Downtown Revival IS Exciting; Let’s ACT Excited


Downtown Revival IS Exciting;

Let’s ACT Excited About Plans

The March 8 announcement of $2 million in downtown grants took a backseat to protests about D&H-yard redevelopment. Attendees, like Environmental Board chair Mark Davies, picked up the list on
the way out the door.

There’s a lot going on in the City of Oneonta right now, as City Hall’s DRI (the Downtown Revitalization Initiative) begins distributing $10 million in state money,  leveraging it in a way that attracts many millions more  in private investment.

Certainly, there are time pressures. There are conflicting agendas. There’s not ever going to be enough money to make everybody happy. Lately, environmentalists are ready to swoop down on any development that may require more energy, (which is every project).

So from time to time, it may be hard to remember this is the fun part.

This is the part where good things happen that, with a little bit of luck (and a lot of applied brainpower and some risk taking), will result in a City of the Hills repositioned to keep our fleeing population here, and to attract a whole new generation of “knowledge workers” who will revive the beloved and largely architecturally intact historic downtown.

Relax and remember this word: Fun. Remember these letters: F-U-N. Happy days are here (Soon. Maybe)!

When the first $2 million in grants were announced on March 8, who didn’t take his/her eye off the ball?

At a Common Council meeting, set in Foothills to accommodate an expected crowd, the grants weren’t announced at all. People protesting the possible use of natural gas at some point in the undeveloped D&H Railyards dominated the evening.

In the end, packets announcing the grants, mostly for signage and facades – four or five pages, stapled – were left on a counter in the Foothills lobby for people to pick up the way out.

“WAH, wah,” as Debbie Downer used to say.

Two big grants – $392,000 total – were for renovations of upstairs floors, to begin providing opportunities for people who want to live downtown.

One, to Jim Tomaino and his wife, Jill, the city Planning Commission chairman, was labelled “transformative,” but details were closely held. The second went to attorney Michael Getman, who has served as city prosecutor, for the second floor of his Dietz Street law offices; he still hasn’t returned reporter’s calls about what his plans are.

The Tomaino project, which includes the building between the Westcott Lot and the former Ruffino’s Pizza, turns out to be a very exciting one. When a walkway between Main and South Market streets is built there, the Tomainos’ plan is to open up the east side of the building for a series of funky shops – arts and crafts and the like. Very cool.

No doubt Getman’s got something equally interesting.

As a second round of announcements approaches in July, there’s time to get it right.

Let’s have a meeting that’s fun; let’s not share the agenda with the “WAH wah” crowd. Maybe a reception in the Foothills Atrium, where people can sit, but most can choose to mingle.

DRI Committee chairman Kim Muller and Mayor Gary Herzig should announce the grants individually with some detail and showmanship. Artist’s renderings? Great idea.

Let’s give the winners at least a certificate, if not a plaque. Let’s all applaud. When “transformative” projects are announced, let’s dim the lights, roll the drums, shine the spotlight on the winners.  And let’s all applaud again; maybe even cheer or hoot. (Maybe even raise a glass or two of champagne.)

Likewise for whatever’s happening on Dietz Street – a three-story, art-space like building on the Wall and Dietz corner, to be built by Kearney & Sons Construction of Peekskill, which has just completed a similar project in that Hudson Valley small city.

Let’s announce it as if we  believe it – because we do. And remember, F-U-N. We’re all in this together, so let’s get the details out there. (With Round One, Chairman Muller’s reticence made everybody suspicious.) Let’s begin painting a picture of where we’re going. Two years into this, not too many of us have a clear idea of where this DRI thing is going.

That awakes the memory of a faraway community-renewal effort in the long-ago 1990s, promoted by an upbeat, savvy state legislator for his hometown. In the days before the announcement, a little construction got underway on Main Street – people weren’t sure what.

The day came, and that morning banners were hung on the lampposts – “Amityville Alive!” or somesuch alliterative slogan with the community’s name. And after the announcement, the first little project was unveiled with pomp, good cheer and hope – a water fountain! A water fountain!!

What was that all about? the state legislator was asked.

For these things to work, he replied, people have to see “something,” something concrete. The “Amityville Alive!” fountain – that’s just the beginning.

Come on, let’s have a little showmanship with the DRI. Let’s see “some things.” And then s’more. Then construction crews everywhere. Then cranes. And then it’s done. Now, we’re “onta” something – then, we gotta something.

Maybe the city’s new ad agency, Trampoline, can help with the strategy here. Yes, something big’s happening. Let’s act as if something big’s happening. If for nothing else, the F-U-N of it.

(And how about this: Let’s get rid of D-R-I. How about a contest to come up with a name for what we’re doing? What DOES F-U-N stand for?)

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