Attorney General Letitia James was in Elmira last month to announce that the City had won a one million dollar grant to address our housing challenges.
Since the press conference, several folks have asked us for additional information on Cities RISE, so here it is!
What is Cities RISE?
The program acronym stands for “Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement.” The goal of the program is to challenge municipalities to develop appropriate and innovative code enforcement strategies and work toward higher quality housing, responsible property owners and cohesive neighborhoods. In May, four members of the Elmira Cities RISE team—Mayor Dan Mandell, Community Development Director Emma Miran, Code Enforcement Director John McCracken, and Chemung County Planning Commissioner Nicolette Wagoner—attended a retreat at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation to brainstorm ideas for this grant, also known as Phase 3. During that retreat, they created a 5-part strategy that the city is now working to implement.
What’s the problem this grant will help us solve?
As most readers are likely aware, Elmira has faced decades of disinvestment due to manufacturing decline and signification population loss and suburban flight, resulting in a high rate of concentrated poverty. The declining tax base has affected the city’s financial stability and operational capacity, ultimately creating a cycle of disinvestment within the community. Supporting and ensuring the effective operation and capacity of Code Enforcement is one way to support the revitalization of neighborhoods and housing stock.
Macro-economic factors and overall lack of private investment in Elmira—and its housing stock in particular—has resulted in poor quality housing throughout the City. These issues have manifested themselves in a weak housing market symbolized by rundown and underutilized properties, even in historically flourishing neighborhoods.
So … what exactly is the City implementing now?
Over the course of the past several years working on Cities RISE, the Elmira team has integrated data on police and fire issues, utilities, code violations and general property conditions into software that now effectively provides insights for planning and neighborhood development projects. The system shows neighborhoods with concentrated areas of code violations and low property values (generally reflecting neighborhood development needs) in the City. Using this data, the Elmira team identified five specific action items with which to best utilize the $1 million grant. These are:
- Inspect of one- and two-family rentals. While this might not seem like a big deal, it is. This grant will provide the city with capacity to hire additional code enforcement officers to inspect one- and two-family homes, which are often unknown locations for code violations or units that owners have illegally converted.
- Restrict buyers at the County Foreclosure auction to those who have not lost a property for non-payment of taxes within a set period.
- Encourage strong neighborhood ties through clean-up days with partner groups and the establishment of grassroots community groups.
- Establish a code violation bureau to administer code cases, helping to reduce the time spent waiting to adjudicate cases against property owners whose units are in disrepair.
- Create incentives for homeowners to improve housing (through mechanisms currently in development).
While this may not sound like a million dollars’ worth of work, it will take money, time, energy and collaboration to see this effort to completion. In the long term, the City is optimistic that these efforts could help stem the rates of population decline and flight from Elmira to outlying areas, and ultimately create population growth among key demographic groups including families and young professionals.
In 2017, Elmira was a Round 1 winner of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), a New York State-sponsored competition for a $10 million grant. The City received this funding to launch, leverage funding toward and complete major downtown development projects. Because a couple of years have passed since the award and people are curious about what’s happening now and next, we are providing an update on where the projects—as originally proposed by local officials and finalized by New York State—currently stand.
Click this link for the official list of projects and then read on to learn more about their status.
100 West Water Street
The City of Elmira received $4 million for this anchor project, a mixed-use development that is also the first new construction downtown in quite a while. 100 West Water is a four-story building with 51 gorgeous market-rate apartments. The developer had fully leased the apartments within two weeks of their opening in April. The building also includes approximately 17,000 sf of ground-floor retail and commercial space as well as a landscaped area facing Clemens Square to the north. The businesses here include LaBella Associates, a Rochester-based engineering and design firm, and Wells Fargo bank. We will share any public information on the tenant for the last available space as soon as we hear it.
Lake Street Pedestrian Bridge
The Lake Street Pedestrian Bridge is a former vehicular bridge that closed due to structural concerns several years ago. LaBella and TWLA, the Ithaca-based landscape design firm, are polishing up designs for conversion of the bridge for bicycle and pedestrian use, with construction set to occur in 2020. The estimated date for the bridge to open is August 2020. The bridge rehab will provide another linkage in the bike and pedestrian network that we are continuing to build in Elmira, and will encourage more residents to walk downtown and enjoy Chemung River views. For more information, see our previous post about bridges.
Centertown Parking Garage / Clemens Square / Riverfront Park Boardwalk
We are discussing these three projects together as they are all part of one contract led by Hunt Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors (HUNT) with design assistance from Whitham Planning and Design. The consultant team is in the design phase on all three projects, which will likely go out to bid in November and begin construction in spring 2020. As noted above, these include a $1,000,000 rehabilitation of the 40 year-old Centertown Parking Garage. The 735-car garage will undergo corrective maintenance items such as lighting and safety, and some aesthetic enhancements (TBD), providing a more pleasant parking experience for visitors to nearby businesses and activities. Clemens Square, located between the parking garage and 100 West Water, will also receive a $1.25 million facelift as part of this project. Plans to make this public space more inviting will enhance walkability, as it connects many of our downtown assets. It will also provide a new adaptable space for programs, events and outdoor eating and drinking. Finally, the project includes improvements to nearby Riverfront Park, including seating, planters, and other amenities. The goal for this area is to draw in visitors to this currently underutilized public space and provide an opportunity for better views of the Chemung River. Designs for all three elements of this project are forthcoming and we will share them here when available.
Activate Buildings Fund
The DRI included $1,750,000 to activate vacant and underutilized mixed-use buildings downtown. Building owners submitted applications for grants up to 25% of their project cost, and the City selected projects based upon many factors including overall impact on downtown. This initiative is ongoing through 2021. Several projects, including façade improvements at Langdon Plaza and the historic Werdenberg Building at 200 West Water Street, are complete. Others such as interior and exterior improvements to Roundin’ Third and Gerould’s Pharmacy on South Main are moving forward, and we hope to see enough momentum in the program by the end of this year to inspire another post – stay tuned.
(Note: The City folded the small business revolving loan fund into the Activate Buildings fund, in part due to need and the administrative costs of managing these funds.)
West Water Street Parking Reconfiguration
The parking on West Water Street is part of the Riverfront Park discussion (see above). While not part of the DRI, the City has in the past year retrofitted downtown parking meters to reflect the current century. Our meters now accept credit cards and coins. Huzzah!
Modernize Downtown Zoning
The zoning update is in full swing. E3/Elan Planning and Design and STREAM Collaborative are leading the effort to update the city’s zoning ordinance within the DRI boundary to reflect the comprehensive plan. For more information about the zoning project, visit the City’s website. This zoning update will utilize a Form Based Code to foster new opportunities for infill development that will prioritize the form and appearance of what future developments should be. The goals of the updated zoning approach aim to decrease rates of vacancy, increase the renovation of existing buildings, create economic incentives for businesses, improve walkability and create a sense of place.
Please note that the zoning committee is aiming for another public workshop in September and we really hope you come. Although the zoning update may not be the most exciting subject, it probably affects you.
The timeline for this project is to have the update largely drafted by the end of 2019 with adoption slated for early 2020.
A Final Note…
If you live in or around Elmira, you are probably aware of the many road and bridge construction projects currently underway. That is a wonderful thing. It is also one reason why the City shifted some of the DRI projects from the 2019 construction season to 2020. Busy seasons are great for the engineering firms, construction companies and local officials overseeing the work, but we have a limited supply of all of these things.
Please feel free to leave questions or comments below and we will respond to them as soon as possible!
If you are curious about the opportunities for new housing, this update is for you. For the first time in years, we are witnessing construction around the city … and it is heartening to watch buildings rise from the ground or come back to life in a variety of neighborhoods. (Please note that this information is current at the time of blog posting and is subject to change).
100 West Water
Market-Rate mixed-use development downtown with Chemung River views
Rochester-based Park Grove Realty is the developer behind the 100 West Water Apartments, which will feature 51 market-rate apartments on three stories above ground-floor office and retail. This project is downtown Elmira’s first new construction in decades and will open March 2019. The ground floor will be home to engineering and design firm Labella PC and other businesses to be determined. For more information, click here for the 100 West Water website. The building is adjacent to the Promenade on Water Street between Railroad Avenue and Main Street.
The river views from the upper story apartments are spectacular. (courtesy
City of Elmira Code Enforcement on Facebook).
Affordable housing with support services within walking distance of downtown
Vecino Group is the developer transforming the former Jones Court complex into Libertad, which will have 91 affordable rental units (including 20 reserved for homeless veterans) and support services. The project is located adjacent to EOP and Ernie Davis Park, on Baldwin and Dickinson Streets. The target date for completion is April 2019. Potential tenants may contact EOP at www.cseop.org or 607.734.6174.
New and renovated housing units in a walkable neighborhood on South Main Street
As stated on the developer’s website, Chemung Crossing is one of the first of its kind in the area, a $15.1 million mixed-use project on South Main Street across from Aldi and adjacent to Gerould’s Pharmacy and Teall’s Tavern. This project includes six new multi-family homes on Henry and Harmon Streets and the rehabilitation of two historic buildings, totaling 45 affordable housing units and 2,482 SF of commercial space. The housing will be income-based and targeted for individuals and families earning from $13,520-$22,400. Housing Visions is accepting residential applications now (315.472.3820 or firstname.lastname@example.org) and expects to complete the project in March 2019.
Maple Avenue Apartments
New Housing Community to open for seniors in early 2019
CDS is constructing a new senior apartment complex on Maple Avenue in Elmira, with one-bedroom apartments, a fitness complex, laundry rooms, computer stations and other amenities. AIM Independent Living Center is accepting applications for the apartments with availability at the time of this post. The organization will provide ongoing support services for residents in partnership with NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. The CDS Facebook page featuring renderings of the units is here.
Other recent and future housing includes several developments by Capriotti Properties, including the Richardson Row Homes and the Foster House, both on West Water Street, and the Historic Werdenberg Apartments on the corner of West Water and Main Street. Capriotti Properties will also be revitalizing the Arnot Carriage House thanks in part to a New York Main Street awarded December 2018.