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Massena downtown interest meetings well-attended

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MASSENA — Meetings on redeveloping downtown Massena have left business owners and economic development officials optimistic.

Rick Hauser of In Site: Architecture spent the week in Massena gathering information about downtown buildings and meeting with business owners, elected officials and Massena residents. Mr. Hauser held a series of talks on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights on his strategies for revamping Massena’s business district.

“Everybody seemed to be upbeat about this guy and what he had to say,” Frank Catapano of Clopman’s Furniture said. “It was a presentation of possibilities.”

The Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena hired Mr. Hauser at an April meeting for $29,950. His firm will be paid with the remaining $35,000 acquired for the village by former state Sen. Raymond A. Meier in 2005 for economic development.

In Site has worked to improve several other downtown districts in upstate New York, including Geneva and Batavia. The strategy centers around developing a “Main Street LLC” — a group of local investors who pool their resources to revitalize downtown buildings. Bringing a group together minimizes the risk for any one investor, Mr. Hauser said.

Mr. Catapano said the concept was worth further exploration.

“It’s been proven in other locales,” he said. “It deserves serious consideration. It was the most comprehensive presentation I’ve seen in a very long time.”

“Conceptually, I think it’s an excellent approach to things,” said J. Phil Sheehan, of Phil and Jackie’s Flower Shop. “It involves the town getting together and cooperating with each other.”

BDC Executive Director Jason A. Clark said Mr. Hauser will make his determination on which downtown buildings are the most feasible to invest in by midsummer.

One potential piece of the strategy involves revitalizing the long-vacant Schine Theater. Thomas Gramuglia said an employee from Mr. Hauser’s firm spent nearly an hour this week taking photos and gathering information about the theater, which has been shuttered for nearly 20 years.

“One person can’t do it,” Mr. Gramuglia said. “It’s going to take a lot of people with an interest to move forward.”

BDC officials have not yet specified which building they would like an investment group to target first. Local investors are interested, but BDC officials have not identified them.

Approximately 40 people showed up to attend the first general-interest meeting Tuesday night, Mr. Clark said. An additional 25 or so showed up Wednesday night, and 15 attended a final Thursday night meeting with Mr. Hauser. Each meeting brought out different Massena residents, Mr. Clark said.

“His presence was well received by the community. It was a good beginning for the effort,” BDC board President Daniel S. Pease said.

Mr. Clark said few meetings in Massena Town Hall were ever as well attended as this week’s downtown seminars.

“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction, both in terms of community support for the initiative as well as their demonstrated commitment toward executing the strategy,” he said. “I’m very encouraged by the participation, very encouraged by general conversations we’ve had following the meetings.”

In addition, Mr. Hauser’s firm is investigating whether downtown Massena could qualify as a National Register historic district, which would allow property owners to qualify for tax credits if they commit money toward rehabilitating their properties. Mr. Hauser and two others from his firm also spent time talking with downtown business owners and photographing, measuring and documenting buildings in the district.

The research will allow the firm to develop facade recommendations for each of the buildings, which in turn could increase Massena’s chances of landing funding from the New York State Main Street Grant program.

Mayor James F. Hidy attended Wednesday night’s session and also was impressed. But it will only work if Massena embraces it, he said.

“Mr. Hauser has a good road map to get where we need to be. Everyone needs to buy into it,” Mr. Hidy said. “There’s a lot of concerns and a lot of issues we have to overcome. We have to wait and see if it’s doable. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”

Mr. Hauser said he was still in the information-gathering stage when reached Thursday night and declined comment.

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