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Tax abatement would be part of Woolworth building project


Waiting for years to find a developer to finally proceed with redevelopment of the Woolworth Building, the Watertown City Council informally agreed Monday night to the importance of a tax abatement package for converting the deteriorating former store and offices into 50 apartments.

Council members also generally agreed to a request by the new developers for the city to donate or provide some land across Public Square from the landmark that would be designated as tenant parking. They also conceded the need for the city to waive a $10,000 to $12,000 building permit fee.

During a nearly hourlong presentation, developers David Gallo and Erich H. Seber stressed the need for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes package and the other two concessions for the long-awaited $10 million project to proceed. They did not provide any details for the PILOT, adding they plan to submit their proposal soon to the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency.

Stressing its importance, council members acknowledged the current proposal might be the final opportunity to save the six-story building in the heart of the downtown business district. Mr. Seber described the situation with the building’s condition as “on the edge.”

Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns said it would be like “the missing tooth of the mouth of downtown” if the building was demolished.

Mr. Gallo, owner of Georgica Green Ventures on Long Island, and Mr. Seber, who owns a Maryland construction consulting company, are in the process of purchasing the landmark from Long Island developer Michael A. Treanor for $400,000 after the two developers agreed to take over the project a few months ago.

To take advantage of state tax credits, the two men have decided that all 50 units would be affordable housing. With the application due in January, the developers intend to seek about $8 million in state tax credits to help finance the major renovations. They also hope the state will agree to restoring a $1.82 million Restore New York grant to its original $2.5 million amount. The amount was lowered to $1.82 million after Mr. Treanor had changed the focus from a boutique hotel to rental housing.

The two developers plan to put up about $250,000 of their own money for pre-construction costs, such as architectural and engineering drawings, said Mr. Gallo, who is arranging for financing. If all goes well, the project could start this summer.

The building would house mostly one-bedroom units, some two-bedroom apartments and about 11,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, they said. Rent would probably start at $700 a month.

The City Council, the Jefferson County Legislature and the Watertown City School District would all have to agree to the PILOT.

Mr. Gallo said they determined the need for the green space between the Woodruff building and Cam’s Pizzeria to use for parking after discussing the issue with two potential property managers. One firm would not become involved in the project without the adjacent parking for about 25 vehicles because it would not succeed and the other company also predicted it would fail financially, he said.

The developers are working on the project with the Purcell Construction Corp., Watertown, and Lecesse Construction, Rochester, as contractors and the Syracuse-based Crawford & Stearns Architects and Preservation Planners to help with the project’s design. GYMO Architecture, Engineering & Land Surveying P.C., Watertown, is working on the engineering aspects of the project.

In other action, the council:

n Discussed whether fluoride should continue to be added to the city’s water supply, but took no action on the issue.

n Agreed they should figure out how to proceed with Sunday hours at Flower Memorial Library on a permanent basis after a recent pilot project was so successful.

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