Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Redevelopment Re-Run

If you were at tonight's Redeveloment Agency meeting, you would be forgiven for thinking you've already seen this movie.

The same two issues were on the agenda:

-Miller & Bridge Street: Nothing new to report.

-Home Ownership in the North End: Not too much change here either.

As he did at last month's meeting, Michael Taylor from Nehemiah gave us an update on the $7 million plan to build 15 units of home-ownership (plus 2 to be developed by Habitat for Humanity) on Ferry/Green/Rapallo. As we know, 10% of the funding for this $7 million project has been secured (that's the City's contribution to the project). The remaining 90% is pending, with much hanging on the upcoming appraisal by Liberty Bank of the after-rehab value of the units. With a favorable appraisal, Michael says they are on target to unlock about $3 million in a DECD HOME grant, and another $2.5 million construction loan from Liberty Bank. There were two new pieces of information about the project funding. We learned of the "wait-list" status of Nehemiah's application for about $400,000 with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. Also, Nehemiah has learned of a potential new source for about $425,000, which might replace their plans to apply for $500,000 in State Tax Credits next August (they were denied for those funds in the August 2008 cycle). Michael confirmed that they will wait to sign the construction contract with the contractor until "all the funding is in place", though they may start sooner with a smaller portion of the work, to get the environmental and demolition work going. At the request of Joe Tine (and pending adequate funding), Nehemiah offered a best-case construction schedule that might begin around April and end about a year later.

In other news, we had a visit from Michael Arafeh, who owns the Coffehouse Recording Studio, which is located at 510 Main Street behind La Boca. Michael and I are both part of the Chamber of Commerce "Creative Juice" council for arts/creative businesses. {Before the meeting, Michael mentioned to me that he's been working with a group of kids from Harford for a hospital holiday album -- sounds like a great project, and I think we are lucky to have this resource in our downtown.}

So what brought Michael Arafeh to Redevelopment? The same thing that brought him to countless downtown meetings over the last several years of North End redevelopment -- concern that construction noise would interfere with his sound-sensitive business. He made the reasonable request that he be notified of certain kinds of construction activities (like jack-hammering) so that he could re-arrange his recording schedule. During the construction of the Wharfside Commons project (by the Richman Group), Michael says that about 60 sessions were impacted by construction noise, which could have been avoided with better communication. I hope that Nehemiah can keep him in the loop on their construction!

Perhaps the liveliest part of the meeting came when David Bauer questioned whether Redevelopment should continue to use its meetings to review the North End Home-Ownership project, since the City has already committed funding for its 10% of the project -- and without many contractual benchmarks or timelines that the City could enforce -- and so it could be argued that we no longer have a dog in this race. This question prompted more discussion than any other issue, as several members voiced their various opinions about the oversight of this project, and the future of redevelopment in general. And if you, dear reader, have an opinion on this subject, I invite you to add a comment on this post!

I haven't got much objectivity on this issue -- I hope that we continue to monitor every step of the project, since we have invested $720,000 of city CDBG funds, and should be the first to know if the project hits any new delays or roadblocks. Also, though it's not perfect, we provide a forum where citizens can learn about the project and register any complaints. But I'd also love to see a higher standard of accountability in the Memorandums of Understanding that our City signs.

And now, a note to any followers of the Redevelopment Agency: in the future, we will meet at 5 pm, not 5:30. Still the Third Tuesday of the Month -- see you then.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I side with you - I want to know that the city is getting regular updates on a regular basis.