Developers need to invest in DRI projects
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WATERTOWN — Developers need to put more skin in the game if they want to receive funding through the city’s $10 million downtown grant.
That was the message that came out on Thursday from the group putting together Watertown’s Downtown Revitalization program.
Members of the city’s Local Planning Committee expressed concerns that “project sponsors” were not including enough of their own money in project applications for the DRI funding.
Committee member James W. Wright, who also serves as executive director of the Development Authority of the North Country, cautioned project sponsors that they need to put some equity in the project to get funded.
Stressing the DRI program wasn’t about giving out “free money,” Mr. Wright urged project sponsors to modify their proposals to include some of their own money, so they get funded.
“It is a competition,” said consultant Lisa Nagle.
With 22 renovation/new development projects totaling $18.9 million, there’s just not enough funding to go around, said Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director.
Some projects just won’t get funded through the DRI, he said.
If two applicants are proposing $500,000 projects and one is investing half of that amount and the other is not contributing anything, the Local Planning Committee would be more likely to select the project providing equity, Mr. Lumbis said.
The other $250,000 could then be used to finance another project, he said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has stressed that the DRI program should spur further development.
Mayor Joseph M. Butler has insisted $10 million will be leveraged with private and other public funding to come up with a plan totaling $40 million or $50 million in economic development.
But Vina Aileen C. Bonner — owner of the FunXcape at Empsall — complained that she’s already invested more than $1 million into her building at 223 JB Wise Place and cannot afford to put much more equity on her own to get DRI funding.
She claimed some property owners haven’t done any work on their buildings and are just waiting to get DRI money.
“It’s not fair,” Mrs. Bonner said.
But the committee will be flexible and won’t require set amounts of equity, Ms. Nagle said.
Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. pointed out that developers will need to have financing in place until the state reimburses them after the project has been completed.
With the committee working on the DRI process, Jordan B. Walker, executive director of the Jefferson County Historical Society, said now is the time to form an arts district downtown.
As she sees it, the district would celebrate culture, history, local art, music and educational resources.
The North Country Arts Council, the Sci-Tech Museum of New York and the historical society would work together to share resources, coordinate events, and promote and market each other, she explained.
The proposed arts center/theater on the second floor of the old Masonic Temple could be the focal point of the efforts, she said.
Although the city was awarded $10 million, state officials urged the planning committee to select projects totaling in the $12 million to $15 million range in case some proposals drop out and do not proceed.
There are 31 remaining projects that the committee is still considering for funding.
The committee must put together a final list of projects on March 1 before the state gives final approval on which proposals are funded.
The public will get a chance to vote on the projects during an open house that will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Empsall Building, 122 Court St.