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A 'game changer': Auburn DRI recipients react to announcement
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A 'game changer': Auburn DRI recipients react to announcement


AUBURN — Almost exactly a year ago, city stakeholders, officials and leaders congregated at Auburn Public Theater to learn that Auburn had been named a winner of the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant. Tuesday, this same group, at the same venue, was the first to hear which projects would receive a share of the grant's $10 million. 

Through months of meetings and public workshops, an initial list of 29 projects seeking a portion of the $10 million pot was narrowed down to 18 by the DRI Local Planning Committee. That list of 18 projects was requesting about $13.5 million, though, so in March, it was sent to the state for further trimming. Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul came to Auburn Public Theater to name 13 projects that made the final DRI cut. 

So, what's next? 

"Essentially, each project will be teamed up with a state agency, depending on the nature of the project, to come up with contract expectations," said Tracy Verrier, executive director of the Cayuga Economic Development Agency. 

Verrier, also a co-chair of the LPC, expects things to "hopefully" start rolling early next year. Other beginning project steps include site plan reviews and drafting environmental safety reports. Verrier said some of the smaller, internal projects planning for renovation won't have to go through as many hoops as the larger projects. 

Of these larger projects is a new shared public safety building. Named a priority by city officials, this project will eventually relocate the Auburn Fire Department from its Market Street facility to a complex on Seminary Street. Auburn will partner with the county to make sure this space includes an emergency operations center and perhaps some other agency. 

The complex is estimated to cost about $10 million, and received $1.2 million in DRI support. According to Auburn Director of Capital Projects Christina Selvek, the city has secured about $3.2 in total grant funding for the project. She said the city won't pursue any more grants for the complex, and that a city bond of some sort could pay the remaining balance. 

Also a DRI recipient, the Seward House Museum will use $864,000 of its awarded funding to rehabilitate the museum's deteriorating carriage house and barn. Built in 1860, the carriage house and barn have features that would be impractical and unsafe to use because of their conditions, said Billye Chabot, the museum's executive director. 

The DRI funding is a "game changer," Chabot said. "'History's Hometown' is such a great tagline for Auburn, and we're absolutely thrilled (the city) received the $10 million."

The Seward House Museum also requested $600,000 through a consolidated funding application earlier this month. If awarded this second grant, the museum would reach over $1.2 million in funding — the estimated cost of the rehabilitation project. 

Of all 13 DRI recipients, the West End Arts Campus project received the most funding. A $1.9 million DRI contribution covers about half the cost to unify the Cayuga Museum of History and Art with the nearby Schweinfurth Art Center in an effort to create a west end gateway to the city.

"In all our years neighboring the Schweinfurth, it has become clear how important it is for arts institutions to collaborate with one another," said Kirsten Wise, executive director of the Cayuga Museum in a press release. "Through the adaptation of our two spaces in to a unified campus, we are ensuring that our institutions will be easily accessible and available to all lovers of the arts in Auburn. 

Verrier said the DRI decision process was a tough one, and even though some projects weren't selected for funding, the process identified what could be priorities for the city in the future.

"There were a lot of great projects in the mix. It's like picking a favorite child ... they're all good projects, and we'll keep looking for those projects that weren't selected." 

As she announced Auburn's DRI awards, the lieutenant governor said an overall collaborative effort by Auburn led to these projects becoming a reality. 

"No longer is it our state capital deciding who gets what based on political clout ... it's based on where the need is, but also where communities have come together to work," Hochul said. 

Staff writer Dan Orzechowski can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or Follow him on Twitter @OrzechowskiDan.


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