Cities may work together on downtown grant plan

GLOVERSVILLE – Gloversville and Johnstown may work together on an effort to improve their downtowns.

Officials from both cities met this week to talk about the possibility of applying together for a possible $400,000 grant that would pay for a development study for the two downtowns.

Department of Public Works Director Kevin Jones and other Gloversville officials reached out to Johnstown City Engineer Chandra Cotter and Mayor Sarah Slingerland about a possible grant application through the Brownfield Opportunity Area Program. They arranged a presentation at Gloversville City Hall on Tuesday by Bergmann Associates to figure out the two cities’ best option.

Although Gloversville officials considered in June it may be better for the city to apply for the grant on its own, it now is considering a joint effort with Johnstown.

Neither of the two city councils has decided on a possible downtown revitalization grant application.

“It is nice to be able to work with the city of Johnstown, and we have some commonalities,” Mayor Dayton King said. “We certainly need to invest in our master plan, and I think this is a great opportunity.”

Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland said her council is still considering what it is going to do regarding the grant program.

Jones and Cotter said they will work together over the next several weeks on the possible grant application.

“Both of us have to go back to our respective mayors and common councils to have some discussion with those folks to come up with a consensus on both ends,” Jones said. “The meeting and presentation was positive all the way around.”

Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz previously said the two cities could apply for the grant separately, but they would be competing against each other for funding. Representatives from Bergmann said that would be the case.

The representatives of Bergmann said the Brownfield Opportunity Area program is “one of the most powerful planning programs in New York state.”

“The more creative you are willing to get as a community, the more opportunites I think you will ultimately have,” said Andy Rause, principal planner for Bergmann.

Mraz previously said to revitalize downtown areas, the cities should have a plan and businesses should be the driving force behind development.

The associates from Bergmann reiterated that during the meeting Tuesday and said although the funding will not pay for bricks-and-mortar work, it would pay for the plan and vision necessary to entice private investment downtown.

Rause said the study would make private investment more attractive and streamline the development process.

Some of the things the grant could potentially be used for include: future land use and master planning, environmental review and investigation to develop site profiles, regulatory updates or zoning analysis, feasibility studies, highest- and best-use studies, infrastructure analysis and capacity studies, and marketing and branding activities.

Bergmann showed a 3D Digital Master Plan Map program of the Cohoes opportunity area that is designed to give investors a view of the master plan. It also allows them to see the existing conditions and what the future plans look like.

“The way we communicate is changing, and it is also changing the way we plan,” Rause said. “The paper copies are really important, but in reality, this generation is communicating more and more electronically. They respond to electronic information much more readily than the rest of us and like a plan that is a living instrument which allows people to interact with it.”

He said a 3D Master Plan actually is only 5 percent more than the static copies previously used and has more obvious benefits to entice future development.

The Brownfield grant has limitations in what it would pay for. It wouldn’t pay for bricks- and-mortar work, environmental cleanup and remediation, purchase of environmental insurance, land acquisition, and direct subsidies to private entities.

Officials said the cities of Rome and Cohoes, both successful applicants, have had about a 75-1 return on investment. For every dollar that was invested through Brownfield funding, $75 was returned in private investment.

Rause said the state typically is looking to approve areas that show the most potential of a return on investment, and although it isn’t guaranteed applying jointly would provide “bonus points,” it is more of a regional approach the state has been favoring in other areas over the last several years.

Bergmann Associates has done more than 20 successful applications and plans statewide.

The Brownfield Opportunity Area Program provides money to help develop areas that may be difficult to work with because of environmental hazards.

Jones said he has been talking to consultants and they have been telling him this may be the last year the grant will be offered.

Bergmann representatives said the state has committed an additional $10 million this year. However, the official application isn’t expected to be released until around November. Associates from Bergmann said the approval would be announced about four to six months later, and the work could begin in late 2014 or early 2015.

They said the grant typically has three phases, with the first being a prenomination study and inventory of what is available. The second is the nomination stage, where the plan is actually put together. The third is implementation of the designed plans.

Jones said funding could be around $400,000 during phase two.

Jones said he would work with Cotter to determine a potential study area and get information together so Bergmann Associates can put the application together.

“Essentially, both of us will have to add to what we already have,” Jones said regarding what the cities have to do to be prepared.

If the two cities were to apply jointly, they would be able to split the cost to hire Bergmann Associates.

Rause said the cities could put down the money, approximately $3,500, for hiring the consultant to apply for the grant, and if the cities provided about an additional $8,000, they could apply for the grant starting at phase two when the plan is actually developed.

The additional money would go toward the inventory process and initial planning that would be required to be completed to enter the grant at phase two, Rause said.

Bergmann representatives said if the Glove Cities were to apply together, the two would have to find a small corridor between the two larger areas each city is looking to focus on because they are required by the state to be linked. Essentially, the “study area” would look like a dumbbell, they said.

Even though the grant would be a planning grant for downtown, Jones said it also is a brownfields grant, which could be used to study cleaning up old tannery sites such as Pan-American, Independent Leather or Risedorph’s.

“Historically, if you follow the Cayadutta Creek through both of these cities, where are all the mills?” Jones said. “Right along the [Cayadutta] creek, and the creek goes right up along North Perry Street and right up along South Main and there are mills sites in there to connect which makes that a smooth transition.”

Jones said the two cities would look together at a site approximately 1,000 to 1,400 acres in size.

Levi Pascher can be reached at [email protected].

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