FORT PLAIN — The former Masonic Temple in Fort Plain is one step closer to restoration and reuse for an affordable housing project after the village was awarded a $1.7 million Restore New York Communities Initiative grant.
“It’s going to be quite the undertaking, but it’s going to be huge for our village,” Mayor Patrick Hanifin said. “It’s very visible in that neighborhood, and it has become a bit of an eyesore. It’s going to brighten up and bring life back to that section of the village.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul last week announced the award of over $112.9 million to 70 projects through the statewide initiative to support revitalization efforts, remove blight, reinvigorate downtowns and promote economic development.
The funding awarded to Fort Plain will support the preservation and rehabilitation of the former Masonic Temple at 51 Mohawk Street. DePaul Properties plans to convert the interior of the 19th century building into a fully accessible affordable housing facility with 20 apartments.
A vacant building and fencing would be cleared from neighboring properties at 40 and 46 Division St. to make way for parking and green space. The overall project is expected to cost around $11.5 million.
“This funding is the first piece for us,” said Carrie Datro, affordable housing development associate at DePaul. “It’s pretty significant and tells us the state is excited about the project and willing to invest in it.”
DePaul holds a roughly $150,000 option to buy the involved properties from the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank Corporation. The non-profit developer is finalizing designs to seek local approvals and preparing additional funding applications before closing the deal.
After reaching an agreement to acquire the foreclosure properties from Montgomery County in 2019, the Land Bank marketed the former Masonic Temple for redevelopment for several years seeking the right fit before connecting with DePaul. The agency has previously rehabbed historic buildings and recently constructed two new facilities in the city and town of Amsterdam.
“This is a historic building, so we don’t want to get just anybody in,” said Tolga Morawski, executive director of the Land Bank. “The quality of their work is really top notch.”
The over-16,000-square-foot, three-story brick building was originally built as a high school in 1835. Growing class sizes led to the building’s sale to the Masons in 1921 and it continued to serve as a Masonic Lodge until it was sold again in 1998.
The property changed hands several times in the ensuing years and gradually fell into disrepair. It suffered significant water damage when severe storms flooded the village in 2013. The roof was torn off during a wind storm the following year. The Land Bank covered the roof and stabilized the building after taking ownership.
“It’s just always been kind of a landmark in the community,” Hanifin said. “It’s nice to keep this type of history in Fort Plain, rather than tear it down or see it continue to crumble.”
The once vibrant building where the Masonic Lodge hosted frequent events has largely been empty for the last several decades, according to Morawski, who is hopeful DePaul’s plans will revitalize the building and support the surrounding community.
“It was bustling every weekend. That has all gone away, and it’s sitting there right in the center of town within walking distance of a grocery store and the business district on Main Street. Those are things companies like DePaul and us look at,” Morawski said.
Hanifin said the project would bring needed clean and affordable housing to the village, while tenants would supply a nearby customer base to surrounding businesses.
Around 70% of village residents pay over 30% of their income toward rent, which is an indicator that housing is unaffordable, according to Datro.
“They don’t have enough money left over after paying rent to pay for other necessities, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of development in that part of the county, so there really is a tremendous need here,” Datro said.
Eligibility for tenants would likely be capped at 60% of the median area income, which would be about $32,000 a year for single individuals in Montgomery County.
Moreover, Morawski said the project could help curb ongoing speculation in older village homes by landlords frequently overcharging for rent and disregarding maintenance, which contributes to blight in the community.
“My hope is by building out what will be beautiful apartments here, it will attract people away from low-quality buildings out the back door and get speculators out of the market,” Morawski said. “To drive out people basically praying on seniors.”
DePaul is expected to apply for aid from state Homes and Community Renewal during upcoming funding rounds later this year or early next year. Once fully funded, Datro said the project will likely take around 18 months to complete.
“These projects often take a few years until they are funded and can start construction, but we are committed to the project,” Datro said. “We’re really excited about the award and the possibility of bringing some really good quality and affordable housing to Fort Plain.”
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.