The former Meson Ole building on Third Street in Greenport is receiving a makeover after it fell into disrepair in recent years.
Its new owner, builder Jim Olinkiewicz of Shelter Island, recently closed on the purchase of the building and he said he plans to restore it and reopen it, possibly as two separate restaurants on the ground floor with apartments on the upper floor, which he says is his preference.
Mr. Olinkiewicz’s company is actually the second to buy the building in the past few months. County records indicated a Southold-based company called 135 Third LLC bought it from Lela Realty Corp on Dec. 16 for $371,480, and then sold it on March 3 for $750,000.
“I’ve been chasing this building for four years,” Mr. Olinkiewicz said in an interview. “My passion is restoring old buildings.”
And this one certainly qualifies as old.
“It goes all the way back to 1845,” said Mr. Olinkiewicz, who has researched its history.
It was originally known as the Burr Hotel, and in 1894, its name was changed to the Sterlington Hotel.
Meson Ole, a Mexican restaurant, moved in around 1980, and stayed until a few years ago, when it went out of business, leaving the building vacant.
“That building is 170 years old,” Mr. Olinkiewicz said. A new wing where the bar was located was added to the building about 80 or 90 years ago, he said.
The 2003 book, “Greenport,” by Antonia Booth and Thomas Monsell, describes it as follows: “This extravaganza of a building was called the Burr in the mid-19th century but was renamed the Sterlington Hotel in 1894. Convenient for rail passengers, it was boardinghouse for summer visitors and rail workers until 1980, when a Mexican restaurant opened on the ground floor.”
A 1989 Suffolk Times photo shows the Sterlington sign still on the upper floors even after Meson Ole moved into the ground floor.
At one point, it was one of three hotels by the ferry dock and train station on what is now Third Street but what was then called Railroad Avenue, according to the book “Hotels and Inns of Long Island’s North Fork,” buy Geoffrey Fleming and Amy Kasuga Folk.
Mr. Olinkiewicz said some residents have brought him old photographs of what the building used to look like, as he attempts to recapture its “Victorian look” from the 1850s.
He said the prior building owner had obtained emergency permits to repair parts of the building, such as the porch roofs, which were collapsing.
The Meson Ole restaurant was too big, Mr. Olinkiewicz said.
“I don’t think there was a restaurant on eastern Long Island that could seat 245 people, or whatever its capacity was,” he said.
His initial plan is to split the first floor into two separate restaurants, or possibly into one restaurant and one commercial space.
Upstairs, he said he hasn’t decided if he will have three two-bedroom apartments or six one-bedroom apartments.
He’ll need to get a “use evaluation” from the Greenport Village Planning Board to ensure that whatever he does complies with zoning. After that, he’ll need site plan approval from the Planning Board, he said.
He doesn’t anticipate being open until spring of 2017, in part because it wouldn’t make sense to open in the middle of the winter, he said.
Despite its history as a hotel, Mr. Olinkiewicz has no plans to make the upstairs portion of the building a hotel, preferring apartments instead.
“I will put in year-round housing upstairs,” he said. “There’s desperate need for workforce housing. I have other apartments and I have a waiting list of almost 60 families looking for housing.”
Mr. Olinkiewicz said the influx of people renting their homes through companies like AirBnB has created a situation where “the homeowners are making a lot of money, but they’re kicking all the people out” that lived there.
The Greenport Village Board in 2015 authorized legal action against property owners Lela Realty Corp., Tito Figueroa Jr, and Fernando Figueroa, as well as Bayview Loan Servicing, the bank that had foreclosed on the property, in an attempt to force them to repair the building. Village officials had said last year that the bank had hired contractors to begin shoring up the building prior to it being sold.
Photo Caption: The outside of the former Meson Ole building in Greenport. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)