Vecino Group seeks 30-year tax break on Potsdam apartment project
Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 1:19 pm

BY CRAIG FREILICH
North Country This Week

POTSDAM -- The Vecino Group, which has developed a plan to rehabilitate Clarkson's Old Snell Hall mainly into affordable apartments, is lining up support for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement for the project.

Representatives of the Missouri-based developer Vecino Group told the Town Council at their meeting Tuesday they hope to have the PILOT agreement in place by the end of September.

In order to get that agreement, three taxing entities affected – the town, the village, and the school board – have to vote approve forgoing some property taxes for 30 years in exchange for the benefit of the project to the community. St. Lawrence County’s approval without a special board vote will be obtained as part of the county’s Industrial Development Agency’s approval and management of the PILOT.

With that agreement in hand, Vecino can complete construction documents in October and begin demolition and abatement of any hazardous materials, perhaps before the end of the year, according to Vecino representative Molly Chiang.

With an 18-month construction schedule, they expect “substantial completion” by the summer of 2021.

The plan is for 59 apartments affordable to households with incomes below 60 percent of the area median income, along with the other features, such as a hub for the arts housing SLC Arts and a community theater, as well as the Shipley Center for Innovation, a Clarkson University business incubator.

Of the 59 apartments on four floors, 30 will be studio apartments, 21 will be one-bedroom, and eight will be two-bedroom. One of those apartments will be reserved for the superintendent. The apartment area will include a community room and a library lounge.

A questioned arose about the majority of the units being smaller ones, and it was noted that a study they commissioned found that the need in Potsdam was for smaller affordable apartments.

The $15 million project got a major boost in May with a $5.6 million grant of loans and tax credits toward the total $15 million plan was awarded for the project by the state from a pool of money from New York State Homes and Community Renewal earmarked for building or preserving affordable apartments and revitalizing communities.

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

The Vecino Group specializes in developing affordable apartments around the country, taking advantage of various federal and state grants, loans and operating subsidies.

Of the Potsdam project, they say the budget is “tight,” so without a tax abatement through a PILOT, the project would not be viable.

The benefits of the project, according to the Vecino representatives, include rejuvenating and putting to use an old mostly empty building in the heart of the village, the affordable apartments, the space for SLC Arts and Clarkson University, and the auditorium being refurbished and available for a variety of community uses.

The PILOT would be worth about $53,000 per year.