AUGUSTA — A plan to turn the old Cony High School into senior housing took a big step forward recently when the developer got a $580,000 grant that will likely help secure financing from the Maine State Housing Authority.

The City Council last month approved a tax break for developer Cynthia Taylor of Housing Initiatives of New England to renovate the flatiron building, which has been vacant since 2006. Taylor recently received $580,000 in grant money from the Federal Home Loan bank of San Francisco for the project.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the grant is “terrific news” and a key step in the effort to preserve and restore a major Augusta landmark.

“It’s very impressive,” Bridgeo said. “My hat’s off to her in that regard.” He said Taylor “borders on being a miracle worker in pulling together financial resources to make projects like this happen.”

In 2000, Taylor and the housing initiatives group redeveloped the former city hall into 31 assisted-living apartments called the Inn at City Hall. Nearby, the group also developed Kennebec Plaza, with has 67 units.

Taylor said these types of projects take multiple sources of funding and that they are likely to have a better chance to get state housing authority money now that they have the $580,000 grant. Also, the project has received $250,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to go toward what’s estimated to be an $11 million development.

“The funding round at Maine state housing is extremely, extremely competitive,” she said.

Taylor said the flatiron is well-situated to serve the needs of independent senior citizens who will be able to walk to the Hannaford grocery store directly behind the site, the pharmacy across the street and restaurants on Bangor Street. It’s expected to house 44 units.

“There’s nothing to keep people independent longer than living next to a grocery store,” she said.

In addition to creating apartments, Taylor said the plan is to renovate the old Cony auditorium for use by residents, schools and other members of the public.

The project is estimated to cost about $11 million. If all goes well with the final pieces of financing, construction is expected to start toward the end of January 2014 with occupancy expected in early 2015, Taylor said.

The city has been paying about $75,000 a year to heat and maintain the building and will receive a $4,300 payment in lieu of property taxes for the duration of the 50-year lease.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]