Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, State of the City address Jan. 2021

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, pictured on Wednesday, delivered his seventh State of the City address outlining an array of projects and programs set to break ground in the coming year and augment residents’ quality of life.

Barlow continues to hone in on city beautification while addressing separate community issues in 2022 State of the City address

OSWEGO — Wednesday marked Mayor Billy Barlow’s seventh State of the City address, and with it came the promise to bring more life to untouched parts of the city and an array of initiatives enhancing residents’ quality of life.

Barlow said this year his administration would bring an “aggressive and comprehensive” agenda to life in 2022. His plan contains projects spanning the entire city and impacts nearly all of its demographics.

“We will build on our progress by continuing to do what works, leveraging investment, concentrating resources to better serve our constituents, and capitalizing on natural assets, in our case, Lake Ontario,” Barlow said.

The mayor said one of those investments is developing the “neglected” and “unkempt” Sheldon Beach (also known as Flat Rock behind SUNY Oswego) into “a legitimate park” with a venue, finished parking lot and a stabilized shoreline.

Two projects are earmarked for Breitbeck Park this year, rounding out Barlow’s desired transformation of the park since he took office. The new projects are replacing the old playground with a new nautical themed one and installing an outside, state-of-the-art, 1,000 square foot exercise area.

The exercise area will include 30 individual pieces such as push rings, pull rings, push ladders, box jumps, lunge steps and more, Barlow said. Additionally, the city is eyeing an empty space along the East Lake Riverwalk as the spot for a new 5,000 square foot skate park costing $400,000.

The skate park will be “well lit,” and under 24 hour surveillance with bathroom facilities and “easy access” from both sides of the river, Barlow mentioned

For this project, Barlow said the city is partnering with Oswego native Brad Siedlecki, the owner of Pillar Design Studios, to develop the space.

“Skateboarding, long boarding and similar activities have made a comeback among Oswego youth in recent years, and being a SUNY community, I’m sure placing a state-of-the-art skate park in our community would be well-received,” he said.

Additional announcements included further development of the Oswego Police Department (OPD) to hire more female officers, establishing a police task force dedicated to combating the local drug problem, converting all city street lights to LED ones, installing seven new electric car charging stations throughout the city, doing another “shop small” incentive for residents, a city partnership with FoodFetched, more downtown events and opening the “Sunset Tiki Tours” at Wright’s Landing Marina in the summer.

Combating the growing drug issues locally is at the forefront of Barlow’s agenda this year, he said. To supplement this focus, Barlow announced $250,000 in additional funding to the OPD to fund a dedicated task force.

“The City of Oswego has a real problem and needs a real solution,” he said. “By creating our own task force ... we’ll substantially increase the amount of focus, time, energy, and resources being devoted in Oswego for added surveillance, more investigations and a much larger focus and stronger.”

The task force will consist of several OPD officers and investigators and will debut in February, Barlow said. However, the new task force is not the only change coming to the OPD. Barlow said the city is looking to increase its number of female officers this decade through participation in the “30x30 Initiative.”

The 30x30 Initiative’s goal is to “increase the representation of women in police recruit classes by 30 percent by 2030,” according to the organization’s website.

“Currently, women make up only 12 percent of sworn police officers across the nation, and 3 percent of police leadership in the U.S., so we’re pledging to hire more women police officers, with a goal of 30 percent of the OPD being female by 2030,” Barlow said.

Local restaurants’ challenges were also on the Barlow’s plate. Meeting the challenges they faced last year is an important area of focus to the city, he said.

To help local restaurants, Barlow said the city would partner with FoodFetched to lower local delivery costs and save both customers and businesses money. FoodFetched is a similar program to DoorDash or GrubHub, which charge added on delivery fees — profits that the restaurants don’t see.

“A point of concern with those shopping methods, however, is they tend to sway shoppers towards more corporate and larger retail stores and food chains, because of the added-on delivery charges,” the mayor said. “We have an opportunity to help this local business grow and can use this mechanism to test a pilot program to address delivery fees, saving the consumer money and preventing local businesses, particularly restaurants, from losing money.”

The “Sunset Tiki-Tours,” set to launch in the summer, will allow residents to rent boats and float along the city’s waterfront while enjoying drinks in a tropical type setting, Barlow said. He anticipates that many residents through the region will use it, driving up local revenue.

“This new feature can be an enormous tourist attraction for both visitors and residents, enticing more people to our waterfront to see our new marina and other improvements, generating plenty of potential for our community to capture in the years to come,” he said.

The mayor also promoted a busy summer, similar to last year, with the return of many community-based events. This includes the return of the Summer Concert Series, Water Street Square mini-concert series, Creepy Crawl, the Summer Bash, Drone Firework Show and the Independence Day block party. He also said other events are scheduled for July 3, Aug. 5 and Sept. 2, however, no details were provided about the three new events.

Barlow also addressed the anticipated, and hopeful, return of Harborfest and the 4th of July Independence Day Parade, if COVID-related conditions allow, he said.

All of those events helped generate a bountiful fiscal year for the city, Barlow said, pointing to the more than $17 million generated in sales tax revenue — the most in the history of city government, he added.

“All these events drew large crowds, created excitement, and gave people plenty to do,” Barlow said.

Some of this revenue, however, could be attributed to the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) awarded by the state in 2016. The DRI sparked what would become more than $100 million worth of investment made into the core downtown area over the past five years, Barlow said.

“The history books will show these last several years to be among the most productive and successful period in our city’s history,” he said. “City government is back, and we have fundamentally changed the direction of this city. The state of our city is strong and getting stronger every day.”

The DRI partially funded a dozen developments through the Port City’s historic downtown since they were announced in July 2017. The initial dozen projects have nearly all finished with only one still in development (the Lake Ontario Water Park). Two of the other projects are in the finishing phases (the East Lake Commons and Harbor View Square).

Oswego Common Council President, Robert Corradino, R-7th Ward, who has worked alongside Barlow since taking the helm of the common council in 2018, said the city’s plan represented a “home run” for residents.

He said he was excited to hear about the all the announcements, calling them “reasonable and attainable” and not just “pie in the sky dreams.”

“I’m very pleased with the direction of the city, not just in 2022 but for the past six-plus years. Mayor Barlow, along with the Common Council, has charted a very aggressive course for our community during these many years and it is beginning to show the results,” he said.

One of the biggest takeaways for Corradino was the increased funding for the police to combat the “insidious problem” of increased local drug use.

“The most critical item for me is the increased funding for a city drug task force. The insidious problem of drugs affect everyone in all seven wards of the city, and we need to do our best to win this battle not just for today’s residents but for future generations of residents,” he said.

Oswego Common Council Vice President, Kevin Hill, R-3rd Ward, lauded the city’s roadmap for the coming year, calling it a “progressive” path and helping move the community overall forward.

“The SOTC outlined another aggressive agenda. But with the leadership of Mayor Barlow, paired with the continued support and cooperation of the Common Council I’m confident we’ll accomplish all that Mayor Barlow has outlined and more,” Hill said.

“I’m looking forward to working together with the mayor and my fellow councilors to ensure that happens. These items will enhance the quality of life for both residents and guests of our city.”

Hill joined Corradino in excitement and interest in the city’s upcoming Drug Task Force. He said the task force represents a solution to a problem that has effected the city’s quality of life for a long time.

“Mayor Barlow didn’t mince words when discussing the inability of the County Drug Task Force to effectively manage the substance abuse epidemic that has plagued our community. He offered a solution by announcing the creation of the Oswego City Drug Task Force to finally work to address this very difficult and complex issue,” Hill said.