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New fund provides money for North Country downtown revitalization projects

Julia Botero
Mercy Hospital sign is all that remains of the old healthcare facility in Watertown. It's been torn down to make room for a new development.

If you drive into downtown Watertown now, the first thing you won't see is Mercy Hospital.

“It look like a bomb went off. Ground zero," says Watertown resident Sean Johnson. He was walking by the debris that used to be Mercy Hospital. Developers plan to turn the site into a mixed use building with apartments on top and retail and commercial space below.

“That's great. Reuse the property to something like that. It will help Watertown get back on track and get business downtown," said Johnson.


Credit Julia Botero / WRVO
Redevelopment plans call for turning this site into a mixed used building with apartments on top and commercial space on bottom.

And that's the goal - to create downtowns buzzing with young professional and the old residents shopping and living next to each other. Projects to transform vacant buildings, like Mercy Hospital, are going on all over Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties.

And that's why the Development Authority of the North Country, or DANC, now has a $5 million fund. It's to make sure projects don't stall if they run into unexpected problems. But Jim Wright of DANC says this money is not just going to go to the next developer who comes knocking on his door.

Developers have to apply, meet the criteria and they only get reimbursed at the end of the project.

“That the process we have to go through so we are not going to be handing out money tomorrow, or next week or next month. Its going to be awhile.”

Credit Julia Botero
Projects like these are ongoing all over Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties

The DANC fund will be like a emergency fund to make sure projects already in the works stay funded. That's because Wright says buildings that have been abandoned for years don't just look bad, they have a psychological affect on the town too.

“But to actually see activity on the site in the first time in ten years, to actually start cleaning up the rubble it changes how people feel about themselves, it changes how the community feels about itself, " Wright says.

When a building is turned into something new it changes the character and economy of downtown. DANC hopes that  will make more developers want in. And people want to stay.