GLOVERSVILLE — During the last six months of Gloversville’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative process a total of three economic development projects have been proposed and sponsored by racial minorities seeking to tap into the grant, and all three of them have been withdrawn in advance of the final selection of projects the 15-member Local Planning Committee will send to New York state next month.
Committee member Lashawn Hawkins — founder of the nonprofit “I can Breathe and I will Speak” — was the sponsor of one of those three projects. During the committee’s May 4 meeting Hawkins raised the issue of whether Gloversville’s DRI process has been racially diverse, and whether it has succeeded in supporting New York state’s DRI goal of building “a diverse population with residents and workers supported by complementary diverse housing and employment opportunities.”
“All of the proposals that were brought up for minority businesses, new businesses and such, all have dropped out of it,” said Hawkins, who is Black. “There is no business that is [still being considered] in this DRI that I feel is meeting [the state’s goals].”
The committee has not rejected any projects sponsored by racial minorities, and race can play no role in the selection of the projects for state funding from the $10 million DRI grant, according to Michael N’doll, a committee consultant with MRB Group.
These are the three projects that had been proposed for DRI funding by people who identify as part of a minority group, but were later withdrawn:
• Restoring the Burton Block 54 N. Main — Sponsored by 518Properties, a corporation controlled by Michael Chase, has proposed a $2 million project to redevelop the now vacant 20,600-square-foot building for mixed use and possibly a microbrewery, was one of the original 18 projects in Gloversville’s successful 5th round application for the $10 million DRI grant. The for-profit project had sought $800,000 in DRI funding, 40% of the total project cost.
• ‘I Can Breathe and I Will Speak’ kitchen and meeting space construction — This project was sponsored by Hawkins’ own nonprofit organization and sought $500,000 to fund 100% of the cost of building a commercial kitchen and meeting space in the basement of the Fulton County CRG’s 34 W. Fulton St. location.
• Revitalization of family/community business — Michael Medina, originally from Puerto Rico, requested $627,300 in DRI funding to fund 40% of a $1.5 million project to rehabilitate 17-19 N. Main St. Medina operates Fulton County Barber Shop at 17 N. Main St.
“Those were withdrawn at the request of the sponsors, so just to be clear they were not eliminated by the LPC, these were ones that were either just not eligible or the sponsor withdrew their application for consideration,” N’doll said. “I just want to make sure that’s clear.”
The proposed $21.2 million Glove City Lofts project, seeking $1.3 million in DRI funding, does in part fulfill the state’s DRI goal of promoting diverse housing options, according to Lisa Nagle of Elan Planning, Design & Landscape Architecture, Gloversville’s main consultant in the DRI process. She said Glove City Lofts project sponsor Kearney Development is seeking to build 75 loft-style affordable housing units at 52 Church St. for mixed income tenants, including some units dedicated specifically to income-eligible artists. The project would be required to adhere to all state and federal laws prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of race, she said.
“This project in particular is aimed at middle and low-income residents, and has to meet the [requirements of] the Fair Housing Act, so that one, were it to be funded [would promote diverse housing],” she said. “Also the public projects, they are open to all. There is no discrimination on who could go to a public park for example.”
“I think I’m being misunderstood,” Hawkins interjected during the May 4 meeting. “I’m not meaning the projects are being [discriminatory], what I’m saying is there is no minority projects included in this DRI. That’s what I’m saying.”
REASONS FOR WITHDRAWAL
Hawkins was precluded from discussing her own project proposal by the rules of the DRI process during the planning committee meeting, but after the meeting she explained it was simply too difficult for her organization to answer all of the questions and obligations required for DRI funding in the short time frame between February and June
“Nobody could fulfill that DRI timeframe,” she said, adding that she believes her withdrawal led to a “domino effect” after which Medina and Chase also pulled out.
Committee co-chair Wally Hart, the division director of community and business development for Lexington ARC, during the May 4 meeting suggested that businesses and nonprofits should reach out to the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth and the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce as resources for how to obtain either public or private funding.
“We need to try to continue to encourage people to be engaged to apply for [state funding] through the [Consolidated Funding Application] process, working with those entities that can help them be successful,” Hart said.
Hawkins said that even though her organization is located in the Fulton County CRG building, and that organization has been very helpful to her, she still feels that the process of obtaining resources and assistance for business ventures, either for-profit or nonprofit, is not very accessible to minority entrepreneurs.
“You aren’t going to find somebody who has an idea or the means to start a business on Pine Street, because you’re not on Pine Street,” Hawkins said of the organizations Hart referenced.
Hawkins said when she first sought to tap into the $10 million DRI grant she was not aware that some of the applicants in the process had been working for five years to help the city win the grant, and were much better prepared for the process than a newcomer such as herself.
“They keep saying [information] was on the city’s web page, and it was on the Facebook and all that stuff, and it was in The Leader-Herald, but, again — I have an office in the CRG — and I was one of the people who was misinformed, so I feel like the information needs to be more,” she said. “I didn’t realize this was a five-year project that they’ve been working on for five years, and got rejected. I didn’t know about the long term process leading up to the city actually winning this. I didn’t know a lot of these projects were a part of the prior applications, so I was misinformed. That information should have been available.”
Nagle said she’s been involved with each of the five rounds of New York state’s $10 million DRI contest, and in her experience the projects that tend to get DRI funding support are the ones that are most ready to begin the fastest. She rejected the notion that Gloversville’s DRI process has a lot of projects that have been in the works for five years.
“Everyone who withdrew, withdrew for different reasons,” she said of the withdrawn projects. “The timeframe is set by the DRI program, and I’m just facilitating this process.”
Nagle said she believes New York state wants a fast-turnaround for the DRI process in part based on an economic development philosophy that uses the DRI funding as the last piece of a project that is ready to break ground immediately, rather than as a “first-in” funding that stimulates private sector investment.
“It isn’t intended to be first money in as a spark, and I’ve said this publicly. The intent of the DRI is really to help close a gap at the end, a project that is really close to being completed, but needs a little bit of financial help to get there,” she said.
Medina, originally from Puerto Rico, is one of the few, if not the only, business owner who identifies as part of a minority population in Gloversville’s DRI zone. His DRI proposal was to renovate the building he owns to create some light manufacturing of the “in-house hair care line of products” he sells at the barber shop and to create three apartments. He pulled out of the DRI process.
“I actually voluntarily withdrew from the DRI grant, not because it would have been impossible for me, because if a company can meet all of the criteria for these DRI funds they will get the DRI funds,” he said. “The project I was proposing would have cost about $1.5 million and there would have been almost no way for me to get that value back from the building because 10 or 20 years from now the building would still not be worth that much, so it would have been great to create that business in this building, but it just wasn’t something I wanted to commit to. Even though the building could be occupied, it just wouldn’t have had that value of the cost of this project.”
Medina rejected the notion that race plays any role in the DRI process. He said he thinks Hawkins’ project proposal was a little daunting in that it was looking for 100% funding. He said the proposal by Michael Chase was similar to his in that it would cost a lot of money to renovate their respective buildings, and it’s no sure bet that any business owner could recoup such a large investment.
“These funds are available to anyone, no matter what race they are,” he said. “It just so happens to be that minorities in this instance submitted applications and maybe weren’t fully aware of the scope of this DRI project. There’s a lot of paperwork and reading and self-educating that goes along with this, so I believe these funds would have been available to Lashawn or Mr. Chase had they met the criteria necessary.”
Michael Chase did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment for this story.
$600K GLOVERSVILLE REINVESTMENT INCENTIVE PROGRAM
Mayor Vince DeSantis, who co-chairs the LPC, said he is still hopeful several of the minority sponsored economic development projects will seek to tap into the downtown improvement grant fund that will very likely be funded as one of the DRI projects. He said Gloversville’s consultants and state officials have said the improvement fund, which is usually about $600,000, is almost always funded as part of the $10 million DRI grant program.
“It’s unfortunate that these projects didn’t get in, and they were withdrawn because there was some major piece that was missing,” DeSantis said. “But, that said, we still want these things to happen in Gloversville, and there are other ways for them to happen. For one there’s this (Gloversville Reinvestment Incentive Program, known as the GRIP) that will be about $600,000 that will fund smaller projects that require a smaller amount of funding. So, it’s not that these projects are totally out of consideration, and we’ll do everything we can to help those.”
Medina said he will apply for a smaller grant through the improvement fund.
“I definitely will, those funds seem more aligned with the kind of project that I’d like to do that I’m capable of, and I believe you’ll see some of these other applicants apply for those funds when they become available,” he said.
Hawkins said she also intends to seek funding from the downtown improvement fund if and when it is approved by the state as part of the $10 million DRI.