The Harison Place Project will result in the demolition of most of the buildings on this block in downtown Malone and their replacement with new commercial and residential units. EJ Conzola II/The Telegram

MALONE –– The Citizen Advocates’ Harison Place Project has achieved what the organization is calling a “critical milestone” by completing the purchase of all eight properties where the project will be built.

New Citizen Advocates CEO James Button on Thursday updated the Franklin County Legislature on the status of the project, which calls for the construction of street-level commercial units below 40 residential units on West Main Street in the village of Malone. The development will take up almost an entire downtown block and replace several deteriorated buildings, including the fire-damaged Gorman Building on the corner of West Main Street and Harrison Place.

The commercial units will be targeted at businesses that would fit in with the community but would not compete with existing operations, Button told the legislators. Twenty of the residential units would be set aside for supportive housing, with the other 20 devoted to low-income housing, he said.

“This initiative remains a beacon of hope as we endeavor to replace blighted, decaying properties with safe, stable and affordable housing and commercial space,” Button said in a statement released as he was speaking to county officials. “Large scale investment in projects like this is all the more important at (a) time when economic stimulus is needed in our communities.”

Button also asked for a letter endorsing the project from the county Department of Social Services, saying the letter was needed to complete “a critical funding application.” Legislators supported the request, but only after Social Services Commissioner Michelle Mulverhill posed several questions about the project.

Mulverhill asked Button if the recent turnover in Citizen Advocates’ top management would affect the project in any way. Button was named CEO last month, more than six months after former CEO Reid Anthony left the organization abruptly under circumstances that have never publicly been explained. Anthony had held the position for only 11 months and was the organization’s third CEO in as many years. He succeeded Dean Johnston, who left the position in March 2018 after about 13 months on the job. Johnston was appointed following the retirement of Susan Delehanty, who became CEO in 2009 and retired at the end of 2016.

Button assured Mulverhill that the project was going forward, but acknowledged that the timeline would be extended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has changed the way we think, the way we plan and our plans for the future,” Button said.

Mulverhill also asked if Franklin County residents would be given priority for the residential units in the development.

“We would like to meet a need in Franklin County,” Button responded, but added that fair housing laws prevent the organization from keeping out other qualified applicants.

Citizen Advocates is pursuing roughly $18.5 million in grants, tax credits and financing to help pay for the project, Button said. The organization has secured about $6 million from a variety of sources, including the state, foundations and its own resources, he said.

It has also reached a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the town and village of Malone, he noted.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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