New group hopes to fight blight in Whitehall

A new business development group, called “Whitehall Forward,” will hold its first formal meeting at 5:30 p.m. this Thursday, May 1 in the restaurant of the Whitehall Athletic Club.
Realtor Bethe Reynolds, one of the organizers of the group, said the purpose of the proposed “limited liability company” will be to buy a down-at-the-heels building, renovate it, and see to it that it thrives.
Reynolds explained that she had gotten the idea by attending a conference where Rick Hauser, mayor of Perry, a village near Buffalo, had explained just such a situation: a group of investors, who “can afford” not to see their “investment money for awhile,” nonetheless risk it in renovating the building.
Despite the risk, Hauser writes that the system has worked in Perry at least, because “Your 20 to 30 member-investors all become your downtown’s newest cheerleaders.
They’ve put their “money where their house is,” and they all own a piece of downtown.
“They will make a more conscious effort to patronize businesses; they may become a tenant themselves when the time is right. And they will certainly direct potential tenants to ‘their’ building,” Hauser argues.
Reynolds admitted that she bought Hauser’s persuasive argument. Her enthusiasm only built when she talked the idea over with Jan Peters, who owns a building at 113 Broadway.
A former resident of Germany, Peters told Reynolds that the exact same plan, buying and repairing vacant, deteriorating buildings had proven successful in his hometown in Germany, and he showed her before and after images to prove it.
Reynolds stressed that the name of the new group is “Whitehall Forward.” The persons who so far have stepped up to support the business initiative include:
Dana Grant, president of the Whitehall Chamber of Commerce; Holly Rabideau, manager of Community Bank; Karen Benjamin, of Lake Champlain Coal; Peters; Chad Sitzman of Whitehall, who has business connections in Manhattan; Mark Alder, a local electrical contractor; and John Daly, a local landlord.
Reynolds said that the focus would, of course, be on Broadway and Main Street, with perhaps even more of spotlight focused on Broadway.
The basic idea, once renovation is done, is to locate a business on the ground floor and to convert the floors above into apartments. And Reynolds stressed that “Whitehall Forward” is not just limiting itself to low-risk ventures.
“The idea is one building at a time, something achievable. We want to even help those homeowners who do not have the funds to hold onto their property.”
The investment risk, she added, would be spread out by seeking not only investors, but involving government officials and by seeking grant monies. She repeated Hauser’s argument that the idea is to spread the investment risk over a large number of people.
Seeking government help is the first item on “Whitehall Forward’s” agenda.
Reynolds said that for its first meeting this Thursday, the group had extended an invitation to both Village Mayor Peter Telisky and Don Williams, village superintendent of public works.

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