City exploring former school for housing units

Published Feb 17, 2017 at 1:00pm

The site of the former DeWitt Clinton Elementary School on Ann Street is being explored by a Rochester-based non-profit housing company as perhaps a place to build 60 units.

DePaul Community Services has a purchase offer in place for the site at 423 Ann St., but it is not even close to a done deal, said DePaul Vice President Gillian Conde. She said the company is doing its “due diligence to see if it is even a possibility.” That includes an environmental study, she noted.

In September last year, the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal announced grants to support the development of 1,200 units of supportive housing for vulnerable New Yorkers who are at risk of homelessness. DePaul was named as one of the recipients for a project in Oneida County. At the time, no amounts or specific locations were noted for any recipients.

DePaul’s plan is to find a location in Rome for the project, Conde said. If the school site is the best choice, she said, the building would be demolished. The company typically builds a single building on a site, she noted.

For example, its Trolley Station Apartments in Canandaigua is a building with one- and two-bedroom units. The rent is $700 per month for a one-bedroom and $850 for a two-bedroom apartment.

“We would like to build 60 brand new apartments and have half of those have support services,” said Conde. The company intends to serve populations that need support such as the elderly, medically frail or those with mental illnesses.

Built in 1924, the 48,000 square foot building sits on a 3.7-acre site assessed for $100,000, according to city records. The former school site has been vacant since it closed in 2001. In mid-2004, the school district sold the parcel to Cary Auto Export Corp. for $9,700. That company sold it a year later for $10,000 to DDP Rome Realty Corp. It was sold again in early 2007, this time for $100,000 to Rome Towers. It was sold again in early 2013 to New York City-based Rome NY Property Corp. for $1.

If the site is worthy and the community is on board based on meetings intended for the near future, Conde said, DePaul can apply to the state for funding for the supportive housing units within the complex. There are two funding options, one of which would likely grant approval in the fall while the other would likely grant approval by the end of the year. If the school site is not a good fit, the company will look elsewhere in Rome.

“We’re trying to keep people right there,” said Conde of Rome. “We want to give people options for staying in the community.” Conde, a Utica native, said she looked at Rome because she “knows the needs of Central New York.”

“We think this is a fantastic site because it will transform the neighborhood,” said Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo. “It plugs a hole we have in the city as far as supportive housing and market rate housing. The housing DePaul does is beautiful. And they have staff on site.” The key, she said, is “that we have a private developer. This won’t be a government-funded and -maintained project. I think the neighborhood will be the big benefactor here. This is a significant project for the south Rome area.” She said the administration has its collective fingers crossed that the DeWitt Clinton site is the chosen location.

Izzo noted that the project could benefit from a previously approved $1.6 million grant through New York State Department of State’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, which would fund up to half ($800,000) of the costs of an engineering study to identify physical connections and public access to the nearby canal. The grant was initially sought to help promote a housing development much closer to the canal but in the same general area between South James and Mill streets. If the school site is chosen, she noted, it will likely require some city infrastructure upgrades in the area, to which the grant could be related.

Councilor John B. Mortise, R-2, represents the area, and while he admits that it would be sad to see a school with so much history be torn down, “it’s been a terrible eye sore for the last 15 years in the south Rome area. I’m glad a company finally stepped forward that it willing to do a project of this magnitude to improve the look of the south Rome area.”

Mortise added: “I wish I could have gotten this project done sooner, but hopefully this will go well and in the future this will look phenomenal. Having housing on the canal. That’s going to be beautiful down there.” And he said he hopes a successful project there “will bring in more developers on more canalfront properties.”