The five rounds of funding under the state’s downtown revitalization initiative have brought hundreds of millions of dollars to downtowns across the state since 2016.
As Gloversville begins its DRI process, here’s a look at how things have gone in nearby towns that have been recipients in previous rounds of the coveted $10 million economic development award.
The closest geographically is Amsterdam, which was chosen as the Mohawk Valley recipient in the third DRI round, in 2018.
Like Gloversville, it’s a town that hasn’t fully recovered from the loss of its iconic industry decades ago. Amsterdam’s efforts to revitalize its city center are complicated by the scars of urban renewal and segmentation from motorway realignments.
But it enjoys access to the Interstate Highway and sees renewed activity in some of the towering old industrial buildings.
“Besides the 10 million, which was great, he really…did his job of getting developers interested in downtown Amsterdam,” said Amanda Bearcroft, the city’s director of community and economic development.
This is one of DRI’s main goals: to attract investment and create momentum towards a cleaner, newer and busier downtown. DRI alone will not do this – two projects or even one project can cost $10 million or more. Additional public and private investments are essential.
An example of this is the Veedersburg apartments under construction on East Main Street. It’s not funded by DRI and isn’t even in the DRI area, but the developer was enticed by the DRI award to go ahead with the 62-unit project, Bearcroft said. “We spent maybe a year looking for the right site for them.”
This is another intended effect of DRI, she said: extending the work beyond the city center. “We need to start rolling out other larger-scale projects in other neighborhoods,” Bearcroft said.
The pandemic, with its shutdowns, labor shortages and supply shortages, has pushed completion schedules but not derailed, she said. And part of the highway reconfiguration that cut the city center into difficult-to-walk segments will now be undone.
The challenges remain. The city’s planning documents are outdated, and crumbling remnants of the industrial past still litter the city’s streets, including a huge, partially collapsed East End factory complex. There’s no money to grab it and tear it down, but various streams of state and federal funding at least offer hope the city can get some help for what Bearcroft — also executive director of the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency – called a top priority.
One of DRI’s flagship projects in Amsterdam, the renovation of the historic Key Bank Building into commercial space and apartments, is well advanced and nearing completion, said Joe Tesiero, managing partner of Cranesville Properties, the owner .
Cranesville secured $1 million from DRI for a project originally slated for $2.4 million, but which has since seen costs rise.
“We are now laying tiles on the upper floors,” Tesiero said earlier this month.
The appliances and kitchen cabinets have been delivered, the carpet is on order, but the counters are late. Almost everything is more expensive to buy and slower to deliver, he explained.
But the 24 apartments are just months away from completion and potential occupancy. He is in discussion with a potential tenant interested in commercial space on the lower two floors of the eight-story building as a restaurant and small banquet hall.
“I think this is a great opportunity for Amsterdam,” Tesiero said of the DRI initiative.
He says his project will outlast him, providing quality downtown housing for decades to come.
Schenectady was a Round 4 DRI recipient in 2019, but had its award frozen for a year as the state struggled with its finances in 2020. There was no Round 5 in 2020 – which was pushed back to 2021, when state coffers were flush with the federal government. assistance.
Also in 2021, the state finally sent the city of Schenectady a list of authorized projects to support with its $10 million.
Ray Gillen, director of planning and economic development for the county and DRI czar for the city, said that even with the delay, the award is meeting the goals of the program: attracting independent developments to downtown.
In some cases, projects approved by DRI themselves have become financially feasible through the DRI award.
“It made a number of important development deals possible,” he said.
The $2.5 million award to a single developer working on three major downtown projects leverages an estimated combined budget of $38.7 million, for example.
More than half of the awards aren’t actually given to buildings, but rather to the aesthetics and functionality of downtown as a walkable place. Another prize is $600,000 to be doled out to improve the appearance of lower State Street as development continues there.
“We’re excited about the state’s lower frontage fund, which is really going to help us keep the momentum going,” Gillen said.
The first out of the gate in Schenectady will be an ugly duckling office building across from City Hall. Spraragen Partners has been promised $425,000 for a $2.4 million transformation into a glass-walled showpiece that is nearing completion.
“The DRI was extremely important for our project to cross the finish line,” said Brooke Spraragen. “National Grid also supported us on this.”
Part of the ground floor will house a restaurant, the rest is actively marketed. And the floor is already occupied — Urban Co-Works moved in last fall.
“They do gangbusters in this place,” Spraragen said.
Some would say Rome doesn’t have a city center to revitalize.
The city was an enthusiastic practitioner of urban renewal, flattening nearly every structure on several dozen acres over the course of two decades.
He replaced them with bland concrete buildings, parking lots, public garages and a recreation of colonial-era Fort Stanwix.
The city’s cinema from around 1928 was one of the few survivors, and it’s now the anchor of an arts district that’s at the center of the DRI prize that Rome won in the second round, in 2017. At $2.5 million, the Capitol is also the largest recipient of a grant.
“I tell people that when we are done, we will have reversed urban renewal,” Mayor Jacqueline Izzo said.
Nearby, a 64-unit loft complex is under construction, new restaurants have opened, a co-working space has been set up and an artistic incubator is in operation.
Down Erie Boulevard, one of the old, derelict spinning mills that helped give Rome its nickname – the city of copper – has been replaced by a light manufacturing complex. On a prominent corner, the city demolished a multi-level concrete garage built during urban renewal. If Fort Stanwix National Monument can resume pre-pandemic operations, it will bring 100,000 visitors a year to the edge of the Arts District.
Not all of these developments are DRI-related, but they all contribute to the goal of a city center — no matter how small — that people will want to live in or go out of their way to visit, Izzo said.
And each recipient of the DRI award had to bring their own equity, as the city had set a total spending goal of $20 million to $25 million for projects getting a slice of the $10 million pie.
“The DRI has been a huge plus for us,” Izzo said.
Glens Falls was one of the DRI’s first-round recipients in 2016.
Implementing it has been one challenge after another, said Jeff Flagg, the city’s director of economic development:
It was a new program at the time, and state agencies operated without experience or a playbook as they tried to help recipient municipalities. The city has seen two changes in mayoral administration since 2016. COVID has delayed or halted progress in some cases. Ed Bartholomew, the tireless chairman of the Warren County Economic Development Corporation, died halfway through. Construction costs are much higher today than originally anticipated.
These are all minor setbacks, but in total they have slowed progress, Flagg said.
Most of the city’s DRI efforts have focused on rehabilitating the South Street area and creating a market district that attracts investment and activity. Most of the city’s DRI projects are there, or nearby, or feed traffic to this area.
A preparatory demolition has been carried out and an architect has been commissioned for the centerpiece of the district, a building that will host a farmers’ market and serve many other purposes.
“I think we’re looking to make pretty good progress here over the next 12 to 18 months in terms of on-court boot construction,” Flagg said.
Oneonta was another first-round recipient in 2016.
Community Development Director Judy Pangman said the last of the city’s 45 projects will be completed later this year and early 2023.
These include 41 building facades or signs; 30 new market-priced residential units above downtown storefronts; multiple studies for future projects; 64 new artists’ lofts targeted for people with low and modest incomes; “We’re Onta Something”, a new marketing brand for the city; design work for a new transit hub; and a COVID-19 recovery program to encourage former students of the two local colleges to permanently return to Oneonta.
“The impact of all of these DRI-funded projects has been truly transformational for the city of Oneonta,” Pangman said via email.
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