ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced the fourth year of the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative, and Fulton officials have confirmed the city plans to again seek the $10 million prize.
The state Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) is aimed at transforming downtown neighborhoods into vibrant communities, and is set to invest $100 million into 10 downtown neighborhoods across New York. The 10 state Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs) each nominate a community within their region for the annual award.
Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said Fulton officials would apply for a fourth time, saying the city’s previous failed attempts at securing the award certainly weren’t because it doesn’t need the funding.
“If it was based on need, we should get it and I would hope that would be some of the criteria,” Woodward said, adding the city’s application would again be aimed at promoting business and increasing the tax base.
Fulton was one of six communities in the Central New York REDC territory to apply in 2018, an award that ultimately went to the city of Auburn. Past winners in central New York include the cities of Oswego and Cortland.
State officials say the DRI is a comprehensive, multi-agency approach to transform vulnerable, vacant or forgotten areas of the state into livable, walkable, dynamic neighborhoods.
The 10 REDCs will consider seven criteria in selecting nominees, including a compact downtown with well-defined boundaries, the ability to capitalize on prior or future private and public investments, recent or impending job growth, an attractive and livable downtown community and the identification of transformative projects ready for implementation.
Fulton Community Development Agency Director Joe Fiumara, who has spearheaded the city’s applications in recent years, said the city would “without a doubt” be submitting another DRI application, but noted officials would have to revaluate the projects included in last year’s plan.
“Some of the projects we used as anchor projects are almost to fruition, for example the CNY Arts Center that moved downtown,” he said.
In announcing the DRI funding last week, Gov. Cuomo called it a successful initiative that boosts local economies and fosters vibrant neighborhoods while improving residents’ quality of life.
“As we have already seen with 30 communities across the state, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative is so much more than a $10 million prize,” Cuomo said in a press release. “This critical program completely transforms downtown communities, resulting in unprecedented growth and development that leads to a renewed sense of price in our cities, towns and villages.”
Fulton’s downtown is much different than it was decades ago prior to urban renewal, Woodward said, noting it was once a full of retail stores that started to disappear as internet shopping crushed brick and mortar retail. Woodward said Fulton’s downtown has morphed into professional offices over the years, such as doctors and lawyers, over the years.
“It’s changed,” Woodward said of downtown. “I grew up here and when I was a kid we had 15,000 people living here in Fulton, and my parents and us kids used to go to downtown every weekend and walk what we called the dizzy block. There were a ton of stores down there.”
Fiumara said officials would likely focus on the city’s library and surrounding historic district, along with the redevelopment of the former Nestle site, which could include an industrial or manufacturing incubator with the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency.
City officials would like to host a public input session, but Fiumara said with the shortened time frame — applications are due May 31 — it’s unclear if a public session will be scheduled. Fiumara, however, said the city would really like to include stakeholder input.
Fiumara said officials have already reached out to local businesses in anticipation of Gov. Cuomo’s announcement, seeking businesses and other stakeholders that are looking to expand or complete projects within the city’s DRI boundaries.
Finalizing the application in a little more than a month presents some challenges, Fiumara said, calling it “one of the biggest obstacles” facing city officials.
Last year, Fulton officials said the $10 million would create a healthier economy and more welcoming attractions for residents and visitors.
The city’s 2018 DRI application identified eight strategies, including capitalizing on the city’s extensive waterfront and the Fulton Footpath’s trail network, taking advantage of the city’s highway access and building on a cluster of legacy manufacturing, and focusing on entrepreneurial growth and mixed-use structures.
Fulton’s DRI proposal identified 19 potential future projects in total, including the creation of a new “cultural anchor” for downtown in the CNY Community Arts Center, which has since come to fruition. Other projects included an expansion of the Blue Moon Grill to include an entertainment venue, improvements to the Fulton Library, transforming the historic Case-Lee House into a bed and breakfast and/or boutique hotel and completing a network of trails throughout the city “to tie it all together.”
Officials estimated the plan, if realized, would create more than 700 new jobs, retain nearly 450 existing jobs and attract more than $53 million in capital investment.
In previous years, Fulton officials have said the inability to pinpoint a compact, well-defined downtown area may have hurt the city’s application, but in the 2018 plan officials condensed the downtown area to better fit the criteria the state REDCs are considering.
The 2018 boundaries followed the Oswego River from Oneida Street to the southern city limits, and included South First and South Second streets, the former Nestle site and the Cayuga Community College (CCC) Campus.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has frequently appeared in the city of Oswego to announce and kickoff various aspects of the city’s ongoing DRI projects, said the initiative has given communities across the state the opportunity to spearhead local projects to grow downtowns and boost the economy.
Hochul said previous winners are “moving full speed ahead with exciting developments that are transforming their areas.” She said the fourth round of funding would provide more communities with the resources needed “to pursue collaborative and innovative projects.”
If a community is selected by the REDC, a local planning committee comprised of local leaders, stakeholders and government officials would be formed to oversee the development of a strategic downtown plan.