Middletown awards downtown building grants as some question the process

Middletown City Council recently approved Urban Development Action Grants for four downtown buildings, but some suggested there should have been more communication and transparency from the city.

Mayor Nicole Condrey raised issues about how the grants were communicated to the business community and whether they needed emergency passage. A resident also said there was a lack of communication from the city about the availability of these grants.

While Condrey applauded city staff for their work, she said the resolutions missed the mark in transparency.

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“I want to see a more robust application and selection process,” Condrey said. “I want more communication about these programs.”

Two council members, Vice Mayor Joe Mulligan and Tal Moon, said the council should support the city staff.

“We’re the city’s board of directors and we should not be second-guessing staff or the city manager,” Mulligan said.

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“We are concerned that this process was reinstated without a clear announcement to all downtown stakeholders by the city and has apparently been conducted without a clear set of guidelines,” resident Joe Wittman said in his letter.

He said approval would only "perpetuate the perception of insider knowledge and taxpayer funds being used for a select group without the transparency and openness demanded by citizens.”

City Manager Jim Palenick said he heard complaints about the proposed legislation and assured council the selection process was fair and transparent.

“We will be more cognizant about (announcing the) applications, the timeframe for applications, how (they are) scored and how they will be awarded in advance,” he said. “We will continue to refine the process and make them more transparent.”

Chris Xeil Lyons, city economic development director, said the request for the emergency designations was due to the change of seasons and to make immediate impact. She also noted the grants are awarded when the work is completed.

One grant for $11,000 at 1120-1126 Central Ave. was approved as an emergency ordinance, with Condrey voting no.

The other three grants were approved without emergency designation and take effect in early December.

Grants were approved included:

  • 1206-1218 Central Ave. grant for $14,235. Condrey voted no while Councilwoman Monica Nenni abstained.
  • 5 Canal St. grant for $39,000. Condrey voted no.
  • 1044 Central Ave. grant for $11,500. Condrey voted no, while Councilwoman Ami Vitori abstained.

Council also approved an emergency ordinance to add another $35,735 in Urban Development Action Grants to the $40,000 that was already budgeted for 2020. Condrey voted against the legislation.

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