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State funds will help advance housing and downtown projects in Medina, Perry, and Geneseo

The upper two stories of a red brick building with arched windows at the intersection of Main Street and Center Street in the village of Medina. It was built in 1871.
Max Schulte
The upper two stories of a red brick building with arched windows at the intersection of Main Street and Center Street in the village of Medina. It was built in 1871.

The villages of Perry, Medina, and Geneseo are getting roughly $19 million from New York state to advance 27 projects, from building trail connections to establishing a child care center.

In all three villages, the awards will also fund key building reuse projects that will add much-needed housing to the communities. They had to apply for the funding, which comes from two different state economic development programs.

In Perry, which sits along the edge of Silver Lake in Wyoming County near the north end of Letchworth Park, one of the projects would convert the former Perry Academy into apartments and a child care center. Of the 11 projects that received $10 million from the state, several aim to repurpose buildings not just for housing, but for things like spaces for entrepreneurs and artists, too.

"We have amazing people who want to move to Perry and can't because they can't find a house, they can't even find an apartment," Mayor Rick Hauser said. "Open up the local paper, shoppers, and ads, you won't find any ads for housing, there's no place available. Occasionally, when a place comes available, it's usually already spoken for."

Perry is well-known for its creative approaches to building reuse, particularly its Main Street LLC, which pools investments from residents to, in part, help restore important but aging and underused buildings in the village. Building reuse has been an integral part of the village's 20-year revitalization plan.

"We have a model that's been repeated in a lot of different areas that involves a really broad-based group of citizens, each putting in these matches they can afford to not see again for a long time towards something that no one else is willing or able to do," Hauser said. "And we've done that to rehab downtown buildings, or 40,000 square feet of downtown buildings, mixed-use buildings, to demonstrate capacity for doing more of those things by other people in the private sector."

Perry has also used that LLC model to flip a "grand old house" using historic tax credits when no other party was willing to take the project on, Hauser said. And a community group led by three managing members and over 45 investors created the successful Silver Lake Brewing Project.

Perry's other projects include streetscape enhancements to make the village more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly.

Main Street in Medina is lined with attractive old buildings where the first floor is dedicated to retail space and offices. But in many cases, the second and third floors have fallen out of use. For at least 20 years, government and civic leaders in the western Orleans County village have been trying to put them back into use.

"We want to utilize our second and third stories in our historic village and save them to keep our Main Street looking beautiful," said Mayor Marguerite Sherman.

Many villages like Medina, which was once a bustling stop on the Erie Canal, have grappled with how to repurpose the upper floors of prominent buildings. A guidebook on upper-floor reuse produced by the Preservation League of New York State and the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council said post-World War II decentralization led many offices and manufacturing facilities that had been located in downtowns to move out to new plazas or new facilities constructed on green space.

An alleyway looks out on to North Main Street in Medina, where a white truck and a white car are parked in front of businesses.
Max Schulte
An alleyway looks out on to North Main Street in Medina

Ground-floor retail remained, and when it came time for building owners to decide how they would invest in and maintain their properties, they often focused on the parts that were in use, often leaving the upper floors to fall into disrepair, said the guidebook.

In Medina, the vacant upper floors aren't suited to modern retail, Sherman said. Historically, village laws prevented the spaces from being converted to residences.

That changed around 15 years ago, when Sherman served on the Planning Board. Acting on the board's recommendations, the village trustees approved changes to the law that cleared the way for residential development on the second and third floors of downtown buildings.

The state recently awarded Medina $4.5 million for eight projects. Three of them will advance the village's efforts to reactivate the second and third floors in a trio of key downtown buildings. Sherman said those projects will help address a pressing need.

"We also have a housing shortage, as do many other communities," Sherman said. "So this will create more living space for people within our village and those visiting our village."

Medina also received funding for several Erie Canal projects, including one to develop a waterfront gateway in an underused park along the canal in the heart of the village and one to develop the Arenite Brewing Company, complete with a tasting room, along the canal.

In Geneseo, eight projects were awarded $4.5 million. Those projects focus less on housing than those in Medina and Perry, but there is one to convert a former laundromat into a mixed-use building with commercial space on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floor. Another project would redevelop the Conrad's Building into rentable commercial spaces.

Geneseo's projects also include enhancements to the village's Highland Park, streetscape improvements, wayfinding signs, and the creation of a dog park at Kelsey Field.

All three villages also received money to establish a grant fund for small projects or building improvements in their downtowns.

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.