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Massena economic officials seek public input on revitalizing downtown

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MASSENA — Local economic development officials are asking for input from the community on how to use $250,000 in state grant funds to revitalize downtown.

Business Development Corporation for Greater Massena officials have set two public meetings to hold discussions on using the grant, which was awarded late last year by the New York Main Street Grant Program.

BDC Executive Director Michael V. Almasian urged any downtown business owners interested in applying for grant funding to revitalize their building to attend the meetings March 12 and 13.

BDC officials also encouraged any community members interested in seeing a stronger downtown to attend the meetings.

“I want to stress this is not a BDC project, it’s not a town board project, it’s not a village board project. If they want to see a revitalized downtown and if they want to see the grant successful, it’s going to have to be a community-involved effort,” BDC board member Larry Ralston told the Town Council on Wednesday. “If the residents of Massena want to see a revitalized downtown, they will have to get involved. If they do not get involved, it’s going to continue to die.”

Thirty-five business owners, occupying 19 downtown buildings, previously had signed letters of commitment indicating they would participate in the program if Massena received the funds.

The next step in the grant process is to create a design review team, composed of local economic development officials, to judge applications.

Applicants will be provided with a worksheet that will outline how to apply for the funds and allow applicants to gauge how well their revitalization plans coincide with the program’s mission, according to Mr. Almasian.

“That application comes with comprehensive instructions, so as you fill out the application for the grant, you can grade yourself while you do it,” Mr. Almasian said. “There will be objective standards. The grant itself has certain criteria that it seeks to meet.”

One question facing the design team is how widely to distribute the $250,000. It may decide to invest the funds in a handful of business owners, to allow for more thorough renovations to a select number of buildings, or it may invest in many businesses, to spur smaller renovations to a greater number of buildings.

“Some communities designed their plan so that they would do fewer projects but they would have a bigger impact so the community could see a more stark before-after,” Mr. Almasian said.

BDC officials also said there are certain time and location requirements to use grant funding. Businesses must be on or near Main Street, north of the Massena post office and south of the North Main Street bridge, to be eligible for grant funding.

Mr. Almasian also said the grant does not cover ongoing or previous revitalization work. Business owners will be reimbursed only for revitalization work that’s been awarded grant funding.

The program also requires all owners to match the funds the grant provides them. If all $250,000 of the funds were used, the Main Street grant would create a minimum of $500,000 in public-private investment.

Mr. Almasian said he believes that money could help transform downtown Massena into a stronger and more attractive business district.

“If 32 storefronts downtown get improved, that’s going to go a long way toward improving Massena,” he said.

He expects most of the work related to the grant funding will take place in late summer or early autumn.

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