The 68-unit Copper City Lofts project planned for a now vacant lot on West Dominick Street won its key approvals from the city Planning Board Tuesday evening but building it awaits financing, which its developer says could be as soon as next spring
The Planning Board unanimously approved a negative declaration of the need for a special environmental review and gave site-plan approval to Parkview Development and Construction for a 73,600-square-foot, four-story apartment complex at 171-183 W. Dominick St.
Funded in part through the city’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award, the $16.6 million complex would be built at the vacant lot across from City Hall. It is intended to draw artists, and city officials have touted it as a key part of downtown revitalization. Project developer Kearney Group has told the Common Council that most units will give preference to applicants engaged in some sort of artistic pursuit who make about 60 percent of the county’s median income.
Financing will be through two programs, one of tax credits for investors in housing for low- and moderate-income renters, and the other the state middle-income housing program.
There would be a review panel for artists, but non-artists wouldn’t be turned away, instead put behind a preference for artists on a waiting list, firm president Ken Kearney said. Plans call for an artist working space and a musicians’ soundproof room.
Kearney said afterward that the artists-based strategy worked in similar Hudson Valley projects, first in Beacon.
“The foundation of that was an influx of people in the artist community,” Kearney said. “So we go to Peekskill and we go to Poughkeepsie and we have two vacant lots in qualified Census tracts — that’s an area of high poverty and high employment, no investment. So how do you create a synergy to get private capital in here, how do you get more synergy, more people walking around? We said let’s put some artists and middle-income, and it seems to have worked.”
Public comments at Tuesday’s meeting were generally favorable, with residents welcoming the chance at new affordable housing downtown and to help artists, though there were some concern that local artists could miss out in favor of newcomers. The site is near Cinema Capitol art-house theater and venue in a block sometimes referred to as the Arts District.
Concerns were raised about parking. Lawyer Peter Antonowicz said close-by parking is crucial for most of his disability-law clients, who now park on the street and find using the James Street parking garage difficult. Other residents expressed concerns about downtown workers who now park at the lofts site, and about security at night.
In the site’s zoning designation, no on-site parking is required, board chairman Mark Esposite noted.
Deputy Director of Community and Economic Development Matt Andrews said a recent parking study found 27 percent utilization rate in the James Street garage, which is getting improvements through state downtown-revitaliation aid, and with some of the Kearney purchase going toward improving lighting and wayfinding in the garage. As in many cities, there may be parking but not as close to destinations as people want, he noted.
Among those articulating support for it was Oneida County legislator Michael Brown, D-12, of Rome, also executive director of the Rome Main Street Alliance. Brown urged the city to examine parking for people with disabilities, security and policing, but praised the project.
“Studies have been done that the creative class drives innovation, the creative class drives economic development, and for a community like Rome to have a housing opportunity like this for artists, it could be a real game changer for downtown,” Brown said “That particular group of people are very cognizant of the fact that they might have to walk a block to get to their car … We all have to retrain ourselves because we’re actually looking at the possibility of having a true working downtown, something that we haven’t had in 40 years.”
Kearney said of the 68 planned units, 50 would have a preference for artists, and 17 are for tenants qualifying for the middle-income program units. One would be for the on-site building superintendent.
Rents are highly subject to change, but he said one bedroom units would go for about $680 and two bedrooms around $800, with one-bedroom lofts $825 and two bedrooms $950 or $975.
“But when we went to Peekskill, my market study guy said ‘You’re never gonna get those rents. I shouldn’t have listened to him. I should have gone higher.”