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Massena downtown working groups forming

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MASSENA - Several working groups tasked with revitalizing downtown are forming.

Each group will focus on a specific task, according to Jason A. Clark, Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena executive director.

One committee is developing a blueprint for refurbishing Massena’s Schine Theater, while another will assess downtown’s parking challenges and potential needs. A third group will work with Rick Hauser of In.Site Architecture, retained by the BDC for consultant work, to develop planning and code guidelines for the business district.

“It’s part of a process of breaking a very large project down into manageable working groups in order to accomplish specific tasks,” Mr. Clark said.

In his research on Massena, Mr. Hauser pointed out many ideas - improving downtown parking and re-opening the theater - have been broached in the past by individuals. Forming groups to tackle those issues will hopefully bring about more results, he said.

“There’s going to be a strong coalition backing those efforts,” he said. “(The ideas) are not going to fall prey to politics.”

Last year, businessman Thomas Gramuglia stated his intention to sell the theater to a not-for-profit organization, which could secure state grants for its revitalization. The Strand Theater in Plattsburgh and the Clayton Opera House were both refurbished through a similar set-up, he said. Mr. Gramuglia estimated the renovation could cost more than $750,000.

Since then, Community Performance Series Executive Director Amy L. Flack has pledged her support to the effort. Ms. Flack has met with Massena officials to discuss the success story of the Clayton Opera House, where she was formerly manager.

CPS, based at SUNY Potsdam, is a college-community partnership presenting performing artists and arts education opportunities. A venue in Massena could complement the organization’s offerings, she said.

“There’s just not enough time on the calendar to bring in everyone we’d like,” she said. “Whatever help they need, we’re really happy to help because we really want to see this space up and running.”

The parking committee will provide Massena with a clearer picture of downtown parking, Mr. Hauser said.

“No one has ever done an objective count of how many parking spaces there are,” he said. “Until we quantify the parking situation, it’s premature to say whether it’s a problem.”

A fourth group will meet to determine what types of businesses would be best suitable for downtown, Mr. Hauser said. That group will then work to attract those types of businesses. Each working group will hopefully build momentum for downtown, Mr. Hauser said.

“Once you create a momentum for downtown, it builds on itself,” he said.

Mr. Clark said anyone interesting in joining the committees can contact him at 769-8484. Approximately eight individuals are already part of the theater committee, while the other groups are in the formative stages, he said.

Mr. Hauser met with downtown business owners in a series of community meetings last month. He is preparing facade recommendations for 27 downtown buildings, which are suggestions on how a current or former owner could restore the structure. The recommendations will include drawings of potential improvements.

“They’re a good tool for the broader purpose of letting everyone see a future downtown,” he said.

He is also developing a “how-to” guidebook for owners interested in revitalizing a downtown building. Both will help Massena’s chances of landing a New York Main Street grant award, which Mr. Hauser will submit an application for next month. Owners can use a portion of a Main Street grant as matching funds for building improvements.

“The main thrust of this initial round is to put a lot of tools in place to try and create an atmosphere that’s suitable for reinvestment,” Mr. Hauser said.

The revitalization work comes as Clopman’s Furniture, a downtown mainstay for decades, will soon close. The closure presents an opportunity for Massena to reflect on downtown’s future, Mr. Hauser said.

“We should see this as a reinforcement of needing to reinvent downtown,” he said.

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