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Officials hope funds reverse Cairo blight

Main Street in Cairo. The town board declared a section of Cairo’s business district a blighted area to obtain funding from the Community Development Block Grant program.
March 21, 2019 04:18 pm Updated: March 22, 2019 08:29 am

CAIRO — County lawmakers authorized funding to help the town of Cairo give Main Street a makeover.

The resolution, granting the municipality $150,000, passed in the Economic Development and Tourism and Finance committees Monday. The funding marks the end of the county’s liquidation of Community Development Block grants.

The state requires municipalities that use Community Development Block Grant money to convert the loans into cash and use the funding for eligible projects by March 31.

To receive future funding, the county must form a nonprofit local development corporation to apply for the grants. The legislature passed a resolution to establish the corporation in November.

Cairo became eligible for the funding last month after declaring part of its Main Street blighted.

In blighted areas, at least 25 percent of buildings have physical deterioration, chronic high vacancy or occupancy turnover rates, or show a significant decline or abnormally low property values relative to other parts of the region. Many blighted areas also have known or suspected environmental contamination, Cairo Town Supervisor Daniel Benoit said in February.

“The [Cairo] Development Foundation is looking at 50 percent of the buildings that meet at least one of those criteria,” Benoit said.

By acquiring the state funding, the town’s development foundation hopes to turn things around.

“Our goal is to revitalize Main Street,” said Diana Benoit, co-president of the Cairo Development Foundation and the wife of the town supervisor. “We want to make it look good, put in viable businesses and attract other businesses to do the same. The funding is sorely needed.”

Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, cast the lone dissenting vote Monday in both committees.

“We’re straying away from our mission,” Bulich said, adding he didn’t feel the money would create jobs.

The county issued other loans to four businesses since January totaling $230,000 to use up remaining CDBG funding.

The funds for the new businesses came from the county’s forgiveness of 14 outstanding loans in December with businesses at a discounted rate, accruing a loss of almost $200,000.

The state requires businesses to develop a job-creation program with the funding, Greene County Deputy Administrator Warren Hart said in January. If the state’s condition is not satisfied, the businesses could risk losing their funding.

Cairo is receiving a different type of CDBG loan, Diana Benoit said, which caters to communities struggling with blighted areas.

Additionally, the loan is creating jobs, she said.

“Accountable Fitness was operating at the other end of Main Street,” she said. “Now, they are expanding.”

The gym plans to set up a location in one of the buildings that will be renovated with the funds, Benoit said.

The development foundation has its eyes on two properties: The former Bobby Jean’s Restaurant at 465 Main St. and the highway garage at 467 Main St., Benoit said.

The property at 465 Main St. contains asbestos, Benoit said.

“Our evaluation was affirmed by Kaaterskill [Engineering],” she said. “The funding will cover the demolition of a building [465 Main] condemned by the town.”

To replace the vacant building, foundation will develop a pocket park to replace, which would connect Angelo Canna Town Park to Main Street so visitors will come to the businesses.

The funding will also go toward renovating the highway garage, which is a multi-use building, Benoit said.

“There are living spaces on top,” she said, adding Accountable Fitness is a tenant in the highway garage building.

Earlier this month, the foundation received a New York Main Street—Technical Assistance Grant for $20,000, Benoit said.

“We will be using that to look at what needs to be done to buildings in terms of safety and codes,” she said.

The town hired Kaaterskill Engineering to evaluate the buildings, she said.