Monday, June 22, 2009

Nehemiah digs in

The performance hall at the Green Street Arts Center was packed with dignitaries for Monday's groundbreaking ceremony for the North End Home Ownership project. After remarks by no less than 15 politicians and stakeholders in the project, the crowd moved outside for a golden shovel ceremony. The developers, Nehemiah Housing and Broad Park Development Corp, note that actual construction is slated to begin in late summer, with the first of the 15 units available by October 2010.

Readers of the Eye have been treated to many, many articles about the long process of finding funding and getting approval from the Redevelopment Agency and Common Council for the home-ownership condos. Compromises between the developers and the preservation community led to the decision to rehabilitate three of the Ferry houses that were originally to be demolished. The January 2008 move of the former Methodist Church on Liberty Street to a new site on Rapallo Avenue added further complexity to the project, resulting in a plan to create 4 units in the renovated building. The difficulties of the current economy and real estate market required the developers to trim the original 7 sites to 6 -- the Habitat for Humanity duplex on Ferry Street will have to wait.

Although there are a number of funding sources (including some $700,000+ from the City), the project ultimately received its green light with the recent agreement by the state's Department of Economic and Community Development to provide $3 million in grants to fill the gap in the approx. $7 million budget. In exchange, the developers are required to sell the homes at below-market prices to households within targeted income categories -- most are for families with up to 80% of median income, and two units are reserved for families with up to 50% of median income.

In this architectural rendering you can see:
1 Top right corner: two new duplexes will replace two houses on the south side of Green Street which are currently vacant and condemned. These units are priced at $124,000 to $148,000.
2. Top left corner: the planned facade of the former Methodist Church. This elevation will face Rapallo Avenue, and the building will house four units which are priced at $93,970 to $124,000.
3. Bottom row: Three existing houses on the south side of Ferry will have condos priced from $138,000 to $168,000.

Many of the speakers at the groundbreaking praised the partnerships that brought this project to fruition, as well as the investments of Wesleyan University, the City and private developers in the North End. In her remarks, Jackie Clegg Dodd (wife of Senator Chris Dodd) noted the progress that Middletown has made in recent years. We now know, she said, that the North End was lucky to escape the wholesale redevelopment that other towns experienced, and the resulting construction of buildings in the "Early Ugly" style. Instead, the North End still has "good bones", and a strong base of dedicated people who care enough to work at creating a stable community.

As the final speaker, Izzi Greenberg, the executive director of NEAT and a contributor to this blog, noted that this is a very exciting step for residents of the North End -- the culmination of a neighborhood redevelopment effort that began in the late 1990's. Ever practical, she also noted that NEAT and Liberty Bank have been cooperatively offering financial literacy workshops to educate families that might be eligible to purchase the homes.

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