Penn Yan’s initiative to attract more upscale residential development in the upper floors of older buildings in the downtown business section, has received a double shot in the arm recently. Steve Griffin, CEO of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (FLEDC, Yates County’s IDA) says two grants awarded by the state will bring $800,000 to planned projects to develop apartments on the second and third floors of buildings on Main and Elm Streets.

Two buildings, Longs’ Cards & Books and the former Belknap Hill Books, have jointly received $500,000 to develop them into commercial and residential mixed use. Longs’ was built in 1864 and was known for years as The Opera House, but the upper floor has not been in use for many decades. The plan calls for seven apartments to be constructed in the two-story space. Owner Jim Long is aware of the building’s history, but needs to find an economically viable use for the rest of his building.

There are existing older apartments above Belknap Hill Books, which was recently purchased by Stacey Mirinaviciene, an Assistant Professor of Accounting at Keuka College. She is a Certified Public Accountant with her own accounting practice, Roslyn Accounting Services, experienced in audits, tax, and business consulting. The renovation plan calls for four apartments above and commercial offices on the ground floor.

Griffin says the two projects are substantial. “We applied for $1 million for just these two and got $500,000, so plans will have to be adjusted,” he says, saying the projects will go out for bid in the coming months.

A smaller Main Street Grant of $300,000 was awarded to Penn Yan some months ago to improve the upper apartment floors of several other downtown buildings, including Cam’s Pizzeria, The Keuka Restaurant, The Mustang Pub, The Books Landing, and two buildings owned by Chris Wright in the east block between East Elm and Seneca Streets. However, Wright says he has not received formal confirmation of the grant from the state, and will not comment on his plans.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the state awarded $11.2 million to 10 Finger Lakes municipalities through Round Five of the Restore New York Communities Initiative. Nearly $81 million was awarded to 71 municipalities statewide.

The Legislature created Restore N.Y. in 2006 to aid municipalities in rehabilitating or removing obsolete or rundown commercial and residential properties in order to make the sites attractive to residents and businesses searching for new investment opportunities.

Round Five of the Restore New York Communities Initiative was enacted in the 2017 State Budget, and Empire State Development was designated to implement the program. Cities, towns, and villages were all eligible to apply for support for projects that include demolition, deconstruction, rehabilitation or reconstruction of vacant, abandoned, condemned and surplus properties. Projects located in economically distressed communities were emphasized and encouraged.

“Downtown communities are vital to keeping our economies thriving and to attracting businesses and families to put down their roots in New York,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “The Restore New York Communities Initiative recognizes communities teeming with potential and invests in their transformation and their future, and turns them into neighborhoods New Yorkers are proud to call home.”

Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano jointly stated, “Restore N.Y. is an important building block for the restoration and revitalization of quality communities throughout the Finger Lakes region and statewide. It’s proven to be a useful tool to spark local economic development, create local jobs and energize community pride.”