Oneonta leaders continue to strategize logistics as the Lofts on Dietz Street take shape on the one-time municipal parking lot and city residents wonder what’s ahead.
“We’re looking at sometime during the summer and fall of this year when people can start moving in,” Onoenta Mayor Mark Drnek said during the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 “State of the State” virtual conference on January 11. “We’ll be talking about parking for the tenants and how they’ll get around. We expect it to be fully occupied as we move through the fall.”
Former Mayor Gary Herzig took Hometown Oneonta /The Freeman’s Journal on a tour of the construction site during his final days in office in 2021 and said applications for apartments at the Lofts should be available in early 2022.
Lofts developers, Kearney Realty Group, say the project features 64 apartments – 50 set aside as one-bedroom units “for those involved in artistic or literary activities,” the remaining 14 as two-bedroom apartments carrying income limits to ensure access to affordable housing.
“The eligibility is going to be different for artists and middle-income families,” Mr. Herzig said. “The family apartments have to be no more than 130 percent of area median income for Otsego County. Criteria for artists will be a little different.”
Median income in Otsego County stands at some $54,000 annually, based on census data collected between 2015 and 2019.
For artists to meet the requirements for loft eligibility, they’ll need to present a portfolio of their work to a committee that will examine the extent to which art generates their income. Mr. Herzig said art need not be a person’s sole source of income to qualify for a loft unit, provided “artists are active in their creative pursuits.”
Mayor Drnek told the County Chamber of Commerce he is particularly excited that the Lofts on Dietz Street includes Hartwick College’s Grain Innovation Center, an educational facility developing a 100 percent whole-grain flour from a variety of different grains and provide testing and support for bakers and growers.
“It’s Hartwick’s first footprint in downtown Oneonta,” he said. “We’re thrilled to have them.”
Both Mayor Drnek and his predecessor emphasized the importance of the Lofts to downtown Oneonta’s rebirth. Mr. Herzig said the City’s 2016 comprehensive plan focused on the fact that “people want to like downtown,” but a limited housing stock stood in the way of easy access. That plan also showed City leaders a vibrant artist community living in and around Oneonta.
“I think there are many people who want to be a part of this community but can’t afford it,” Mr. Herzig said. “One thing our downtown needs is more people. We have empty storefronts, and the reason is there’s not enough people. Not enough customers. It’s clear that Oneonta has a thriving artist population. It’s an asset we should be focusing on.”
Mayor Drnek said artists and families living on Dietz Street will “make a huge difference to the amount of foot traffic on Main Street,” and called the project a centerpiece to his larger plan to attracting more workers and families to live in the City. He said, too, he wants to work with the developers to make the building experience a positive one.
“We’re not a big city like Syracuse or Albany,” he said. “We want to show developers that we can make the process work for them as we rebuild.”
The mayor also referenced a 24-unit housing project in the works from Springbrook, an organization providing support for the developmentally disabled. Springbrook plans to build the market-rate units in the Ford Block building on Oneonta’s Main Street.