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September 25, 2010

 

Conference highlights upper floor development strategies

ConferenceBob Ellis/staff photographer
Decals remain from a long-gone C.L O’Connor law office on a third-floor window at 45 Main St.

By JEREMY HOUGHTALING
Staff Reporter
jhoughtaling@cortlandstandardnews.net

Developers from all across Central New York gathered Friday in Cortland to learn about the possibilities when it comes to revitalizing historic downtown areas, like Cortland’s plans to redevelop upper floors on Main Street.
About 60 people attended the workshop titled “Enhancing Main Street: Making Upper Floors Work Again.” It was the first workshop of its kind held in Cortland.
“Many people are unaware of the benefits of living in a historic district,” said Linda Kline, the chairperson of the Cortland Historic District Commission. She said she is hopeful that the workshop will lead to more of the upstairs space in Cortland being filled.
“It would be wonderful to have higher-end apartments, but they are costly projects,” said Kline. “It won’t happen overnight, but it’s a beginning.”
The workshop aimed to show how older buildings could be renovated with financial help from various tax credit and grant programs.
Murray Gould, a development consultant for Oswego’s Port City Preservation, went through a sample project, and how it could get the financing for a $1 million renovation that would turn an old building into six apartments.
After figuring out the operating cost, and how much of a mortgage they would get, Gould went into the benefits of being in a historic district in the right census tract, meaning a median family income at or below the state average, which would include areas like Cortland’s downtown.
The project would receive commercial rehabilitation tax credits, including 20 percent from federal taxes and another 20 percent from state taxes. It would then need to find investors to turn those tax credits into capital, and find other tax credits or grants to fill out the rest of the funding, such as the low-income housing tax credit or Main Street or Restore NY grants.
“The workshop was very informative,” said Julie Deemie, of Johnson City. “They showed how the tax credits work and the process of breaking down the costs.”
Deemie said Johnson City has the opposite problem of Cortland. Instead of having the upper floors vacant, the first floors are vacant and the upper floors are apartments. She said the low-income apartments, which some of the grants require, have led to increased crime in those areas. Gould said each grant has different strings attached.
Clinton Brown, the president and architect of Clinton Brown Company Architecture/ReBuild, warned the business leaders against turning their communities into “Generica,” where communities give way to big box stores that make it hard to differentiate one city from another. He said communities should instead fix up historic buildings inherited from past generations.
“You want to have a sense of place and a sense of pride,” Brown said.
He urged people to reinvest and restore the core of their communities, their historic downtowns.
“It’s the most important enterprise business leaders like you can undertake,” he said.
Mike Kaleta made the trip from Springville in Erie County, where he is a code enforcement officer. He said he was looking forward to the second half of presentations because it had more to do with code enforcement. Joe Fama, the executive director of the Troy Architectural Program, discussed how the building codes and preservation efforts work together.
At the end of the workshop, Tania Werbizky, the regional director for Technical and Grant Programs of the Preservation League of New York State, awarded the Cortland Downtown Partnership $6,500 toward the cost of a cultural resource survey.
“In making this award, the Preservation League is expressing our belief that your project will be of great value to Cortland residents,” Werbizky said. “We wish you good luck in completing your important work and look forward to seeing the results.”

 

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