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Contract provision putting a wrinkle in Woolworth restoration plans

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Could a stipulation involving some needed property for the Woolworth building project put a wrinkle in getting its restoration to move forward?

The Watertown City Council will be asked tonight to eliminate a provision requiring the so-called Iron Block/Woodruff II property to revert to the city if the developers fail to proceed with the $15.4 million project within three years.

Developers David Gallo and Erich H. Seber plan to convert the Public Square landmark into 50 apartments on the upper floors and commercial space on the ground floor. They want the green space between Cam’s New York Pizza and the Woodruff Professional Building where the Iron Block once stood for tenant parking.

“David Gallo has informed us that this ‘reversion clause’ causes great concern to the potential investors of the tax credits,” Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, wrote in a memo to council members last week. “So much that they feel it will jeopardize the deal. The developer is, therefore, requesting that these conditions be removed from the sale authorization.”

Mr. Mix wrote that all of the financial and property closings, including the green space, will occur on the same day, meaning the developers are “fully committed” to the project.

Mr. Mix, City Manager Sharon A. Addison and City Assessor Brian S. Phelps were unavailable for comment Friday. The developers also could not be reached.

In December, the council agreed to give the developers a three-year option on the green space for $1, instead of just selling it to them.

But Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso plans to ask some questions on why the developers are making the request. The developers will be at the meeting to provide more information on why it is needed, she said.

“I just want to make sure the city is protected,” she said Friday.

Council members tonight also will be asked to give their consent to a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the developers.

The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency put together the proposed tax-abatement package. JCIDA officials are asking the council to proceed with the package.

The three taxing jurisdictions — the city, the county and the Watertown City School District — must approve the tax agreement.

The school board approved it last Monday with no debate. The county still must take action.

The PILOT would start at a fixed rate of $9,000. In year five, it would increase to $12,000, then go up to $15,000 in the 10th year. The full payment of $24,578 would occur in the 16th year.

JCIDA will own the property and lease it to the developers until the PILOT expires.

In May, the developers were awarded $1.073 million in housing tax credits and an additional $750,000 in Housing Trust Fund money for the project. They also have a $2.5 million Restore New York grant for the project.

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