Tuesday, June 18, 2013
AUGUSTA — City councilors unanimously voted to lease the old Cony High School building for the next 50 years to a developer who plans to turn it into affordable senior citizen housing.
This recent photo shows the Cony Flatiron building on Cony Circle in Augusta.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
The city will lease the landmark building to Cynthia Taylor, president of nonprofit housing developer Housing Initiatives of New England -- the same corporation, and woman, responsible for the redevelopment of the former city hall, which was also Augusta's police station, into 31 assisted-living apartments called the Inn at City Hall in 2000.
The flatiron building has been empty since a new Cony High School opened in 2006.
Four times, the city has sought developers willing to take on the project, failing to draw any proposals officials thought were legitimate and in the city's best interest -- until now.
The redevelopment, which is expected to cost $8.7 million, would be funded by a combination of state and federal housing money, historic preservation tax credits, grants, rental income and a proposed tax break from the city.
While Housing Initiatives is a nonprofit operation, a for-profit corporation would be established for the project, because a nonprofit would not be able to take advantage of the federal and state tax credits for housing and historic preservation necessary to make the project financially viable.
Taylor also is seeking a tax-increment financing deal from the city to get back most of the real estate taxes the developer would pay as a long-term leaseholder of the property. The deal would return all but about $4,300 of the potential $36,000 in estimated yearly taxes, for 30 years.
The city spends about $75,000 a year to heat and maintain the empty building.
Councilors also unanimously approved the concept of granting the project the tax break Thursday, with the details of the agreement to be finalized over the next month.
"We maintain an iconic historic building that, when you drive by it, looks the same from the outside, provides a valuable service of affordable housing to residents, and saves about $100,000 in tax revenues a year that don't have to be spent on expenses," Councilor-at-large Jeffrey Bilodeau said. "There is a huge benefit to the taxpayers of Augusta by us pursuing this avenue of development."
Of the proposed 44 units, 16 would be two-bedroom and 28 would be one-bedroom. Of those, 27 units would be for elderly residents with a household income of no more than 50 percent of the area's median income, or about $20,000 a year; and the other 17 would be for elderly residents with a household income of no more than 60 percent of area median income, or about $24,000, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.
Rent would range from $500 to $729 per month, according to documents filed with the city by the developer.
Resident Carol Aft said it is terrific that the flatiron building is going to be developed, but she said the city's greatest need is for affordable housing for those under, not over, the age of 55.
"I think we need, quite honestly, subsidized housing for the non-elderly," Aft said. "My suggestion is 10 percent of those units are specifically for people under 55 who need affordable housing. You need to address the most dire issues at hand, one of which is dilapidated housing."
Councilor Patrick Paradis said Maine is the oldest state in the country and there is great demand for senior citizen housing in Augusta. He said many elderly residents of the city worked here all their lives, many in industries no longer in Augusta. They get by on very little, having fought in wars, he said, and they deserve a good, affordable place to live.
"This provides a decent place for them to live in this community," Paradis said, "and it preserves an icon in this city. We've been waiting for this. It's the right place at the right time for the right people."
Keith Edwards -- 621-5647