CLEINMAN: Oneonta Must Build


100 Units Will Buoy

Business Downtown

By AL CLEINMAN • Special to

Al Cleinman is founder & president of Oneonta-based Cleinman Performance Partners, a nationally consultancy that advises optometrists on best business practices.

Of late, social media and other community forums have been full of dialogue about the initiatives in downtown Oneonta.  Why do we need this housing?  Why the rebranding?  Why artist lofts? Why not somewhere else?  What about parking?

While comments many are supportive of these initiatives, the majority of comments appear to be an emotional response, perhaps the result of a lack of understanding of the strategic issues facing our community.

As a 35-plus-year resident of the City of Oneonta, a significant employer of professionals, a landlord, entrepreneur and a highly traveled business adviser, perhaps I can shed some light on the “whys” behind these important initiatives?

Let’s take a look at just a few facts:

  • Otsego County is losing population.
  • Oneonta’s tax burden is funded by less than 50 percent of our properties.
  • We lack housing that’s attractive to professionals and families.
  • Our downtown is in decline.

It appears that many do not recognize that our community has a serious lack of quality housing. Our housing stock is old and tired, the result of a combination of 50-plus years of converting center-city homes to student housing, a lack of available in-city development land and general economic decline.

And with a downtown that’s seen an exodus of retail, this makes for significant challenges in recruiting and retaining professional employees; and keeping our youth. Quality market-appropriate housing is the foundation of a community’s success.

We all must understand that ours is a competitive world.  As a community, we are competing for tax dollars, population and business activity with thousands of other communities.

One must ask why we have +/-1,500 new young people arrive in our city each year … and more than 1,500 leave.  Our youth is leaving for lack of opportunity.  They go elsewhere because other cities have a better competitive profile than Oneonta.  And as with anything else, “to the victor, go the spoils.”  This is irrefutable fact.

My business, as that of others in our area, has open positions that we struggle to fill.  Attracting qualified employees in an era of full employment is a significant competitive challenge.  Doing so when we lack infrastructure exacerbates the challenge.

Young professionals and families are seeking housing in city centers and neighborhoods to be close to stores, restaurants and services.  They seek vibrancy and energy.  Competitively speaking, Oneonta is behind on this front.

And yet, our area is full of natural resources: the arts and humanities, great schools and colleges, excellent health care and wonderful restaurants that are attractive to this desired population (youth).  That’s why the state has chosen Oneonta to receive million$ in grant money.  We have “good bones.”  But we must take some important and bold actions to realize the opportunities before us.

As a result of the initiatives undertaken by the state and our city, we are now attracting private investment to our community. It seems that developers like Chip Klugo and Ken Kearney have more faith in Oneonta than many of our citizens.

Over the next couple of years, we will see over 100 new housing units built in downtown Oneonta.  This initiative is huge, and these investments will inject much-needed revenue into our downtown restaurants and retail establishments.  They’ll attract tenants who will deliver renewed energy to our community.  And these initiatives will result in further investment.  Success breeds success!

New housing, a reconstructed parking garage, a new transit hub, artist lofts, Hartwick’s Center for Craft Food & Beverage and other initiatives are absolutely mission critical to our community.  We must overcome our population exodus!  We must turn around our growing tax burdens!  We must keep and re-attract our youth!  Investors will find our city as a result.  The time for Oneonta’s renewal is NOW!

Every Oneonta citizen should give thanks to our elected officials for having the vision and for making the energy investment necessary to attract these grants and developers.  They see our community as having significant opportunity for growth and prosperity.

All of us should be supporting these initiatives and work together to overcome the relatively minor issues (like parking) that arise when development takes hold.  Indeed, wouldn’t it be nice to have a parking problem in downtown Oneonta?  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful challenge to overcome?

Let’s get behind these initiatives and figure out solutions.  Let’s not be a roadblock to the long-term competitive success of our community.  Let’s send positive vibes into cyberspace so that others see us as a desirable destination, not one full of vitriol and negativity.

Thank you to Mayor Gary Herzig, Senator Jim Seward, our Common Council and our city employees for your leadership and hard work.

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