Potsdam town, school district approve of PILOT for Old Snell rehab plan
Friday, January 17, 2020 - 9:19 am

BY CRAIG FREILICH
North Country This Week

POTSDAM -- The town council and the Potsdam Central School Board of Education have approved the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement for the Vecino Group’s plan to refurbish Old Snell Hall into apartments, offices and a performance space.

Those votes came at the town and school board meetings Jan. 14.

The measure is also on the agenda of the next village Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 20.

The approval of all three is needed for the 30-year payment plan to proceed. No vote by the county Board of Legislators is required.

The town, village, school district and the county will all share in annual payments from the developers. The first payment will be $119,774, and subsequent payments will range from about $50,000 early in the term to about $89,000 in the final year, for a total of $2.1 million.

The payments could be larger if the residential income from apartments is larger by 20% than anticipated in any year.

The annual payments will be distributed to the four taxing entities based on the proportion each now receives from regular property tax payments. As it stands now, the calculation of that proportion is 25.27% to the school district, 18.28% to the village, 8.7% to the county, and 3.33% to the town.

Missouri-based The Vecino Group specializes in developing housing for low- to moderate-income households. The enterprise depends on federal subsidies for low-income housing, and can benefit from arrangements like a PILOT, which results in payments to municipalities that would be lower than straight property taxes. In return they build the housing and jobs are created in the community.

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 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.

Vecino calls the Snell Hall project “The Quarry.” It could generate dozens of jobs during construction and two permanent jobs for apartment personnel.

Other features planned for the former Clarkson University classroom building downtown include a hub for the arts with space for SLC Arts and a barebones community theater space, as well as room for the Shipley Center for Innovation, a Clarkson University business incubator.

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

If the theater project is awarded funds from Potsdam’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant from the state, the theater could also se new equipment installed, such as curtains and lighting and sound equipment.

In May 2019 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 earmarked for building or preserving affordable apartments and revitalizing communities.

Snell Hall and other buildings in Clarkson’s former downtown campus had sat virtually unused for years. The St. Lawrence County Arts Council had offices and gallery space there, and the university has found some use for the other buildings, but if Vecino’s “The Quarry” succeeds, “Potsdam will have a rehabbed building of historical significance,” said Potsdam Town Supervisor Ann Carvill.