More details on the planned Copper City Loft “artist housing development” emerged in a presentation by project developer Kearney Group before the Common Council Wednesday night.
The four-story, 68-unit complex will be built in the vacant lot at 183 W. Dominick St., across from City Hall. Forty-five of the units will be reserved for “those involved in artistic or literary activities,” while the remaining 23 are open to any middle-income applicants.
The project will receive $500,000 in incentives through the city’s $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative award. As previously reported, the artists’ units are reserved for those making 60 percent or less of the county’s median income, while applicants of the other units must be making between 80 and 110 of that figure. A ballpark estimate from census.gov puts the county’s median income at around $50,000.
According to Community and Economic Development Deputy Director Matthew Andrews, the Kearney proposal was the only response to the Request for Expression of Interest for the site’s development issued by City Hall in December.
Company Vice President Sean Kearney fielded questions from councilors and explained his firm’s reasoning for selecting Rome as the site of an arts-focused housing complex.
“We were attracted to Rome,” Kearney said to the council. “The state came to us and made us aware of Rome, of the DRI site on (West) Dominick Street. We came here and said this is perfect, because there’s not a critical mass of residents living (downtown).”
He continued: “It’s a downtown, urban area… I think there needs to be more bodies in there to support businesses on that street. Rome has a burgeoning arts community. It’s there -- I think it needs more artists, but it’s there. The foundation’s strong.”
Asked whether units would be held empty in the event that there were not enough applications from artist to fill the 45 reserved units, Kearney said yes, though he said he didn’t anticipate that would happen and that it hadn’t happened in his firm’s similar projects downstate.
He said he was confident that the development would attract outside artist, because of downtown Rome’s “walkability,” and because “Artists want to want to be where other artists are … They want to be in there, they want to collaborate.”
“The artists get preference … so if any artist applies, they get preferential treatment,” he said.
All applicants will fill out the same form, and artist applicants will fill out an additional form, Kearney explained. The system is not first-come-first-served, but is based on a lottery. There is no preference for local applicants, artist or not.
Whether or not an applicant is an “artist” and therefore would receive preference will be decided by a committee that Kearney said would be run by building management in conjunction with “one or two of the local art groups,” a model he said is based off of the system used at the Kearney-developed artist housing in Peekskill.
He explained: “What we’re looking for is not necessarily the professional level (of artistry), because we don’t want to be critiquing someone’s work to say, ‘No, you’re not really good enough to be an artist.’ What we look for is the ongoing pursuit. Is someone taking classes? Does someone teach art? Is someone consistently doing that over time?”
Kearney said the income caps for applicants are set in stone, saying “we’ve turned away people making $300,000” at other developments.
Asked whether his firm would seek a tax break in addition to the $500,000 in DRI incentives, Kearney said he would seek a payment in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement for at least 15 years.
“We typically apply for a PILOT, because these are affordable units … We don’t ask to save a dollar, we sit down with the assessor. We look at exactly what our building would be taxed on … can we put it in a formal agreement? … Our investors like to see that because they’re in this project for at least 15 years, so they want to know … their taxes aren’t going to double out of nowhere, and then their investment is in jeopardy. There can be increases (in the PILOT amount),” Kearney said.
“Typically when people hear PILOT, they think tax break. We’re looking for what we would pay in taxes (the first year), just immortalized.”
Details on the building’s character emerged, as well. The Erie Boulevard facade will match that shown on renderings published by the Sentinel on Wednesday. The building will have an L-shape, so that there is a small yard facing the boulevard for residents, and Andrews said the area would be landscaped.
On the first floor, there will be a “passive gallery” of art made by residents visible from outside. The gallery itself will be open to the public only during special events.
Councilor Kimberly Rogers, R-3, said after the presentation that the project would fulfill a long-term vision for the West Dominick corridor to make the area an arts hub.
Councilor A. Robert Tracy, R-7, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the development would attract artists to the area, something he said he identified as a need during his time as president of the Capitol Theatre’s Board of Directors.
On Wednesday, Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo also expressed hope that the project would bolster the growing Arts District, and that it represented a new era for Rome’s downtown.
“This is the future. We’re looking now toward building for the next 20 years … I think people will see that this $10 million (in DRI funding) is actually going to be spent well, it will be reality. We’re going to get real projects out of this — real things that will actually move the community forward,” she said.
Andrews agreed: “This is the time to put plans into action. We’ve talked about the arts district for a few years now. This is it — it’s go time.”