By Jessica Cohen
For the Gazette
PORT JERVIS - Gutting, renovating and adding three stories to 29-31 Front St. is a welcome challenge and not unfamiliar work for Cory Puopolo, he says.
He and business partner Martin McDonough of Milford, Pa., are buying the dilapidated building from the city of Port Jervis for $50,000, after the Common Council accepted their offer on Monday night.
“I most look forward to what it will do for the community and how it will affect the two kids I’m raising, Jose and Tyrie,” Puopolo said, as they can learn construction and meet community leaders.
He has been involved in building around Port Jervis since he was 5 years old, he said in a phone call hours after their offer was accepted. He began with ponds and waterfalls made of rocks, lined with plastic. He built stone walls and, watching houses being built, he imagined doing that too. When a Matamoras school was torn down, he tied a PF Flyer red wagon to his bike and hauled bricks around town that people bought to make sidewalks. Profitable ventures appealed to him.
“I had yard sales, lemonade stands, raked leaves, whatever I could do to make money,” he said. “I always had lots of energy.
Teaching physical education in Port Jervis schools has absorbed some of that energy, but he also renovated his home on Catherine Street and a circa-1820 house on Front Street.
“I do renovations for fun,” Puopolo said.
He gutted both houses and restored some historic features, which is what he and McDonough plan for 29-31 Front St. - along with adding three stories with “high-end apartments,” a banquet hall at the top, and storefronts on the first floor.
The idea emerged during the Fall Foliage Festival in 2018, when Puopolo and McDonough were having lunch at the Fox and Hare Brewery across the street.
“Port Jervis was packed. We decided we needed to buy a building,” Puopolo said. “We looked at 29-31 Front St., but someone owned it. So, we looked for another property.”
That was when they bought a lot on the other side of the street, at 61 Front St., where they are building a 24-room hotel with a rooftop bar providing 360-degree views of the city, mountains and bridge. Puopolo said they would submit revised hotel plans for the $1.5-2 million project on Monday and hope to start building within a month or two.
“We’ll be hands on. We can’t wait to start,” said Puopolo. “We message each other on nice days, saying, ‘We could have been working on the hotel today.’”
The city acquired 29-31 Front St. after the owner defaulted on debts to the city that she acquired when she bought the property. Recently, Orange West Realty represented the city in offering the building for sale for $140,000. A bid for $100,000 from Abdul Rauf of SSS Realty LLC was accepted by the city over the $50,000 offered by Puopolo and McDonough. But the buyer backed out last week, expressing concern about mold and asbestos, although they had waived inspecting the building before buying. Their architect, John Fuller, had described the building’s condition, according to their Keller Williams Realty agent, Hamza Warriach.
Warriach indicated they wanted to renegotiate the deal, but on Monday the Common Council voted to accept Puopolo and McDonough’s offer.
“The building is a disaster,” Puopolo conceded, undaunted. “It’s already gutted. The floors are folding. We’re taking it all out. The goal is to leave the historic front,” remnant of the J.J. Newberry store that once occupied it.
“My grandparents and aunts and uncles talked about Newberry’s,” he said. “Aunt Judy remembered the soda counter to one side when you came in, the clothes upstairs and the grand staircase to the second floor.”
His grandmother and 10 siblings had grown up on Ball Street, he said.
As with the hotel, their plan is for concrete walls and floor, using concrete sandwiched between insulation, called insulated concrete forms, for fireproofing and soundproofing. LAN, an architectural firm based in Goshen, which did the hotel plans, is also working on the plans for the 30,000 square feet at 29-31 Front St.
“We don’t 100 percent know what we want to do,” Puopolo said.
So, the vision is preliminary and depends on codes and other practicalities, but he drew it up with some elaboration. Armani’s sports bar, next to a breakfast and lunch diner, “like Chip and Joanna’s on TV,” would occupy the first floor.
The second and third floors would each have four apartments, while the fifth and sixth, with windows all around, unobstructed by buildings, would have six apartments. On the sixth floor, the banquet hall would have views of the Delaware River, Point Peter and downtown.
“My family is always looking for a place to have a baby shower,” Puopolo said.
As for his teaching job, he said, “I love going to work every day.”