favorite
lists and we're taking appropriate steps," said Olsen of the danger
of retaliation by Leshkevich extremist associates.
Olsen added that state police investigators were immediately aware of
Leshkevich's extremist background and carried out a slow methodical
investigation before arriving at the murder/suicide determination.
"We're fairly comfortable at this point that this is what it appears
to be," said Olsen. "But to be perfectly honest, given his
background, we were very careful in coming to that conclusion."
A Memorial Service for Mrs. L will be held on March 10, 6:30pm at the
High School auditorium. Children will be making presentations, there
will be music and family members will be attending.
Lisa Childers contributed to this report, which originally ran in the
Woodstock and Kingston TImes
We’re talking, of course,
about Tony & Tina’s Wedding, the hit Off-Broadway play of
18 years running that started screening as a film at the Waverly Theater,
former home to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, back in November, with
Reverend Debra performing actual vows before each screening. And of
how this odd gig, which Debra’s hoping to take next to the Colony
Café in Woodstock, has helped grow Romano’s separate RentAReverend.com
Suffice it to say that St. Valentine’s Day, and Romance with a
capital R, mean a lot to the Reverend.
“I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. My parents took me out
of high school on Staten Island when I was 16,” Romano recalled,
trying to get at what she finds so special about the Big V-Day, along
with all the gaudy trappings of the sorts of weddings she’s become
involved with much of the time. “It’s an over the top, commercialized
holiday, but I never got to play with pink paper and glue, making Valentines
for my mom, when I wished I could. I guess you could say I’m making
up for lost time.”
Reverend Debra says she slipped into her new life a few years ago after
spending years in the insurance business. When she found herself let
go from one job she particularly hated, she said a friend suggested
she start doing something she really wanted to do instead of always
focusing on what she didn’t like. Since she’d already gotten
a license to perform weddings years before hand, around the same time
she started studies as a paralegal, it wasn’t a big leap to starting
her own business.
“Then I answered a Craigslist ad for someone looking for a wedding
officiant,” she says. “In that my moment my life changed.”
Today, Reverend Debra performs weddings with Hudson Valley Ceremonies,
as well as on her own. In addition to the Tony & Tina gigs, she
spent the recent holiday season wedding folk at the Charmin Restrooms
in Times Square… and is also proud to have brought together a
goodly share of alternative folks in committal ceremonies she feels
are often more emotionally charged than normal weddings, because of
the still-renegade aspects of the phenomenon.
She talks about how, when her son was killed in a motorcycle accident
1998, she felt she had to do some major things with her life. At the
time, it was all about returning to school for the paralegal degree.
But then, it also was involved in her new sense of commitment to bringing
people together… with a bit of fun.
For her Tony N Tina gigs, Romano teases her hair bigger than usual,
wears a miniskirt and fishnet stockings, and plays up the nasal New
York accent she learned as a kid. Her words may be largely on script,
but her intonations are broad… and fun, stressing vows of recommitment
as well as newlyweds.
“I chew gum. I’m very 80s,” she says of her act. “And
yet I make my ceremonies very personal. There’s something great
about officiating someone’s choice, and being part of the happiest
moment of their life up to that point.”
Reverend Debra added that after all these years doing weddings elsewhere,
now, she’s ready to go to the town to see if she can hang out
a shingle that would publicize her special services in Olive and the
rest of the Catskills. In addition to making it possible to share what
she does with neighbors and fellow Catskillians, she’s looking
forward to sharing her husband, Antoine Hepkins’, musical contributions.
“You’ve just got to hear his version of ‘Here Comes
The Bride,’” she notes. “It’s, what can I say…
pretty groovy, all in all.”
She hoped folks would be able to catch her act before Tony & Tina,
if not in Rosendale, at least in Woodstock… at a date still to
And as for Valentines, she noted that busy or not, she adores any holiday
that reminds folks how important it is to declare one’s love.
And accept others.
For further information visit www.rentareverend.com. Or just call 845-532-5610.