FULTON — Downtown revitalization projects in the city of Fulton are moving forward, according to city officials, who this week said the state has given the go-ahead for project sponsors to get started.
The city of Fulton was awarded $10 million in August 2019 through the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), an annual economic development program aimed at rejuvenating downtowns and spurring private investment. Fulton Mayor Deana Michaels this week said the state has authorized project sponsors to move forward with the developments awarded funding, and she anticipates some of the construction could start by the end of 2021.
“We now have the state reaching out and following up on their piece,” Michaels said. “We’re seeing projects start to take action and we’re moving forward. The state, once they hit go, it has been fast and furious so we are moving quickly.”
The DRI was awarded to the neighboring city of Oswego in 2016 and more than a dozen projects in the Port City have drastically altered the downtown landscape in the ensuring years.
Due to the COVID-10 pandemic, the planning and selection process in Fulton was slightly delayed and nearly two years passed between the initial announcement the city was awarded $10 million and now-Gov. Kathy Hochul’s May visit to the city to unveil the 17 projects slated to receive funding.
During the May announcement, Hochul said the funds would do the same for Fulton and launch the city “into a great, new, brighter future.” Just four months later, the planning and design process for many of the projects is starting to move forward.
Development of the former Nestle site, transformation of the city marina and Canal Landing Park, enhanced streetscapes, improvements to Huhtamaki, further development of a series of city walking trails and a multi-million-dollar expansion of Oswego Health’s essential services facility were among the largest projects designated to receive varying levels of DRI support.
The selection process — aimed at empowering local communities to enhance and improve downtown businesses and aesthetics — followed more than a year of coordination between city and state officials, residents and a state-hired consulting firm.
Following the May announcement, Michaels called the DRI “a real win for the city of Fulton,” but noted much of the hard work remained in front of the city and project sponsors. The hard work Michaels spoke of at the time is now in full swing.
Michaels said this week there’s still “a lot of work” that needs to go into applications and contracts for the DRI projects, but expressed optimism that projects would start before the end of the year. One specific project Michaels said would likely move forward quickly is the city-sponsored Downtown Revitalization Grant Fund, which is a roughly $1.5 million fund for enhancements to businesses in Fulton’s downtown.
“It’s open to all businesses downtown at varying levels (of funding),” Michaels said. “We’re working on the structure of that right now. What does it look like, what are the dollar amounts, how do you apply, basically the state is asking us to come up with our admin plan… once that admin plan is approved and the state gives its blessing we’ll then be able to start offering the opportunities.”
City officials are also working on a broadband project, Michaels said, referring to a $200,000 DRI allocation aimed at upgrading broadband internet services in parts of Fulton. Michaels said the city is trying to leverage the DRI broadband funding with some federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other broadband initiatives to stretch the dollars further.
Many of the larger infrastructure projects, such as renovations to the city marina, would take a lot more time, planning and engineering, Michaels said, and the city would not rush those projects.
Council President Audrey Avery, R-5th Ward, called the DRI “a wonderful opportunity for the city” that would enhance existing Fulton’s businesses community as well as upgrade a variety of public spaces, including the downtown marina.
“We’ve been stagnant for so many years, not doing a lot with our city, so of course this is definitely a huge shot in the arm for us,” Avery said.
CNY Arts Center Director Nancy Fox, who heads an agency awarded roughly $350,000 through the DRI, said discussions have started with architects, engineers and contractors to pinpoint cost estimates and work out the “minute details” for the project, which aims to raise the roof on the facility to allow for better theater lighting, additional balcony seating and more classroom space.
“This is really just the preliminary phase of getting all our ducks in a row and determining exactly how far we can take the money the state has granted us and how much we need to fundraise,” Fox said, noting financial pressures over the past year could potentially cause alterations to the project that would need to be approved by the state.
Fox said she is very excited about the project and what it could mean for CNY Arts Center, but noted it is “a huge undertaking” and the organization is still trying to build its reserves and maintain services due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We pretty much spent every penny we had keeping the doors open,” Fox said, adding assistance from the Richard S. Shineman Foundation and city of Fulton would be a boost to CNY Arts. “I don’t want to paint a bleak picture but it’s a realistic picture. We are looking forward to the project but it’s tempered with reality.”
The full list of the final 17 projects selected by the state and their funding allocations are as follows:
- Expand Oswego Health essential services — an estimated $3.27 million project with a $2 million DRI allocation
- $1.7 million to transforming the city marina and Canal Landing Park
- Redeveloping Building 40 on the former Nestle sit into a commercial and roughly 60-unit residential mixed-use structure — an estimated $12 million project with a $1.5 million DRI allocation
- Enhancing state Route 481 aesthetics and implementing safety measures for pedestrians and bicyclists — an estimated $1 million project with $1 million DRI allocation
- Develop a manufacturing startup facility at the former Nestle site — an estimated $4.3 million project with a $860,000 DRI allocation.
- Construct multi-use trails within the DRI boundary — an estimated $1.64 million project with an $820,000 DRI allocation
- Create a business assistance grant fund to encourage further enhancements in the DRI area — an estimated $1.5 million project with a $750,000 DRI allocation
- Upgrade and improve buildings and machinery at Huhtamaki — an estimated $2.1 million project with a $420,000 DRI allocation
- Upgrades to CNY Arts Center, including raising the roof — an estimated $440,000 project with a $352,000 DRI funding allocation
- Improvements to Fulton Public Library, including outdoor seating areas — an estimated $311,000 project with a $311,000 DRI funding request
- Upgrade broadband internet services in parts of the city of Fulton — an estimated $200,000 project with a $200,000 DRI allocation
- Covert the former Case Lee House on South First Street into an inn and café — an estimated $700,000 project with a $140,000 DRI allocation
- Renovate a vacant structure into a fast casual restaurant — an estimated $684,000 project with a $137,000 DRI allocation
- Redevelop a commercial building off state Route 481 — an $559,000 project with a $112,000 DRI allocation
- Implement downtown and historic marker and signage program — an estimated $100,000 project with a $100,000 DRI allocation
- Update the city’s zoning code — an estimated $100,000 project with a $100,000 DRI allocation
- Enhance Fulton’s ‘Downtown Vibe,’ a multi-location project that includes improvements to, or the creation of, Cayuga Street Café, Dizzy Block Brewery, Empire Drone Company, Fulton Family Medicine and Tavern on the Lock — an estimated $926,000 project with a $185,000 DRI allocation