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Developers to explain Woolworth building PILOT request

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The developers of the Woolworth building renovation project will show local officials today why they will ask for a tax-abatement package.

Officials from the city, Jefferson County and the Watertown City School District have been invited to take a tour of the deteriorating Public Square landmark so they can get an idea of what it will take to restore it.

The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency has put together a proposed 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes package that developers David Gallo and Erich H. Seber will request for the $15.4 million project. The three taxing jurisdictions — the city, county and school district — must approve the tax agreement.

With the agency working with the developers for the past three months on the document, JCIDA CEO Donald C. Alexander expects he will present the tax deal soon to the three entities.

“I hope they’ll be willing to enter the PILOT as soon as possible,” Mr. Alexander said, noting “the urgency” in starting the project because a persistent leaking roof has caused further deterioration to the building during the past two years.

In December, the Watertown City Council agreed in principle to a 15-year deal, but the proposed package will include more than the amount discussed back then. Instead of starting at $8,000, the PILOT would start at a fixed rate of $9,000, according to documents released by city officials.

In year five, it would increase to $12,000, then go up to $15,000 in the 10th year. After that, the full payment of $24,578 would occur in the 16th year. Over the first 15 years, $186,000 would be paid during the PILOT. Without the tax abatement, it would yield $368,677 over that time.

“It meets the minimal criteria set by council,” said city Assessor Brian S. Phelps.

The developers want to convert the Public Square structure into about 50 apartments on the upper floors and commercial space on the ground floor. Last fall, they took over the project from Long Island developer Michael A. Treanor, who agreed to sell the building to them for $400,000.

In December, council members also agreed to give the developers a three-year option on some green space across the street for $1. The Iron Block/Woodruff II site would be turned into tenant parking.

Council members also have agreed to waive 75 percent of the approximately $18,000 building permit fee for the developers, who would pay between $4,000 and $6,000 for building permits.

In recent months, the developers have mainly been waiting to see if they are eligible for tax credits from the state Empire Development Corp. Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, expects they’ll hear in late spring or early summer whether they will get about $8 million in tax credits.

To take advantage of state tax credits, all 50 apartment units would be offered as affordable housing.

The project would also be financed through a $2.5 million Restore NY grant and loans from a commercial bank.

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