FORT PLAIN — Mohawk Valley Collective, Inc. must raise $250,000 by Friday afternoon to retain grant funding aimed at restoring historic Unity Hall or risk losing a matching grant that was awarded before the pandemic. The state, which announced in late 2019 that MVC would receive a $500,000 grant, recently gave the non-profit until Friday to secure half of that figure or risk losing the reimbursable grant altogether.
The Unity Hall project in December 2019 was awarded the matching grant and was required to raise the $250,000 by May 2020. When covid hit, though, the date was suspended, and then just recently re-imposed with the new deadline.
The Collective took ownership of the former Universalist Church — the tallest and most prominent building in the village — in late August of 2011, and started renovations at the facility almost immediately.
The group renamed the massive, historic structure Unity Hall — a forward-thinking title signifying the building’s potential future as a welcoming, expansive and active community space.
In December of 2019, the Collective learned it was the recipient of a $500,000 grant for future work at Unity Hall. The Main Street Downtown Anchor Grant, issued by NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), was earmarked to fund several restoration projects there, including asbestos abatement, and bathroom, heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical installation.
“This is by far the biggest grant we’ve been awarded,” said Tanya Towne, treasurer of the Collective.
The grant funding, coupled with additional grants and donations the Collective has accumulated, would cover $1.25 million of the full revitalization project’s $1.5 million price tag.
The Homes and Community Renewal money would also be paired with a New York State Council on the Arts grant, which would provide 50 percent funding for essential handicap accessibility upgrades at Unity Hall, including the installation of an elevator and ramps throughout the facility.
Despite the promising 2019 announcement that the Collective would receive the $500,000, finishing the work was a significant challenge for the small non-profit.
“We have to come up with the money first, do the work, and then the state reimburses the project,” said Tolga Morawski, founder and board member of the Collective.
Towne pointed out that “many people didn’t realize that we had to match it first. And fundraising $500,000 is not easy.”
With COVID-19 basically closing down the state last March, the Collective’s already challenging situation was further complicated, as lenders focused on issuing PPP loans and mortgages.
The Collective’s loan application has so far been turned down by 13 banks, and the Collective is waiting to hear from one last bank, Key Bank, where a loan application was submitted on March 4, 2020.
“Unfortunately, when you’re a small, non-profit in Fort Plain,” Morawski said, banks are generally unwilling to provide such a large chunk of funding.
The state’s announcement Friday that it plans to rescind the grant creates a major hurdle for the plans.
Once they received notification from the state Homes and Community Renewal program, Morawski filed an appeal, with the grant issuer agreeing that if MVC could come up with $250,000 in one week — by Friday afternoon — the non-profit would retain the grant.
Morawski went right to work Friday attempting to secure donations and loans, with about $30,000 having been committed by Monday evening. Combining that funding with several lines of credit available to Collective, Morawski said, “We have to cobble that all together to the point where we can get to $250,000.”
Including available money, “Ideally, we need to get to $200,000,” in donations and loans by Friday to retain the state grant, he said.
Explained Towne to those considering providing the Mohawk Valley Collective with funding, “It doesn’t have to be a donation. It can be a loan. Once we get reimbursed, we can give it back. It’s just that we can’t move forward until we have backers.”
If, by Friday, the $250,000 hasn’t been raised, the Collective may file an appeal for a grant extension, though Towne pointed out that, most likely, “If we don’t miraculously find the funding some other way, they’re going to take the grant away from us.”
The organization may re-apply for the grant if it’s rescinded, though Morawski said that after having been denied several times before receiving it, “I’m not living in a dreamland.”
Morawski has approached several elected officials about the situation and noted that he’ll work tirelessly until necessary funding is secured. “I won’t accept defeat,” he said. “Fort Plain is a distressed area. Montgomery County has the highest levels of poverty in upstate New York. We have limited facilities, limited programming, and limited resources for the people who most need it. I look at this as something we really need to make happen for our community.”
Unity Hall has hosted several concerts, film screenings, art showings and community events since the Collective took ownership.
Loss of the grant award would be significant, Morawski said. “We’re just now getting to the point where you can see the whole picture,” he said, including the near completion of Unity Hall’s adjacent public space, Unity Park.
For work at Unity Hall to stop in its tracks after gaining so much momentum, Morawski said, would potentially be devastating.
If the money is secured by Friday, improvements taking place under the Homes and Community Renewal grant will begin following the conclusion of an ongoing, nearly-completed, $400,000 FEMA flood repair project which resumed at Unity Hall Monday and includes continued foundation repointing, front step installation, and drainage work.
To make a donation or a loan or for questions, contact the Mohawk Valley Collective at (518) 993-5506, or email: [email protected] The Collective can also be reached through Facebook Messenger, or by visiting: mohawkvalleycollective.com.