DRI grant list scrutinized

SARANAC LAKE — Work on winnowing a project list for $10 million in state grants has begun.

The consulting team for the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative presented a preliminary list of which projects might make the cut at Harrietstown Town Hall on Monday.

The team assessed all 63 projects submitted for DRI funding and recommended 37 to the Local Planning Committee. These are not binding suggestions — they represent an assessment by the consulting team lead by M.J. Engineering and Land Surveying. Some of the projects that weren’t suggested were earmarked as appropriate for other grant funding sources, or a bad fit for the DRI. Some projects were identified as needing more information.

All 63 project proposals, if they got what they’re asking for, would total $24 million in DRI funding. The 37 suggested projects represent $19.6 million in requested DRI funding. The state asks that the final list submitted for consideration contain $15 million in requests in case projects fall by the wayside.

The DRI actually provides $9.7 million to a locality’s downtown to jump-start projects that the community and state deem transformative.

“This is by no means a final list,” said Jaclyn Hakes, director of planning services for M.J. “This is a list that reflects the work we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks, and it is for the LPC to consider.

The 63 projects were assessed on four factors, Hakes said.

First was how much information they’d submitted to the consulting team.

Second was readiness. The DRI places particular emphasis on projects that are able to be executed soon, within one or two years of being awarded funding.

The consulting team then pivoted to the project sponsors — were they capable of implementing the project? The DRI is a reimbursement program. Costs need to be fronted, somehow, by a sponsor.

“Also, the capacity of that sponsor to have that project be successful,” Hakes said. “We want to make sure those public dollars are put into a project that is going to be a long-term project, that’s going to be sustainable.”

She said that if a project is a new business, the team looked at whether the sponsor had a business plan or had planned out the particulars of the enterprise’s operation.

Lastly, Hakes said the team screened the projects for their alignment with the DRI’s goals and rules.

After finishing their initial assessment, Hakes said the team reached out to projects on which they needed more information.

“So we reached out to those projects’ sponsors,” Hakes said. “We’ve been having phone calls and meetings. We still have more that have been scheduled.”

General criteria designed by the state were then given out to the LPC for members to evaluate project proposals with. These criteria are subject to change, as over the next week the LPC will add and modify the criteria to fit the specific circumstances of the village’s downtown.

The state’s general criteria, available on the DRI website www.ny.gov/dri, list factors such as alignment with DRI strategic goals, alignment with existing local plans, transformation potential, market demand and economic feasibility.

“We’re not ranking these projects. … We’re not assigning numbers,” Hakes said. “But we do need to identify and advance and separate out those those that are more ready, more transformative, more catalytic, more aligned with DRI goals than those that are not.”

It will be the LPC identifying and evaluating the projects moving forward, using downtown goals and strategies formulated over the past months as well as criteria adopted in the coming weeks.

The state suggested that the LPC split up into subcommittees in the coming month to evaluate projects. The LPC agreed. The consulting team, state officials and village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski will work to build the subcommittee groups over the coming week. Members of the LPC were asked to submit their top two preferences for which subcommittees to serve on, once they’ve been formulated.

Subcommittees will meet in January and report at the next LPC meeting Jan. 10 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Harrietstown Town Hall.

A preliminary project list is expected to be posted next week on the Saranac Lake village government website, www.saranaclakeny.gov.