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By: Jude Seymour, Watertown Daily Times Staff Writer | August 25, 2010

Michael Paul, of James Warner Contracting, Watertown, installs aluminum facia on the Soluri's of Brownville building Tuesday, as part of a major renovation of Main Street in the village. The work is funded largely by two grants Frontier Housing received, totaling $430,000.

BROWNVILLE PROJECT: Grant funding has sparked renovations in village's downtown

BROWNVILLE — Matthew J. Brenon said his family has always rented its downtown apartments to low-income residents, although it's almost always a "break-even" proposition.

"One bad tenant can spoil everything," he said Tuesday.

So when Frontier Housing asked downtown landlords if they wanted to spruce up their buildings for about one-quarter of the usual price, Mr. Brenon jumped at the opportunity.

"We can keep a roof over people's heads, but to give them new windows and doors is huge," the secretary of Brenon's Coin Machines Inc. said. "It all needed to be done."

Frontier Housing, a nonprofit agency that has developed housing for low- to moderate-income families in town for years, recently received two grants, totaling $430,000, which it will use to improve the looks of at least six Main Street buildings. Property owners so far have kicked in an additional $95,596, according to executive director Jill E. Evans.

Ms. Evans and Village Mayor Patrick C. Connor said the aesthetic improvements may have created a "trickle" effect in the area between Washington and William streets.

A couple converted their two-apartment unit to a single-family home after contractors renovated Mr. Brenon's quintuplex next door at 207-209 W. Main St. Ms. Evans noticed that 118 W. Main St. had a new roof and porch and repointed brick after upgrades at Constance G. and C. Gerald Hoard's four-apartment complex across the street at 117-121 W. Main St. A home near Main's intersection with Washington also has undergone a complete renovation since downtown work began in April, Ms. Evans and the mayor said.

"People realize that when the neighbor's house starts to look better, they want to fix theirs up so they aren't the shabby one on the block," said Mr. Connor. The mayor said a few people told him they've been more diligent in maintaining their properties "only because the downtown is starting to look better."

James A. Warner kept eyeing the closed Brownville Laundromat, 109 E. Main St., every time he worked downtown fixing a facade or renovating an apartment nearby. The contractor finally decided to purchase the 1,240-square-foot property, which includes a two-level apartment upstairs, earlier this month. Ms. Evans is now trying to include him and two other property owners in the grant.

"I just wanted to have a little piece of Brownville," said Mr. Warner, adding that he's putting $25,000 into the place. "We liked the community and we wanted to invest in it."

The coin-operated laundry has been open since last Friday. The contractor said he expects he will have his first low-income tenant by Sept. 1.

Ms. Evans said most of the 21 apartments downtown don't have a washer or dryer, so the laundry's reopening is an unexpected, but welcome, benefit.

Mr. Connor said village crews will replace sidewalks and install benches and trash containers in the project's final stage.

Ms. Evans said the improvements have spurred nearby property owners to ask when it is their time to get a discount makeover. The executive director is searching for the next grant to extend the rehabilitation work to Brown Boulevard. The nonprofit's most ambitious project is to convert Brownville Masonic Lodge 53 into an apartment complex, which is estimated to cost about $1 million.

If the grants ca.n be found, Frontier has an option to purchase the lodge that is valid until November 2011.

The downtown project was funded by the state Main Street program, administered by the Office of Community Renewal, and the North Country HOME Consortium, administered by the Development Authority of the North Country.

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