NORWICH — The Local Planning Committee (LPC) overseeing the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant awarded to the City of Norwich last year met Wednesday to review the final list for DRI projects.
On Tuesday, July 12, the LPC will hold a final vote to approve the projects for submission to New York State in the Strategic Investment Plan. From there, the state will decide which projects are viable, transformative, and will receive DRI funding.
"We identified a list of 16 projects to move forward as recommended projects to the state for their consideration for DRI funding, totaling $13.9 million in DRI funding requests," said Kimberly Baptiste, the Vice President of Northeast Buildings Group for Bergmann, an architecture and engineering firm that's acting as the lead consultant for the DRI process.
"There’s $9.7 million that will be allocated to projects in the City of Norwich, but the state asks for a range of projects anywhere from $12 to $15 million, and then they will make the final decision on which projects to move forward with. So we are right in the middle of that range, so starting off in a good place in this meeting from where we originally started, which was 33 projects and over $25 million in funding requested."
The 16 projects included a $600,000 small project grant fund; $240,000 for signage and wayfinding; $1,660,250 for improvements to East, West, and Guernsey parks; $650,625 for beautification of the Norwich Family YMCA; $470,000 for American Avenue Enhancements; $615,000 for North Broad Street enhancements; $165,000 for upgrades to the Colonia Theater; $292,000 for rehabilitation of the Heritage Building; and $530,000 for the rehabilitation of 13 to 15 South Broad Street.
Also included in the list of projects was $3,360,000 for the development of a boutique hotel; $3,005,596 for rehabilitation of the Unguentine Building; $570,000 for upgrades to the Arts Council Theater; $925,000 for accessibility improvements to the Norwich Center; $140,000 for the rehabilitation of 15 to 19 Lackawanna Avenue; $300,000 for a downtown visitors' center and entrepreneur space; and $392,080 for improvements to the Red Roof Inn.
While some projects were left as is, LPC members discussed the scope and funding request amounts for several projects, including the small project grant fund, which was originally a $600,000 request, with $200,000 being specifically allocated for public art.
"I’m just concerned that this $600,000 is going to go quickly as it is. For us to allocate $200,000 for that public art component, as much as I’m sure myself and many others would love to see that, I don’t know if that's our best alternative with these funds," said LPC member Pegi LoPresti. "I would hate to see us not be able to fund things just so we can have a piece of public art, an additional piece. I’d love to see some of them included, especially in the library park, and stuff like that. But it’ll go fast."
The committee decided to alter the language used in the proposal sent to the state, to allow for flexibility in how the $600,000 would be used. If approved by the state, those funds could then be used for both small project grants and public art without restrictions on how much of the grant could be used for each.
A point of concern for some local business owners was the proposed changes to American Avenue. The original project proposal stated the street would be changed to pedestrian only. The LPC removed that stipulation to retain vehicular access, but at Wednesday's meeting opted to use language in the proposal that allowed for flexibility should the public change their minds.
While adjustments were made to some proposed projects, the only project removed from the list was the renovation of the Commerce Chenango office to create a downtown visitors' center and entrepreneur space, which had a DRI funding request of $300,000.
"I’ve been really on the fence about this project, back and forth. I, at one point, was going to pull it off because I felt like it wasn’t vetted enough and impact-wise, there’s other things we could do, there’s other funding for the kiosk we want to do. I’m totally okay with having this pulled," said LPC Co-chair and Commerce Chenango CEO and President Kerri Green.
In total, the Strategic Investment Plan includes 15 projects totaling $13.6 million in funding requests, keeping them well within the range of requests given by the state. At 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12 LPC members will gather in person at Commerce Chenango to sign off on the ballot of projects.
Once the list of projects is approved, a draft of the Strategic Investment Plan will be developed for review before submission to the state.
Following the LPC meeting, at 5 p.m., there will be a public workshop at Commerce Chenango to share project details with the public.
"The focus of the public workshop presentation is really just sharing with the public the final list of 15 projects that the LPC is recommending for the state to consider in the Strategic Investment Plan," said Baptiste. "It will be very similar in regards to just sharing the output of where the LPC’s last six months of work have landed, and providing some highlights of the content that will be submitted to the state for consideration."
More information on the DRI process, proposed projects, and past and future meetings can be found at NorwichDRI.com.