New plan for redevelopment of Clarkson's Old Snell Hall seeking funding
Thursday, December 13, 2018 - 12:02 pm

By CRAIG FREILICH

North Country This Week

POTSDAM – The group developing a $15 million plan to renovate and convert Clarkson University’s Old Snell Hall downtown into affordable housing feels a funding application due this month has a good chance of success.

Architect Molly Chiang of Missouri-based The Vecino Group told the village Board of Trustees Dec. 3 she has confidence a funding application due this month has a better chance of approval after incorporating “good feedback” on the shortcomings of an unsuccessful application a year ago.

The current housing plan calls for a total of 59 housing units, including 30 studio apartments, 21 one-bedroom apartments, and eight two-bedroom apartments.

The research by Vecino indicates that the affordable apartments, which is their specialty, would go to low- to moderate-income renters in the 50 to 80 percent bracket of median household incomes in the area, or about $27,000 to $36,000 a year here.

The St. Lawrence County Arts Council (SLC Arts) will be provided space to continue their use of a part of the building, and the university’s Shipley Center for Innovation will have some downtown space there, according to the current plan.

SLC Arts is projected to have approximately 7,000 square feet including offices, a gallery, and studios. The Shipley Center will have approximately 1,800 square feet of dedicated space in the current plan.

The theater in the former Clarkson University classroom building will be renovated for use by the village, the university’s theater group and others, and for public meetings and events.

The Vecino plan includes installation of new mechanical and electrical equipment in Old Snell Hall.

Congden Hall, a smaller building adjacent to Snell, has been envisioned in the previous plans as part of the project, but is not part of this one, at least at this stage. It could be addressed “maybe in a couple of years,” Chiang said.

The application for funding help is due into the state this month. While their first application a year ago was denied, Chiang said she felt they “got good feedback” on that application which will improve the new one.

“We are applying for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits through HCR (New York State Homes and Community Renewal) as our main source of funding,” Chiang said in an email response to questions. “Additionally we are applying for Historic Tax Credits through the National Park Service’s State Historic Preservation Office. The total construction cost for this project is approximately $15M. Our application for HCR funding gets submitted mid-December, allocations are awarded in May 2019.”

Chiang said she believes that, with funding approved, actual building work could begin “a year from now.”

Previous Attempts at Development

A few attempts have been made in recent years to find a way to breathe new life into Old Snell Hall and Congden Hall, between Elm and Main streets and across from the library, museum and village offices.

Omni Development Corporation had been working with Clarkson and the village on a plan to convert the buildings into apartments, a small business development center, exhibition and retail space for the St. Lawrence County Arts Council, and provisions for the North Country Children’s Museum, among other things.

In 2014, Omni Development Company was awarded a $1,185,000 North Country Regional Economic Development Council grant to work with Clarkson University on turning Congdon and Old Snell halls into mixed-use buildings, but Omni pulled out at the last minute, in the spring of 2016. A Clarkson spokesman said Omni was never forthright as to why they left the project. A former Omni employee speaking for the company said that the end of the association with the university “was Clarkson’s decision, not ours.”

Since then the university, Vecino and the village have been working for more than a year on a revised plan called “The Quarry” with emphasis on housing development, along the lines of those previous plans.

“Vecino develops the property, our compliancy period with HCR will be 50 years during which time rents will be regulated to the affordable 50-80-% AMI (Area Media Income). Vecino Group does not manage any of our affordable housing projects, we will work with a property management approved by the state,” Chiang said.