JOHNSTOWN - The Common Council on Monday night agreed to apply for a $200,000 state NY Main Street Grant to revitalize downtown in various ways.
The council hired Orion Management Co. of Amsterdam at a cost not to exceed $3,000 to prepare the grant application. Officials said the grant could assist with downtown streetscape and building improvements.
"It's a big incentive for building owners," grant writer Nicholas Zabawsky, Orion owner, told the council at City Hall.
City Engineer Chandra Cotter outlined the proposed grant, which will pay 75 percent of streetscape improvements up to $15,000 per project, with the city matching 25 percent toward improvements. The grant also pays 75 percent of building renovations, with building owners matching 25 percent toward improvements.
"I've been waiting for years to do something for the downtown businesses," said 2nd Ward Councilman Chris Foss.
Cotter said she was made aware of the grant by Zabawsky. She said Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced availability of the reimbursement funding, with grant submissions due Aug. 12. She said funding is available to communities through the New York Trust Fund, administered through the state Office of Community Renewal.
Mayor Sarah Slingerland noted the city Planning Board has been working with downtown business owners to improve their areas, as an update to the city's Comprehensive Plan. She noted the board interviewed about six owners.
Cotter said benefits to the city for applying for the funding include thousands of dollars in improvements to buildings on East and West Main street and other streets in those areas.
"This is a real opportunity to get real dollars and make improvements," the city engineer said.
Cotter said the city needed to make a decision now because the Aug. 12 deadline is looming.
Zabawsky said the goal now for the city should be to identify a "target area" to improve, which could be a two or three-block area. He said the city can take photos and document sidewalks, street lights, benches and tree areas that need improvement, as well as sections of buildings needing rehab work.
The consultant also suggested an office be set up at City Hall where the public can come in to and fill out applications.
"This program involves interaction with the public," Zabawsky said.
City Fire Chief Bruce Heberer, the city's code enforcement officer, said he's talked to two businesses that are "very interested" in ways to improve their buildings. One is located at Perry and Main streets, he said.
Cotter said she's also aware of another interested building owner.
Planning board member Fred Franko said several of the downtown businesses are doing things already, without financial incentives.
"There's a lot of grassroots incentive out there," he said.
Slingerland said the city has been "actively engaged" in discussions with the city of Gloversville about potential downtown grant funding opportunities, and that city is "fine with this."
The mayor added that this potential downtown program could be budgeted for in 2014.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.