City amends project; allows downtown program to sink claws into ‘Project Blue Crab’

Published Feb 21, 2018 at 4:10pm

The city’s local planning committee for how to spend its $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant met Tuesday to make adjustments to its plan, including a change to the boundaries of the project so it can include $900,000 to help an unnamed Rome business relocate to the former Rome Cable site so it can expand.

The city must submit its final proposal on what projects it would like to fund and for how much to the state for approval by the end of March.

The biggest news from the Tuesday meeting was to change the boundaries of the downtown area where the projects will be included. The change, which received support from state officials at the meeting, would reduce some of the southeastern edge to expand the west side to incorporate the former Rome Cable site along Erie Boulevard West.

Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo would not name the business that plans to relocate, as the proposal called it only “Project Blue Crab.” The plan, she said, is for a Rome light manufacturing company to relocate into a 50,000 square foot facility with 35 existing jobs then add 15 or more jobs within a year by adding a third shift. The $5.5 million project would get $900,000 in DRI funds, according to the plan the committee voted to support.

This long-tome Rome business, said the mayor, needs more space and has considered moving out of the city. This plan would retain the company that intends to add jobs by almost doubling its facility size.

There was also discussion of using DRI funding for a connectivity project to connect the “Blue Crab” site to downtown. The committee voted to put this project on the list of priority projects as well, earmarking $1 million as how much would be requested in DRI funds.

Another adjustment that was made was to hold off on funding for a housing complex at the site of the Liberty-George parking garage that will be demolished with $2.5 million in DRI funds. Rather than use $1 million of the DRI funds, the housing aspect will be delayed. A study of a 54-unit market rate housing complex there showed it would not be feasible. Instead, the study found that 26 to 34 units would be more likely to succeed.

So the city will drop this aspect of downtown development from the DRI package because more time is needed than the March 30 deadline allows. Instead the goal is to secure other funding sources and seek developers through a Request for Proposals (RFP) as a way to generate more interest, the mayor noted. “We have to take a little more time and RFP the project to get more developers interested,” said Izzo, a co-chair of the committee. She noted that once the garage has been torn down there will be at least interim surface parking there until a housing use at the site can be created.

The other priority projects for DRI funds are: the Capitol Theatre, mixed use development at 183 W. Dominick St., enhancements at City Hall, upgrades to the Liberty-James parking garage, an adaptive reuse and business fund, the REACH center, a downtown Centro transportation center, a way finding system and a public art fund.

There was an adjustment to the plans for enclosing the ground level area at City Hall between the main building at the annex as the city explores how to maintain a way for those who park in the City Hall lot to walk from there to the West Dominick Street side of the property without going through what will be a security desk area in the new enclosure.

The one project removed from the priority project list is a non-profit center at Zion Episcopal Church. There are, said the mayor, complications regarding private equity that can be pledged by the church. The committee voted to move the proposal to the pipeline projects and out of the immediate DRI funding request list. Now the groups involved will also explore other possible locations for such a non-profit center, the mayor noted.

The committee will meet one more time, on March 20, where it will vote on the finalized Strategic Investment Plan. The application will likely be for up to $14 million in project requests as was suggested by the state, so there is flexibility in what the state can choose to allow for funding.