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City of Albany announces ARPA recipients

September 18, 2020: Mayor Kathy Sheehan kicked off an initiative in the former Livingston Park aimed at involving West Hill residents in the process of building a community center.
Dave Lucas
September 18, 2020: Mayor Kathy Sheehan kicked off an initiative in the former Livingston Park aimed at involving West Hill residents in the process of building a community center.

The city of Albany has released its funding recommendations for American Rescue Plan grant awards.

Last fall, Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan proposed allocating $25 million from the city's $80.7 million in ARPA money to fund a limited number of "highly impactful programs that can produce profound results," creating "the Albany For All initiative" to carry the ball forward.

Sheehan announced Friday that 35 projects have been selected to receive grants.

“So we actually are distributing $25 million. $18 million of it is earmarked towards affordable housing, affordable homeownership direct services into our most impacted neighborhood," Sheehan said. "And then the remainder is being granted to our arts organizations, tourism as well as our small businesses, and focus on some workforce development.”

Sheehan says the selection process was very competitive and “to get it down to $25 million was a real challenge.”

"Literally hundreds of hours have been spent reviewing applications," said Sheehan. "Speaking with the applicants, I know the applicants put a lot of work in, and it was highly, highly competitive. We had nearly 150 applications, seeking over $140 million.”

Among the largest grants announced is $3.79 million for Habitat for Humanity Capital District.

"The housing market has been really challenging, particularly for first time homebuyers or those homebuyers who may have lost their homes during the last recession, but are ready, they built up savings, and they're willing and looking to buy again," Sheehan said. "And so this is going to leverage the building of 100 new Habitat homes throughout the city. It is really exciting. We really wanted this funding to be able to incentivize home ownership. And that is one of the things that we are getting from this great application that was put in by Habitat along with a number of partners."

Just before the pandemic hit, Sheehan kicked off an initiative in Black Lives Matter Park aimed at involving West Hill residents in the process of building a community center. A grant of $2 million will facilitate its design and construction.

“That $2 million will help with the design and land acquisition; it's going to cost more than that to actually build the community center, but it is a great jumpstart to keep that project moving forward," said Sheehan. "And the other thing about the Arbor or the West Hill Community Center is that there were a number of applicants who were looking for space to do programming in West Hill. And we're going to be reaching back out to those applicants that we didn't fund, to talk about including them in the West Hill Community Center, so that we can still build that space for them.”

Even smaller grants, like $250,000 earmarked for Park Playhouse, go a long way. Owen Smith is the organization’s producing artistic director.

“Well, we were absolutely bowled over, getting this this grant approved," Smith said. "You know, the Washington Park amphitheater that we've called our summer home for now going on…this will be our 34th summer this summer. You know, that amphitheater terrace was built in 1991. And it's largely gone untouched, you know, with the exception of some routine maintenance. So it's beginning to show its age and this $250,000, in partnership with the city, is going to allow us to fully restore that amphitheater.”

Sheehan lays out the timeline for the distribution of funds. "So the next steps are that the council is receiving the recommendations from the leadership team, they will have to do an up or down vote on the whole package at their June 6 meeting. And once that happens, and we are hopeful that that will be an easy vote after the hard work and hours and hours of of work that the leadership team did and that our reviewers did, and then we will start distributing the funding after that," Sheehan said.

City of Albany ARPA Funding Recommendations 220527

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.