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Quincy receives preliminary approval for $50 million I-Cubed grant

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  November 2, 2011 08:45 AM

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Quincy has received preliminary approval for a $50 million I-Cubed grant - the state’s Infrastructure Investment Incentive program -- that will help get the downtown redevelopment project off of its feet, officials announced.

One of just three projects statewide to qualify for the program, Quincy will use the money for the rehabilitation of the Town Brook, for the access bridge from Burgin Parkway to Cliveden Street, and for the Adams Green space between City Hall and the Church of the Presidents. Under the city's redevelopment agreement, all three must be completed before private investment in the downtown can begin.

“This is an incredibly important step forward, and one more sign that this historic plan that will create thousands of new jobs and transform our downtown is ready to roll,” Mayor Thomas Koch said in a release.

The program works with bonds issued by MassDevelopment, which would be payable during the project’s construction. The bonds are issued under the assumption that once the project starts generating state-directed tax revenue, the state will be able to pay the bond back.

The preliminary approval means that the city and its partner, Street-Works Development LLC, are expected to meet a series of revenue standards for the finished product.

According to city officials, the City Council must sign off on the city’s I-Cubed application before the grant can be issued to the town in pre-determined increments as the project moves forward.

From there, the project would go through one more round of vetting with the state before the project receives final approval.

Even though the grant’s success is contingent on the downtown generating significant tax revenues, mayoral spokesperson Christopher Walker said the city will have numerous backups in place in case revenues aren’t what they’re projected to be.

“There is room in contingencies in the agreement. There is so much give when it comes to revenue…that there is really no overarching concern,” Walker said.

If the state taxes are unable to pay back the bond, the city will take money from the downtown-generated revenues.

With the funding now starting to fall in place, Koch said the city will keep on its anticipated schedule to begin infrastructure work next year. The city is continuing to solicit state and federal permits for the project that would also keep things on track.

Quincy officials will still have to work out how to factor in money already received for the project, which includes $5 million in the governor’s supplemental budget, $1 million as a planning grant from the federal government, and $6 million in federal earmarks.

Despite the work to be done, overall the city remains optimistic, especially as Street-Works announced that National Realty & Development Corp. has agreed to develop 400,000 square feet of retail space as part of the overall plan.

Yet others don’t have such bright views of what is to come in Quincy Center.

Quincy mayoral candidate Anne Mahoney has continually been critical of the I-Cubed grant, which she sees as more of a loan than anything else.

She also argues that the $289 million that is to be borrowed to buy back the infrastructure from the private developer - a bond that will eventually be paid back with the city’s tax revenues - is a major risk.

“From the beginning, Mayor Koch has grossly understated the very real financial risks involved in the downtown redevelopment,” Mahoney said in a release. “Tom Koch thinks he can just borrow, borrow, borrow today and worry about paying the bills later…that’s never a good plan, but in this economy, it’s a recipe for financial disaster.”

According to Mahoney, the downtown project needs more stringent oversight and the risk needs to be more transparent.

"Im not saying its not worth it, but I’m saying debt is debt. When you say grant, the only tieback is that you’ll only use it for a specific purpose," Mahoney said. "It’s the only way to get this money. There isn’t $50 million out there in traditional grants…my bigger concern is they are not identifying the risk. This is a grant tied in with debt."

City officials say there is minimal risk involved, as revenue projections are conservative.

Furthermore, the fact that the state’s financial analysis had deemed the project worthy of the grant speaks volumes about the project’s success, they say.

“They don’t willy-nilly give these approvals,” Walker said. “It’s the state with their number crunchers and their consultants looking at it and saying this is for real, this is going to work, even under conservative projections.”

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