IN PARTNERSHIP — The Rome Main Street Alliance has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank. From left: Main Streets Executive Director Michael Brown, Land Bank Acting Executive Director Tolga Morawski, Main Streets President David Amidon, Main Streets Housing Chair James Bintz, First Ward Councilor Cam Tien, ex-officio Main Streets board member, in front of Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank project at 513 N. Washington St. (Photo submitted)

Partners to fight blight

Published Jul 10, 2018 at 4:10pm

The Rome Main Street Alliance has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank, becoming a “worthy partner” in the Land Bank’s mission to combat blight by redeveloping vacant homes throughout the Mohawk Valley.

The Land Bank must rely on community partners, often non-profits, to assist in the fight against blight, noted Bob Albrecht, community outreach and engagement coordinator.

“Rome Main Streets clearly has the capacity to assist us in every part of blighted property management. We need them to listen to their community’s needs and carry that message to us. We also need them to help us with parts of blighted property management, and are delighted to work along side them,” Albrecht added.

The Attorney General’s Office funds the land bank program with proceeds from the 2008 mortgage crisis settlements with major banks, noted Tolga Morawski, acting executive director of the Land Bank. “The opportunity to access funds for this type of economic development without tapping state tax coffers is a boon to our efforts and unprecedented; we have a unique opportunity to help a broad range of communities throughout the entire region combat blight.”

The land bank model tackles problem properties without saddling local municipalities with significant expenses related to demolition. The group can oversee tear down, modest rehabilitation or a complete gutting and redevelopment. Then properties go back on the tax roll.

Main Streets President David Amidon said that “seeing the disastrous effect that some of these vacant properties have created in our neighborhoods has been alarming. Main Streets and the city are very aware of the concerns of community members regarding property vacancy and blight. We see a real chance at turning this around through collaborative efforts with the Land Bank and with the City of Rome — which has been very forward thinking and proactive on this issue. We realize that following our mission of downtown development without addressing this important issue would be folly because these points are all interconnected.”

The Alliance has been working with the Land Bank to place representatives on committees and secure a place at the table during the organization’s formative process. “This process has been necessary in order to show both our Board of Directors and the city administration that we are very committed to combatting blight in our community,” said James Bintz, Main Street’s Housing Committee chair. The City of Rome and Main Street Alliance have been key partners with the Land Bank, he said, “providing early momentum instrumental in securing designation as one of a limited amount of state-chartered land banks and key in garnering our first round of project funding. The things being accomplished in Rome via public/non-profit partnerships are a model for the Mohawk Valley region and the rest of the state.”

Rome Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo has been a proponent of the concept since taking office. The Alliance, she said, plays “an important role in economic development along our corridors, and I am very pleased that the (Land Bank) has recognized their efforts to promote positive solutions to curing neighborhood blight and providing another economic development tool to assist organizations like the land bank who are focused on neighborhood improvement and strengthening the local tax base.” The three work to access funding in order to make targeted and transformative impacts on Rome’s neighborhoods, she said. “Unkept vacant homes are magnets for problems. These houses are present in every corner of our community, and while not all of these are good candidates for the Land Bank program, we think that a critical mass of rehab projects in targeted areas of Rome will have a dramatic effect on public perception and housing values.”

While it is not a cure-all, the partnership is, the groups noted, “a positive and much-needed shot in the arm for Rome’s neighborhoods and yet another facet to Rome’s ongoing economic restructuring and growth.”