Building activity shows uptick in ’13

After a somewhat sluggish 2012, construction activity in the Watertown area has picked up through the first half of 2013 but still lags in comparison to the past five years, building permits show.

Total declared value in construction permits filed in the City of Watertown Bureau of Code Enforcement, including new structures, additions, alterations, repairs and maintenance, totaled 3,278,356 over the first two quarters of 2013, while that figure was 1,942,067 through the first half of 2012. Total declared construction value for 2012 reached just 16,326,074, down about 63 percent from a high over the last five years of 43,882,327 in 2011.

Major projects including renovations at Samaritan Medical Center and the construction of the Creek Wood Apartments off Mill Street contributed to the spikes in the third and fourth quarters of 2011.

So far in 2013, the largest single building project in declared value according to permits filed was the addition of a 60-by-100-foot shell at 1340 Washington St., North Country Neurology, valued at $800,000. The practice expanded from about 3,600 square feet to just over 10,000 square feet to accommodate an expanding pool of clients and additional neurologists, a project begun in late spring and completed this fall by Lunco Corp., Carthage, which also designed and built the original structure.

The uptick in the third quarter of 2012—from $49,496 in the second quarter of 2012 to $4,130,477 in the third quarter—was due in large part to the construction of the $3,500-square-foot AmeriCU Credit Union at 871 Arsenal St., declared at $1,100,000, and the $765,500 alteration to a sprinkler system at 133 Pratt St., Samaritan Keep Nursing Home.

Terry M. Petrie, executive director of the Northern New York Builders Exchange, called 2012 a level year and said 2013 has slightly improved, evidence of the trend of modest increases he believes will continue going forward.

“You’re not going to see the big swings that you saw in 2008 to 2011, but a constant, stable flow,” he said.

Though the period of expansion resulting from Fort Drum’s growth is leveling out, Mr. Petrie said he “still sees a lot of good things on the horizon,” particularly in the private sector with projects like the 1000 Islands Harbor hotel in Clayton as work in the public sector levels off.

The Northern New York Builders Exchange has 280 members from companies throughout the north country that focus primarily on commercial building.

graphNot included in second quarter 2012’s building total is pool construction, which was valued at $51,843, more than the total building amount, and declined to $2,050 in the second quarter of 2013.

Sundance Leisure, Watertown, which installs and sells pools, hot tubs, fireplaces, spas and more throughout the tri-county region, has seen an increase in work in 2013 over 2012, other than June being a tough month because of the copious rain, said owner Brian J. Fraser. Above ground pools are up in 2013, while in-ground installations are about the same. But projects have been more involved, and therefore more expensive, in 2013, with amenities like waterfalls and spas, he said.

Sales in 2013 are down in numbers from 2008 before the recession’s impact was felt, after which they declined until picking up in 2012 and continuing that trend through this year, Mr. Fraser said.

“In 2008 we did more pools, but people now are spending more and doing more complex projects,” he said.

Repair and maintenance permits, which include new windows, roofs, porches or sheds, contribute substantially to construction’s declared value, eclipsing new building totals in the second quarter of both 2012 and 2013, which was not the case in the second quarters of the prior four years.

Despite the continued drumbeat about the need for new housing to fill the need created by Fort Drum soldiers, the nonprofit Neighbors of Watertown also has numerous programs in the works to rehabilitate the city’s stock of deteriorating housing. In August, Neighbors applied for $1 million in funding from Empire State Development Corp. to be used to repair about 50 units in the city of Watertown and in municipalities within a 20-mile radius of Fort Drum. Neighbors plans to establish a revolving loan fund that would enable landlords to borrow up to $20,000 per unit if the state money is made available. Jefferson County and the city of Watertown are also engaged in similar efforts through Community Development Block Grant programs, which total another $1.5 million.

Rehabilitation efforts are also under way elsewhere in Jefferson County, with the Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce providing homeowners with funds for housing rehabilitation through a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant. The chamber has participated in the program since 2008 and received the money it will distribute throughout 2013 at the end of 2012. Construction has to be completed and paid for by the end of 2014.

Lori A. Borland, executive director of the chamber, said the chamber is seeing high demand for the funds, awarded on the basis of age, income and need, and has so far selected four projects. The chamber awards a maximum of $25,000 per project, meaning it can fund about 16; so far 27 applications have been completed and at least another 20 given out, Ms. Borland said.

The increase in demand is difficult to gauge, however, because in 2012 the program’s jurisdiction was expanded from the villages of Carthage and West Carthage to the two townships of Wilna and Champion.

“Now that we’ve expanded into two townships, we see a tremendous amount of need in the townships,” she said.

Visit www.neighborsofwatertown.com or call the Carthage Chamber at 493-3590 to learn more about grant funding.

Leah Buletti is a staff writer for NNY Magazines. Contact her at 661-2381 or lbuletti@wdt.net.