AUGUSTA — City councilors on Thursday will vote on a proposal to develop the former Cony High School flatiron building into housing for senior citizens.

Cynthia Taylor, president of nonprofit housing developer Housing Initiatives of New England, has proposed that the city lease her organization the vacant, triangular building for the next 50 years.
The development would be funded by a combination of state and federal housing money, historic preservation tax credits, grants, rental income and a proposed tax break from the city.

City councilors are scheduled Thursday to consider a vote to authorize City Manager William Bridgeo to lease the building to Taylor’s firm for $1 a year and to take other votes related to the flatiron building. Councilors meet at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Taylor and Housing Initiatives created senior citizen housing in historic structures in Augusta once before. In 2000, they converted the former riverside city hall, which was also Augusta’s police station, into 31 assisted-living apartments called the Inn at City Hall.

Bridgeo said the lease for the flatiron building councilors could authorize him to execute with Taylor’s firm Thursday was drafted by her lawyer and modeled on the lease between those two entities for the Inn at City Hall building.

“I don’t see anything in it that raises an eyebrow,” Bridgeo said of the lease.

He said the lease would be reviewed by the city’s finance director and attorney.

Taylor’s proposal to the city estimates renovations to the flatiron building would cost nearly $8.7 million.

At last week’s council meeting, resident Nash Callahan urged councilors to reject the proposal to lease the building for senior housing, saying it is an iconic piece of history. Instead, he suggested using it as expanded library space or a museum.

High school students roamed the distinctive former high school’s halls for nearly 80 years before it was replaced with a new Cony High School in 2006.

Since the flatiron building closed, the city has been unable to find a developer to take on the task of converting it for new uses. Taylor’s plan would develop the former classrooms and most other space in the historic building on Cony Circle into 44 one- and two-bedroom elderly housing units.

The city spends about $75,000 a year to heat and maintain the empty building.

The proposed lease specifies the tenant would be responsible for maintenance of the building during the 50-year term.

Housing Initiatives is a nonprofit operation, but City Councilor Mike Byron said a for-profit corporation would be established for this project. A nonprofit would not be able to take advantage of the federal and state tax credits for housing and historic preservation necessary to make the project financially viable, he said.

Taylor also is seeking a tax-increment financing deal, called a TIF, from the city to get back most of the real estate taxes the developer would pay as a long-term leaseholder of the property. Byron said the proposed tax break would return all but $4,000 of the potential $36,000 in estimated yearly taxes for 30 years.

Councilors on Thursday also are scheduled to consider a vote to endorse the concept of the TIF, with the terms to be worked out over the next month before they also would go to councilors for approval. Taylor hopes to include that endorsement of the concept in grant application materials that need to be completed by Friday.

Additionally, councilors will consider changes to the Comprehensive Plan, such as adding senior housing in the Cony flatiron building as a goal. Development Director Matt Nazar said that would help Housing Initiatives obtain financing for the project.

“I love working in this community,” Taylor told councilors when the proposal was discussed last week. “I hope we’re successful.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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