City seeks CDBG for downtown improvements

15 years ago
By Kathy McCarty  
Staff Writer

    PRESQUE ISLE — The Presque Isle Planning and Development Department, in cooperation with the Downtown Revitalization Committee and City Council, is in the process of pursuing a Community Development Block Grant for infrastructure improvements, such as sidewalks and crosswalks located in the heart of the city.

    During a January 29 meeting on the matter, Ken Arndt, the city’s planning and development director, explained officials have been discussing the matter for some time now.
    “In 2007, after many years, the city adopted its Comprehensive Plan. One of the top priorities was future land use, including downtown. What we’re trying to do is take it from a theoretical perspective to specific projects on the ground — make it exciting,” said Arndt. “This is the third effort in less than a year to try to achieve funding for downtown” projects.
    Dr. Chunzeng Wang, creator of UMPI’s GIS (global imaging system) lab, and a few of his students worked with the city to map out areas of the community. The images allow officials an overview of areas of the community and, more specifically, those in need of upgrades.
    To meet the qualifications for a CDBG, certain criteria need to be met, said Jamie Francomano, city planner.
    For a declaration of slum and blight, “to qualify, we need to show that there’s a national objective that can be met,” said Francomano, noting that the existence of influences of slum and blight in the area were necessary to meet the guidelines for this particular avenue of funding.
    “In addition to vacant buildings or buildings that owners haven’t had the right influence to improve, we need to focus on pedestrian routes,” he said.
    Francomano said while such a description might bring to mind images of a “big empty space,” Presque Isle has several areas that would actually qualify under the guidelines.
    “Crumbled curbs and ramps leading to crosswalks or crosswalks that don’t lead to disabled ramps — there exists in the city of Presque Isle areas of slum and blight,” said Francomano.
    Angie Graves, owner of Merchants on the Corner, knows from personal experience how difficult it can be getting around downtown, especially if you have a handicap. Graves recently lost a leg to cancer and uses a wheelchair on a daily basis.
    “There’s a portion on Academy St. where the sidewalk is blighted, a utility pole’s in the sidewalk,” said Graves.
    She indicated one reason people might not be making improvements to their facilities is due to the fear of higher taxes.
    “Why should people be punished for making improvements?” asked Graves, suggesting city officials consider incentives for people to make needed upgrades.
    Discussion continued at the meeting, with talk of various crosswalk, curb and structural improvements.
    On Feb. 2, talks continued on the CDBG, this time before City Council.
    Arndt went before the Council, requesting the grant application be put through.
    “The grant application itself is essentially a 5-1 match. The total project we’d like to go with at the end of this month is $675,643.  The remaining would be $99,810 local matching funds,” said Arndt.
    Arndt said the request required the Council do two things.
    “In order to have the matching funds, the City council has a recommendation from the Presque Isle Development Fund that moneys be set aside for matching funds. The Council has to approve or disapprove. After that, when we know if we do or don’t have matching funds, we need authorization for City Manager Tom Stevens to submit the application,” he said.
    Following discussion on how the matching funds would be used and paid back, Council voted in favor of taking said moneys from the PIDF. Council then authorized the submission of the CDBG application for approxiamtely $675,000.


ImageStaff photo/Kathy McCarty
    PROPOSED IMPROVEMENTS to the downtown area of Presque Isle was the focus of a recent public hearing, hosted by the Presque Isle Planning and Development Department as one of the first steps in pursuing a Community Development Block Grant for proposed improvements in the heart of Presque Isle. On display during the hearing was the end result of a partnership between the city and the UMPI GIS lab, showing an overview of sections of the community that are in need of infrastructure improvements, such as crosswalks and sidewalks. Checking out the images during the meeting were, from left: Angie Graves, member of the Downtown Revitalization Committee; Cathy Beaulieu, chair of the PIDRC; Jamie Francomano, city planner; and Dr. Chunzeng Wang, founder of the UMPI’s GIS lab.