MASSENA – Members of the village’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Local Planning Committee have agreed to include the former Massena School of Business as one of the recommended projects to move forward.
But, the ultimate design and cost are yet to be determined.
In a report to fellow Local Planning Committee members on Tuesday, Allison C. Smith said the proposal for the creative rehabilitation of the Massena School of Business needed more information before it could be considered.
“This is looking at the IDA (St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency) sponsoring for the transformation of the former Massena School of Business site into a courtyard or transitional space that connects the downtown corridor with the riverwalk areas while preserving the historic School of Business facade , ”Ms. Smith said.
She said several evaluations of the property indicate the building cannot be rehabilitated, but there is a possibility of saving the street front and creating a picnic area and walkway.
Massena Code Enforcement Officer Aaron T. Hardy told village trustees in 2018 that he had been unsuccessful in trying to contact the owner of the former Massena School of Business to address code violations. Following a public hearing in July 2018, trustees declared the building blighted and a nuisance, giving them the authority to begin taking action to address the issues.
During that meeting, Mr. Hardy had outlined a number of code violations, including broken windows, high grass and weeds, harboring of rodents, pigeon infestation and droppings both inside and outside the building, water damage, rotting wood, peeling paint, broken front display windows and unsecured doors that have allowed people to gain access to the building.
Another project that was recommended to move forward on Tuesday was the renovation of the former JJ Newberry building on the corner of Main and Andrews streets. Mayor Gregory M. Paquin said work on the Newberry building could mesh nicely with work that would be done on the former Massena School of Business.
“As we look for further information at the Massena School of Business, an idea is starting to form about creating that natural alleyway. You should see some of the things communities do with these alleyways, some of the great visions and photos that we’ve seen regarding this, ”Mr. Paquin said. “I think this could be really truly transformational for the downtown. I see the Massena School of Business and JJ Newberry as vital projects. ”
One of the concerns is the undetermined cost for the Massena School of Business and the potential impact it could have on other projects recommended for advancement.
“I know that the project is listed about $ 3 or $ 4 million. I assume if we go with what appears to the model (keeping the facade and making a link to the JJ Newberry building), I can’t imagine that’s going to be $ 3 to $ 4 million, ”Mr. Paquin said.
The cost is also a concern to Deputy Mayor Matthew J. LeBire.
“When I think of that School of Business and I hear the possible reworking of it, I would actually throw out a different scenario of what’s the simplest way of getting rid of that eyesore,” Mr. LeBire said. “As much as I love the idea of protecting and preserving the facade and what not, there is an even more economical way of opening that up and not having to necessarily get rid of another project like Danforth (Park) or downscale in order to do it? ”
Local Planning Committee member Mary S. Elman had reported on plans for Danforth Park, which her committee group had recommended for advancement.
“We felt that this project aligns with the DRI vision for serving downtown, upgrading parks and public spaces to include a variety of outdoor activities and public amenities. We felt that it leveraged and embraced the compact downtown to achieve more opportunities for recreation and draw more residents and visitors downtown, ”she said.
“We believe that it has the potential for community and economic benefits, and is in a good ready state. The initial state layout for the space has been drafted, although the costs are yet to be confirmed. We think it’s an entryway into downtown and a place to relax after visiting downtown, enhancing green space and beautifying this area moving into downtown, ”Ms. Elman said.
Mr. LeBire said he is also concerned about impacting the total DRI project costs if Danforth Park is removed from the project list to accommodate the School of Business.
“Are we now no longer in that sweet spot for what we need to submit to the state?” he said.
Mr. Paquin said there is a possibility that if Danforth Park is removed from the project list, it could be addressed through grant writing. Other projects such as the proposed riverwalk need to remain on the list of advanced projects, he added.
“My fear about doing the riverwalk later is that we would never get enough funding for that. It’s either now or never, “he said.
Other Local Planning Committee members agreed that the School of Businesses needs to be addressed through the DRI program.
“I think it should definitely be explored about keeping the facade and enhancing it because it will help meet the goals of the DRI,” Ms. Smith said.
“I agree with Greg (Paquin). I can see what Matt’s saying as well. But, I agree that what you can do in the downtown area is extremely important. I’m not really sure what the politics of that building are right now. But I think it’s well worth exploring anyway, ”Local Planning Committee member Timothy J. Ahlfeld said.
The Massena School of Business will be added to the 10 projects already proposed for advancement, and information on all the projects will continue to be refined. They will be presented during a public engagement session scheduled via Zoom for 6 to 7:30 pm May 26.