Photo & Story by Dave Warner – Tolga Morawski (left) with the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank signs the Memorandum of Understanding with Judy Wolf, President of Main Street First.

Monday evening, Main Street First (MSF) held their regular meeting and at the top of the agenda was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank (GMVLB).

The Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank works with local organizations in each community to identify neglected and abandoned buildings that can be restored to productive use. In some cases, the determination is made that a property should be demolished instead of restored.

The GMVLB is unique in that it is a grass roots organization as opposed to one that has been formed by a municipality, such as the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, which was formed by the city and the county.

According to Tolga Morawski with the GMVLB “The idea for the grass roots approach came from the Keep Mohawk Valley Beautiful organization which is part of the Keep America Beautiful national organization.”

“One of the things we realized when talking to people is this widespread problem of abandoned houses and houses that are falling down, or foreclosed, or someone has just walked away from them. We were trying to figure out how to do something about that issue,” said Morawski.

The group learned about the land bank program which started in 2011, and in 2014 The GMVLB started organizing with their grass roots approach. They went to all of the different community meetings in each one of the counties and found that there was wide-spread support for their approach.

According to Morawski “Once we had that grass roots support, we went to the local governments and said ‘look, we’ve already figured this out and this is what we’d like to do and there is so many millions in funding and we’d like your permission and your blessing to go forward with this.'”

In a lot of cases, local governments were unsure of whether this approach would work, but they gave the go-ahead anyway to see what would happen. Morawski said “this gave us the opportunity to draw upon the expertise of many different counties and municipalities to do this endeavor instead of having just one community, county or city trying to do it all by themselves.”

Cities like Little Falls don’t have the same staff that they used to have and “we saw it as an opportunity to help leverage their involvement and do some projects to rehab or demolish houses,” said Morawski.

The agreement signed Monday night will allow the City, MSF and and GMVLB to move forward on two projects that have already been identified, and another two that are being looked at, as well as a fifth project that will be a demolition.

The properties that have been identified and that will be worked on first are 32 Furnace St and 76 & 78 Furnace St. Two other properties have been selected as well;  208 Loomis St and 1347 Top Notch Rd.

Judy Wolf, President of Main Street First stated “We’re excited about the opportunities for our community that will be made possible by having a nonprofit worthy partner of the Land Bank right here in Little Falls, and Main Street First is proud to be that partner. This is a great fit.”

“One of Main Street First’s primary purposes as an organization is to support citywide residential revitalization and the improvement and maintenance of the city’s buildings and homes. We’re also deeply committed to grassroots community action and involvement. Our purpose and approach directly parallel the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank’s mission to strengthen communities across the Mohawk Valley by helping to return neglected and abandoned buildings to productive use — and to do that by engaging the community in defining what those projects should be and what the vision is,” stated Wolf.

“The Land Bank provides the reach, leverage, funding, and legal mechanisms to allow us to do something about blighted properties that impact our community. The goal with creating worthy partner relationships in key communities is to make sure that those tools are put to use in the way we as citizens want them applied,” said Wolf.

“One of the roles Main Street First will play as a worthy partner of the Land Bank will be to coordinate a Community Property Selection Committee that includes not only city and county representatives and Main Street First members, but also — and most importantly — community members. That means neighbors, residents, property owners, and business owners will all have a say in proposing properties and projects to the Land Bank, and will then be involved in making them happen,” she said.

Wolf continued “Our goal is to actively engage the Little Falls community in coming up with ideas and initiatives to propose to the Land Bank and getting as much support behind them as possible so those projects can move forward successfully.”

For the folks at the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank Morawski said “Our ultimate goal is to get these properties back on the tax roles and improve the appearance of the community.”

Photo by Dave Warner - Tolga Morawski (left) with the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank shakes hands after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Judy Wolf, President of Main Street First.

Photo by Dave Warner – Tolga Morawski (left) with the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank shakes hands after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Judy Wolf, President of Main Street First.