At a brief public hearing Sept. 28, trustees sought any negative comments regarding a New York State grant the village recently applied for, to be used for much-needed maintenance work on the Historic Main Building at St. Paul's. Back on Sept. 14, trustees voted 7 to 1 (Trustee Tom Lamberti voted against) in favor of submitting the application to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), under the Restore New York program.
If the village is successful in obtaining the grant, which some trustees argued is really geared more toward inner cities - not Garden City - the $5 million officials are seeking could slightly help offset the costly task of replacing the roof, leaders and gutters, the mechanical electrical and plumbing systems, some trusses damaged by water and rotted joists in the clock tower and repainting and cleaning the masonry.
Village Counsel Gary Fishberg explained that the Historic Main Building was the only property identified on the application. The application process requires that there be a property assessment list for identifying those properties for which the grant is being applied, and, if there are multiple properties, to rank the properties on this list.
"St Paul's is the only property on the list," Fishberg said. "The purpose of this hearing is to hear negative comments as to why that property should not be included in the application."
Mayor Gerard Lundquist further noted that, according to the grant application's criteria, priority will be given to projects in economically depressed urban communities, brownfield opportunity areas, Empire Zones, investment zones, federally designated disaster areas recently damaged by the June 2006 floods, etc.
Village officials state on their grant application that the "future of this historic landmark building is in jeopardy. Without funding assistance from ESDC, its future is unknown as restoration would have to be paid by village taxpayers via their property taxes." The village spends approximately $100,000 a year to maintain the building in just patching the roofs, keeping minimal heat and electric on and more.
Trustee Lamberti, who wanted to set the record straight, noted, "I do not oppose grant monies from any source to help us rehabilitate and renovate St Paul's. My opposition the other night was related to the process. There is some serious question as to whether this grant application that we are making at this point in time fits that criteria," he said.
Murray Gould of Port City Preservation, located in Oswego, NY, spoke on behalf of the Committee to Save St. Paul's. Port City Preservation is a real estate consulting and development firm that for the past 20 years has specialized in the adaptive re-use in the restoration of historic properties.
"I have been working with the committee for the past six months in their efforts to look at reasonable approaches to revitalize this beautiful landmark that you are so fortunate to have," Gould told trustees. "I would like to commend you for taking this step to apply for this grant."
Gould continued, adding, "Having worked for this many years with this many projects, it's very common for the restoration of landmark buildings of this nature to have a combination of private public sector finances. Whether it's bringing together municipalities, nonprofit organizations and the private development community, they all have something to offer. The beauty of this is that by you taking this initiative to try and get this grant it's a way for you as a community to contribute to that effort as you begin to seek proposals in the next week or so for the development of this property."
Mayor Lundquist quickly interjected, reminding Gould that the point of the public hearing was to collect any negative comments regarding the application. Peter Negri, president of the Committee to Save St. Paul's, also wanted the chance to speak but was denied.
The committee, however, did have this to say to the Garden City Life: "Once again, Mayor Gerard Lundquist and the board of trustees missed an opportunity to listen to residents who wanted to speak about St. Paul's, share their feelings about the fundamental need for rehabilitative work on the historic structure and commend the board for considering the taxpayers' pocketbook.
"Indeed, our trustees blew an opportunity, too, at the public hearing on the village's 'Restore NY' application, to gain valuable information, free of charge, from the Committee to Save St. Paul's consultant, Murray Gould, who is not only highly regarded by our State Parks and Preservation Departments, but is also an expert in preservation and adaptive reuse of properties from North Carolina to Oswego, NY.
"Instead, after ascertaining that there were 'no negative comments' from the audience, our trustees chose to adjourn the hearing without a word from residents who thought it worthwhile to take the time to attend."
The committee's statement continues: "There is a title we give to those who seek government office and it is public servant. At the public hearing, the public was not served. The mayor has said in the past that the board wishes to get residents' opinions on St. Paul's. We ask, do our public servants have selective hearing, and can residents only speak on the days and designated times they want to hear us? We continue to question if we can trust our trustees to treat all of the St. Paul's RFP responses even-handedly, even those that may be thinking 'out of the box' and presenting unique solutions to the St. Paul's impasse -solutions that encompass grant funding, such as 'Restore NY,' tax credits and other innovative ways to reduce costs for taxpayers, and yet, bring significant benefits that can be enjoyed by residents for generations to come."
Residents and trustees alike realize that $5 million is a small step in the funds needed to restore the Garden City gem. There is, however, the possibility of more than $5 million in this current round if the ESDC receives an insufficient amount of qualified applications. Further, the village is obligated to match 10 percent of the funds awarded, if successful in obtaining the grant.