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Commercial, industrial blight under review

City Council may vote this week on adding commercial and industrial properties to what can be considered blighted — but that may be the easy part.

The challenge for the city, which remains on the economic rebound following the COVID-19 pandemic, will be funding the repairs, according to a recent discussion by the economic revitalization committee.

The committee has given a positive recommendation to add the commercial and industrial language for the Redevelopment Authority and blighted property review committee to act on, said Councilman Dave Banks, committee chairman.

However, the city administration, namely Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator, and Skip Memmi, city economic and community development director, noted how the authority doesn’t have the financing to pursue these projects.

Gerardi warned the committee not to put the “cart before the horse” by giving a positive recommendation to council that would ultimately change the ordinance but not offer the city authority any “teeth.”

“When we (the authority) get to the point of seizing the property, that is the challenge,” Gerardi said, adding he would have no qualms whichever way council decides on the amendment but cautioning members on the committee that funding would be the unanswered problem.

Memmi said his best guess would be a few million dollars to go through a process of the authority acquiring the properties and steps to repurpose deteriorating commercial or industrial plants and businesses.

He noted one initial funding stream might be through a loan program. More than $3 million is available in Community Development Block grants in a loan program for that purpose, he said.

“The authority has no liquid assets to take on a project,” he said.

The city would need to find developers to repair properties and the block grant opportunity might be one avenue to take should council give the administration that direction.

The blighted property review committee has been asked by residents to add commercial and industrial properties to the city ordinance, said Pat Marty, committee chairman.

If the amendment is not made to add commercial and industrial to it the authority and committee do not have the legal standing to act on these properties, only residential, said Dave Banks, chairman of the city economic revitalization committee.

The amendment would require two votes by council and a 20-day wait before the amendment would go into effect, and that schedule depends on what council does on Thursday, Councilwoman Liz Miele said.

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