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After a two-year rollercoaster, Ogdensburg ready to close out Main Street grants

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OGDENSBURG — City officials are preparing to close out two state grant programs that proved full of potholes for their administrators.

Andrea L. Smith, interim city planner, addressed the council about the status of the Main Street Grant programs at its Monday evening meeting.

“There is $5,397.22 that will have to be returned to New York state from the Marina District grant,” she said. “There will be no funds returned from the Ford and State Street district.”

The city received two Main Street Grants, one for $200,000 for an area around the intersection of Ford Street and State Street administered by the city, and another for $200,000 for an area encompassing the Marina District near the confluence of the Oswegatchie and St. Lawrence rivers, administered by the Ogdensburg Growth Fund and Development Corp.

The Main Street Grants provided matching funds for projects to rehabilitate businesses’ facades in an effort to improve the appearance of commercial districts. However, both the city and the Growth Fund had difficulty finding businesses to match the grants.

Adding to that difficulty, the program required that applicants pay for any work done themselves, and then submit receipts for materials and labor to the state for reimbursement.

That left almost $100,000 unspent in the Marina District grant when it passed its first deadline in August 2011. After the program deadline was extended 11 months, Ms. Smith and other city officials pushed to keep the funds in the city.

In July, the Growth Fund approved program funds for Dixie Lee Fried Chicken, 432 State St.; Morristown contractor Bernard Bertrand for 637 State St., now occupied by Little Caesars and Create A Can, and Plattsburgh businessman Gilbert Jones for his development of the former Ramada Inn, 119 W. River St., into a hotel and apartments, spending almost all remaining money in the Marina District grant.

“We did seven projects at six addresses, and each was allocated an amount,” said Ms. Smith. “Some projects did not cover all of it, so some money was left in the grant.”

Ms. Smith said Ogdensburg had exhausted all of its extensions for the Marina District grant.

The Ford and State Street Grant went to exterior work on the Ogdensburg Public Library, the Frederic Remington Art Museum and the Dillingham Building at 402 Ford St., as well as a new marquee for the now-closed Ogdensburg Cinema. The cinema’s 10-month-old marquee has remained unlit since early July.

In 2011, the program was a point of contention between then City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra and then City Planner J. Justin Woods. Both men sparred over the allocation of Marina District funds. The spat escalated, partially leading to the end of their employment with the city.

In July, Gilbert J. Jones, the Plattsburgh developer who owns the theater and the Ramada Inn properties stopped work after the city Planning Board turned down his request to amend a site plan for his proposed hotel to include a 480-square-foot building that would serve as a kitchen-equipped concession stand with outside seating next to a marina. After several days, the dispute was settled amicably.

Ms. Smith said that after more than two years, her office was finally ready to close the book on the grants.

“I spoke with state offices that handle the grants. We’ve scheduled a close-out visit for Oct. 16,” she said.

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