Old City Hall at 207 N. James St. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

Supporters, councilors back developer of Old City Hall project

Published Jan 11, 2018 at 4:10pm


Staff writer

Members of the Common Council and the public lined up in support Wednesday for the developer renovating Old City Hall.

The company’s latest extension of its rehabilitation deal with the city has expired but discussion focused on allowing the work to be finished rather than have the city exercise its reverter clause.

YES Development’s most recent extension of the deal ran out at the end of 2017. The city can take back the deed on the property at 207 N. James St., but there seems to be little interest in doing that.

“The city wants Matt to be able to finish the project,” said Councilor Kimberly A. Rogers, R-3, of YES Development’s Matt Varughese.

She said the administration and the Code Enforcement Office agree. Councilors John B. Mortise, R-2, and Riccardo D. Dursi Jr., R-6, also voiced support for YES, as did Council President Stephanie Viscelli.

Bobbie O’Brien of Martin Drive noted that the site is part of the city’s Brownfield Opportunity Area, a historic site and spoken of glowingly by the city. If the city hasn’t used the reverter clause to take back ownership of the Erie Canal Village, she said, it shouldn’t use the clause in this case either. Allow YES to complete the work, she said, and it will be “a stunning point of pride.”

James DiCastro of Lauther Road said people will “flock to Rome” to live in an apartment the likes of the ones that will be at Old City Hall.

Michael Brown said the Rome Main Streets Alliance, of which he is executive director, favors allowing YES to complete the job. David Halpin of Elm Street also sided with YES.

There has been no legislation proposed to extend the deadline or exercise the reverter clause.

YES Development paid the city $25,000 for the building, and the original deadline was the end of 2014. The company has been turning the former seat of city government into a first floor office space and a group of upstairs apartments.

Another topic for which there was no legislation was the new Centro bus shelter on the south side of the 300 block of West Dominick Street. It was created so that the Authority could relocate its headquarters from the nearby Liberty-George parking garage to the train station because the garage is slated for demolition. But the site required closing off much of the parking on the block so that buses could park there. The site “is absolutely 100 percent not working,” said Rogers, who represents the area. People, she said, are walking in the street to get around illegally parked vehicles, people are getting hit with plenty of parking tickets and it’s causing congestion there.

Rogers said she preferred the original proposal to have the site be the former Rite Aid storefront at the southeast end of Freedom Plaza near the access to South James Street.

Rogers also noted that the closing of the parking garage is causing problems for residents of the Georgian Arms apartment complex across George Street from the garage.

The apartment building had access to a number of parking spots in the garage. Elderly and disabled people who live there must walk from parking at the Madison Plaza apartment building in freezing temperatures since Jan. 1, she said.