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Massena economic officials seek public input on revitalizating downtown


MASSENA - Local economic development officials are asking for input from the community on how to utilize $250,000 in state grant funds to revitalize downtown Massena.

Business Development Corporation for Greater Massena officials have set two public meetings to hold discussions on utilizing the grant, which was awarded late last year by the New York Main Street Grant Program. BDC Executive Director Michael Almasian urged any downtown business owners interested in applying for grant funding to revitalize their building to attend the meetings on March 12 and 13. Mr. Almasian expects the meeting to be in the evening, but said the date and time of day have yet to be determined.

BDC officials also encouraged any community members interested in seeing a stronger downtown Massena to attend the meetings.

“I want to stress this is not a BDC project, it’s not a town board project, it’s not a village board project - if they want to see a revitalized downtown and if they want to see the grant successful, it’s going to have to be a community-involved effort,” BDC board member Larry Ralston told the Massena Town Council Wednesday. “If the residents of Massena want to see a revitalized downtown, they will have to get involved. If they do not get involved, it’s going to continue to die.”

Thirty-five business owners, occupying 19 different downtown buildings, had previously signed letters of commitment indicating they would participate in the program if Massena received the funds.

The next step in the grant process is to create a Design Review Team, comprised of local economic development officials, to judge applications for grant funding.

Applicants will be provided with a work sheet that will not only outline how to apply for the funds, but also allow applicants to gauge how well their revitalization plans coincide with the program’s mission, according to Mr. Almasian.

“That application comes with comprehensive instructions, so as you fill out the application for the grant, you can grade yourself while you do it,” Mr. Almasian. “There will be objective standards. The grant itself has certain criteria that it seeks to meet.

“(We will consider) which of these applications is best, which will have the best impact for downtown, (and) how are we going to divide up and distribute this funding to best fulfil the objective of the grant.”

One question facing the DRT is how widely to distribute the $250,000 in grant funds. They may decide to invest the funds in a handful of business-owners, to allow for more thorough renovations to a select number of buildings, or they may invest in many businesses, to spur smaller renovations to a greater number of buildings.

“Some communities designed their plan so that they would do fewer projects but they would have a bigger impact so the community could see a more stark before-after,” Mr. Almasian said.

BDC officials also noted there are certain time and location requirements to utilize grant funding. Businesses must be located on or near Main Street, north of the Massena Post Office and south the North Main Street bridge - the area the grant identified as downtown Massena - in order to be eligible for grant funding.

Mr. Almasian also noted the grant does not cover current or prior revitalization work. Business owners will only be reimbursed for revitalization work that’s been awarded grant funding.

The program also requires all owners to match the funds the grant provides them. If all $250,000 of the funds were used, the Main Street grant would create a minimum of $500,000 in public-private investment.

But downtown Massena owners have pledged an additional $1,923,500 on top of the $250,000 grant, totaling $2,173,5000 in pledged investments, according to Massena’s former economic development specialist, Jason A. Clark.

Mr. Almasian believes that money could help transform downtown Massena into a stronger and more attractive business district.

“If 32 storefronts downtown get improved, that’s going to go a long way toward improving Massena,” Mr. Almasian said.

He expects most of the work related to the grant funding will take place in late summer or early autumn.

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