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Woolworth building project votes to come before City Council

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Three resolutions regarding the $15.4 million restoration of the Woolworth building are expected to pass tonight, despite the concerns of two City Council members.

The Watertown City Council is to vote on whether the project needs a tax-abatement package, whether the city should waive an $18,422 building permit fee for the developers, and whether the city should sell some green space for tenant parking.

While they insisted they support the project, Councilmen Joseph M. Butler Jr. and Jeffrey M. Smith said they wanted the developers to provide specific financial information about the project and details on the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. Neither would say how he will vote.

“I’m open-minded and objective,” Mr. Smith said, stressing that he still would like to know “what’s the skin they have in the game.”

They agree that the developers need the tax breaks, but they do not know what constitutes “a reasonable” PILOT, according to the resolution that will be offered tonight.

The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency would negotiate the tax breaks with new developers David Gallo and Erich H. Seber. The City Council, Jefferson County Board of Legislators and Watertown City School District all would have to agree to the PILOT.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and Councilwomen Teresa R. Macaluso and Roxanne M. Burns have come out in support of all three city concessions. But it will take four votes to sell the parcel along Public Square — known as the Iron Block/Woodruff II site — for $1 to the developers. If the developers do not proceed with the project, ownership of the land would revert to the city, according to a memo prepared by Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator.

“As far as I’m concerned, they are small issues,” Ms. Macaluso said, contending the city should show a commitment by agreeing to all three concessions because “they need it.”

Mr. Graham said he believes the project will be the “last opportunity to develop” the building, since it has sat vacant for so long and continues to deteriorate.

On Thursday, the members of Advantage Watertown learned the cost of the project will be $15.8 million, up from an earlier projection of $10.4 million. Mr. Mix said it was “an estimate that’s continuing to change.” The project would be financed through a $2.5 million Restore NY grant, $8 million in tax credits and loans from a commercial bank.

The developers want to convert the vacant Public Square landmark into about 50 apartments on the upper floors and commercial space on the ground floor. Recently, they took over the project from Long Island developer Michael A. Treanor, who agreed to sell the building to them for $400,000.

To take advantage of state tax credits, the two men have decided that all 50 apartment units would be offered as affordable housing. The application is due in January.

The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. in the third-floor council chambers in City Hall, 245 Washington St.

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