FULTON — Hundreds of residents, officials and community members packed the community room at the Fulton Municipal Building to see Gov. Andrew Cuomo announce the city would receive $10 million to revamp its downtown.
Fulton received the $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) award Wednesday with the city’s fourth attempt at the “transformational” prize. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Wednesday comes a little more than three years after the city of Oswego was awarded the first round of funding through the DRI, presenting Fulton leaders with the same opportunity handed to Oswego in 2016.
“You did it,” Cuomo told the people of Fulton following Wednesday’s announcement. “Congratulations.”
Cuomo launched the DRI as a way to rejuvenate downtowns across New York and spur private investment via a $10 million influx of state money aimed at jump starting development and boosting local economies. The DRI process challenges local governments to propose “innovative ideas to create jobs and drive economic growth,” Cuomo said, noting Fulton’s proposal was a strong and feasible plan.
“Fulton put together a brilliant plan — and you’re right, you have the (state Route) 481 corridor on one side, the river on the other,” Cuomo said. “With this award they will be able to unleash the full potential of this unique location on the Oswego River, revamping the waterfront and downtown corridor to make this city more prosperous for residents and visitors.”
Council President Don Patrick, D-3rd Ward, addressed the standing room-only crowd Wednesday afternoon, expressing gratitude to Cuomo for the DRI award and believing in the city of Fulton, and thanking the many officials, community stakeholders and other individuals present for what he called “a great moment for the city of Fulton.”
“Our city sits beside the beautiful river and is rich in history,” Patrick said. “All it needs is a spark to reignite its path.”
Mayor Ron Woodward Sr., who has led the city for more than a decades but is not seeking re-election this November, said the $10 million award was an exciting moment for Fulton and a sign the state has confidence in the city’s ability to rebound from recent hardship.
“I’m thrilled,” Woodward said. “I believe it’s the start of the rebirth of Fulton.”
The rebirth of a once prospering city has “been a long time coming,” Woodward said, noting for years the city was “hit so hard with all the industry going away,” and officials have worked tirelessly to keep Fulton on its feet and in a position to succeed.
Woodward expressed gratitude to Gov. Cuomo and his staff, and the members of the city’s DRI Committee who worked hard over the last four years to create and refine the application that ultimately secured $10 million in funding for the city.
Patrick, who in recent years has worked to shift the city’s focus from day-to-day operations to looking toward the future, said the DRI funding would help generate excitement about the city’s outlook and transform residents’ mindset along with the city’s downtown.
“We’ve been focused for so long on ‘what can we do to get by today,’ and this is going to open so many doors,” Patrick said. “The future is now for the city of Fulton and this is going to help us tremendously.”
Since 2016, the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils have awarded $10 million annually to one municipality in each of the 10 regions. Fulton is the fourth winner from the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council (CNYREDC), joining the cities of Oswego, Cortland and Auburn.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, who has overseen the implementation of his city’s 2016 DRI award, expressed excitement about Fulton’s DRI award, noting and improved Fulton would also benefit the Port City.
“Oswego needs Fulton to be strong and attractive,” he said. “The (state Route) 481 corridor and Oswego River present such an awesome opportunity for all of central Oswego County, and we as a county need to do a better job capitalizing on that corridor. Getting Fulton to bounce back is huge.”
Barlow said if local municipalities can work together to feed off and strengthen one another, it would benefit the entire county.
“That’s the key,” Barlow said. “Oswego and Fulton moving forward together is positive, and for Oswego we will automatically benefit from Fulton’s resurgence.”
Oswego leaders have said the DRI helped ignite a turning point in the way people described and felt about the community, and Fulton officials Wednesday said they expect the DRI to have a similar effect in their city.
The city’s 2019 DRI proposal includes 26 potential transformative projects, but local leaders and stakeholders over the course of the next year will join with state officials to identify priority projects and ultimately allocate the funding. Cuomo announced the city of Oswego won the DRI in July 2016, and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul returned in July 2017 to announced which projects would receive funding.
As the DRI process moves forward, a local planning committee will be identified to develop a Strategic Investment Plan to act as a guideline for revitalizing the city’s downtown. The local planning committee is assembled from municipal representatives and community leaders, with support from private sector experts and state planning officials.
The Strategic Investment Plan examines local assets and identifies opportunities for economic development, transportation, housing and other projects that align with the community’s downtown revitalization vision.
Barlow encouraged Fulton officials to “stay open minded,” be willing to deviate from the original ideas proposed in the application and engaged with the public.
“Moving forward, more ideas will come up and things will change,” Barlow said. “Be open to those changes and do your best to maximize the $10 million by leveraging private investment.”
The state allows for up to $300,000 of the $10 million to fund the planning effort, and anticipates the completion of the investment plan sometime next year.
Cuomo said the state received more than 100 applications for the DRI in 2019, noting not every municipality is able to win “and that’s nothing to be ashamed of because the competition is so tough.” Fulton leadership, though sometimes frustrated about their previous inabilities to secure the funding, continued to refine and improve the city’s DRI application after not being awarded on the first three attempts.
Fulton Community Development Agency Director Joe Fiumara, who played an integral role in developing each of Fulton’s four DRI applications, said the committee that created the city’s DRI vision stuck together over the course of four years and continued to work tirelessly to improve the city’s application.
The positive impact the DRI will ultimately have on Fulton is immeasurable, Fiumara said, and a much needed boost for a community that has been hit in recent decades by the closure of Nestle, Birdseye and Miller Brewing. Fiumara called the DRI funding “a stepping stone” to move the city forward into a more prosperous time.
Dave Mankiewicz, a member of Fulton’s DRI committee, said the 2019 application was stronger than previous years largely due to a diverse group of projects, ranging from small businesses to the city’s major corporations and including historic preservation and entertainment options.
“Every year we learned and every year the application got better and better,” said Marie Mankiewicz, Dave’s wife. “This is a dream come true.”
Members of Fulton’s DRI committee said after four years of working hard to bring the $10 million award to Fulton, the final announcement from Gov. Cuomo was an emotional moment.
The city’s DRI Committee — which in addition to the Mankiewiczs and Fiumara included Brittney Jerred, Steve Chirello, Deanna Michaels and Heather McCoy — urged patience with the upcoming planning process and noted it would likely be more than a year before construction started on any of the developments.
Though it may take time, officials said the process would be well worth the wait and could mark a turning point in Fulton’s history.
“Personally, I think the governor coming today and this $10 million grant is going to be the day that people remember that Fulton turned around — that Fulton is being reborn,” Chirello said.