Jamestown Should Look To Cleaning Up City, Not Sprucing Up Fancy Establishments, As Way To Kickstart Economy

Upon reading the recent Post-Journal news article, “Committee Hears Update on Demolition, Condemned List,” I had to reflect on the content and significance of condemned houses as an economic engine for Jamestown. It is regularly cited that condemned houses bring down housing values in the city and hang up property tax potential. Also cited is the cost — about $25,000 a property.

The article notes that there are “roughly” 100 properties in the city at present condemned and the number has not fallen and could be higher if not for lacking resources. If we do that math, that is an estimate of $2,500,000 in cost.

Backing away from that, we must wonder, “What can we do to remedy this?” Reflecting upon recent articles regarding the city’s — for lack of a less truthful descriptor — insolvency and its actions to remedy that (right now the city is wholly dependent upon the heavily-indebted New York state to finance it on every level), I have to wonder upon the obsession with alcohol as an economic engine.

What I mean is this: There are three private projects being conceived (I prefer the term, ‘peddled’) in downtown Jamestown which have received or aim to receive very large taxpayer-fronted subsidies and tax breaks in order to exist — Jamestown Brewing Company, the old Vikings building and the concept for the old Key Bank Building.

As many are aware of details reading this, I will spare the rod. Jamestown Brewing Company will be a low-margin, consumer-driven business that received roughly $1.3 million in state-money and apparently various tax breaks which I assume are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The property owner is part of a development group; the business owners are not locals. The head brewer is not a local (if I recall). I hope the chef is. The business is presumably a private one. If you are critical of what is typically deemed “crony capitalism,” your eyes may have dimmed a bit. But fear not! There is more. You may recall last May, there was a hearing to waive sales and use taxes and mortgage recording taxes for JBC. No one showed up. I searched for an explanation on what the “Main Street Grant” program is (the project received $475,000 from that) and what I found was this grant (or one with the same name) is for non-profit and government use. I found that to be odd.

Onto the second project. The call is loosely for a business, eight apartments, a dinner-theatre and wine bar. From what I gathered the people developing this don’t know exactly (I would argue, at all) what they are doing with it; however, the state awarded this private project $1.5 million dollars in the form of two grants. The building was purchased in a closed auction for $120,000. The main focus is a dinner-theatre group which — as you may have guessed — is not from Jamestown. The design company is headquartered in Rochester.

This project received a $200,000 tax exemption.

The third project aims to receive $1 million dollars for the Vikings building. For what? A banquet hall and beer store — insofar as I can gather.

The grants received for the first two total over $2.8 million dollars. The irony is not lost on me. Jamestown gets beer and dinner theatre when it could have the money to clean up neighborhoods. But, as many of you may realize, neighborhoods aren’t the party playground for the select chosen few at the top of the city food chain.

Mike Hultin is a Jamestown resident.