Taylor's Island Cabin at Dawn

The Sauers Legacy: The Rebirth of Main Street

by Ron Soodalter

Since its incorporation, the city of Beacon relied on its factories and on trade from the Hudson River for its well-being. But as the river's commercial viability failed, and the factories gradually closed, the city began a slow, inexorable slide to decline. And nowhere was the decay more apparent than on the East End of Main Street.

Enter Ron and Ronnie Sauers. Long-time residents of Long Island and New York City. Ronnie was one of the first female video editors in the country. Ron was a well-respected builder and contractor in Montauk, Beacon and New York City. He specialized in the construction of video and sound studios, supervised the construction of Rockefeller's Greenacre Park in NYC and managed the park for 40 years.

By the mid-1980s, they turned their vision north, and set about finding an upstate community in need of revitalization. After briefly considering several options, they chose Beacon, and set their creative sights on three burned-out buildings on the city's East End. Buoyed by the enthusiastic support of the city government, they purchased the charred shells, and designed store fronts and high-end apartments that combined historically accurate facades with elegant modern interiors. The finished buildings marked the beginning of Beacon's rebirth.

Other projects followed. The husband-and-wife team shared design input, and as Ron oversaw the actual construction, Ronnie established a reputation for her close commitment to civic affairs. Over the course of the next several years, she worked under Mayor Clara Lou Gould as Councilwoman of the Third Ward, and served as Vice President of the Beacon Business Association, Chairwoman of the East End Committee, and Board member of the Howland Cultural Center. She was instrumental in recruiting Cornell University's School of Architecture in helping to redesign Beacon's streetscape. The result was new sidewalks, period lighting, and lush planters. She worked directly with store owners to redesign their facades, using the historic colors and signage that she and Ron had introduced on their own restorations.

As Ronnie was fond of saying, "Quality is contagious." When property owner Larry Way saw what the Sauers had accomplished across the street, he commissioned them to restore the old Matteawan train station. And the local government convinced Ronnie to apply her historic palette to Memorial Hall and the local jail.

In 1993, a major Hollywood production company chose Beacon as one of the locations for the cinematic version of Richard Russo's bestseller, Nobody's Fool, starring Paul Newman and Bruce Willis - and co-starring one of the Sauers' buildings! Meanwhile, as Ron and Ronnie continued to acquire and restore Beacon's dilapidated hulks, the city began to bloom, with the launching of 14 new businesses within a short period, and a significant drop in its crime rate.

The Sauers bought and restored the Mozeyko Building, a large burnt-out structure at the desolate extreme east end of Main Street, turning it into shops and apartments. Along with two partners, they then approached the city government with an offer of one dollar for the purchase of the Dondero Block, in the city's West End. The city council approved the deal, and the block now houses modern apartments and three thriving businesses. Meanwhile, Dia chose Beacon as the upstate site of its contemporary art museum, starting a rush of developers. Taking a page from the Sauers' book, they began to buy up and restore old buildings. Ron was selfless in his support, welcoming anyone interested in the furthering of Beacon, and offering them his unqualified expertise and encouragement.

Ron continued his work in the West End, restoring buildings that now house the River Estuary, Dash Locksmiths, and the River Winds Gallery. The restoration of Beacon's West End had begun.

In 1995, the Sauers acquired the historic Beacon Mills and Roundhouse, with the intention of creating a multi-use complex, consisting of apartments, artist studios, and a high-end hotel - a vision which developer Robert McAlpine has recently and ably realized, adding an event space, two restaurants, a spa, and a lounge.

In recognition of their accomplishments, the Sauers have been awarded the Business Excellence Award for Inner-City Entrepreneur, the Dutchess County Planning Federation Meritorious Achievement Award, and the City of Beacon Certificate of Appreciation. A city council member referred to Ron and Ronnie as "urban pioneers," crediting them with the beginning of Beacon's rejuvenation. Mayor Steve Long called Ron a "visionary figure," and "the father of Beacon's Main Street rebirth." And one local store owner kicked it up a notch, describing him as the "twentieth century savior of Beacon."

Sadly, Ron succumbed to cancer in August 2011, leaving a legacy that will be long remembered. Ronnie, whom a city resident credited, along with Ron, with being "responsible for the rebirth of the East End," is still a property owner in Beacon, and she still maintains the high standards she and Ron established decades ago. Perhaps the most profound tribute comes from VP of Corporate Communications at Central Hudson and former City Council member Denise Doring VanBuren: "All Across America, people are taking back their small cities, rejuvenating main streets and regaining an important sense of community. It is exciting to be a part of Beacon's enthusiastic participation in this national movement as a result of the Sauers' vision and commitment."