Welcome, Induction attendees! Will there really be more than a record-breaking 84,000 of us? Excitement.
If you’re been here before, look around: You will see many changes and improvements to Cooperstown’s downtown that have occurred since the last record-setter, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn set the record for attendance in 2008.
If you came then, you might be astonished by what you see now. Then, all the sidewalks were cracked. Main Street needed paving. The whole downtown had a bit of a well-worn sense about it – endearing, yes, but still…
Beginning in 2012, that began to change quickly.
Now-Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch remembers being a bit nonplussed at her first Village Board budget meeting after being elected a trustees in March 2011.
“The budget wasn’t balancing very well,” she recalled the other day. “There was a big surplus in the Water Fund, and $400,000 had to be shifted from Water into the General Fund” just to stay even.
“That was maintenance level,” she said.
The next year, the village trustees made a decision after the most angrily debated local issue in decades: In the face of a sharply divided electorate, they voted to extend paid parking to all downtown streets between Labor Day Weekend and Columbus Day Weekend.
Almost immediately, Village Hall’s financial picture brightened.
The first year, paid parking added $250,000 to the $5 million village budget, and that’s continued to grow in the years since to $400,000 in the fiscal year that ended May 31. Village taxes haven’t gone up in five years.
At the same time, a freshman Village Trustee (now Deputy Mayor) Cindy Falk, began developing prowess in grantsmanship. Successes soon followed:
- In 2013-14, a $600,000 state Green Innovation Grant paid for “rain gardens” around newly planted trees. In part, the idea was to slow runoff into Otsego Lake and the Susquehanna River. The first brick sidewalks were also installed.
- About the same time, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $2.2 million for downtown enhancements, from repaving, to sidewalks, to redone and new lampposts (with LED lights), to street furniture, on Main but also on Pioneer.
- The final step will come this fall: Narrowing the Main and Chestnut intersection, adding walk/don’t walk signs, and generally making it less scary to pedestrians. (If you’ve tried to cross there, you know what we mean.)
- Local money, $1.2 million, was used for more routine projects, albeit important: the replacing of water lines and sewerage under Pioneer Street dating back to the 1880s.
- A $5.8 million renovation of historic Doubleday Field, the symbolic – if not actual – Birthplace of Baseball is now underway. Go and take a look.
In all, Falk estimates $10-15 million has been spent to make this village of 1,769 people more welcoming to a half-million visitors a year.
Throughout this period, now-retired Trustee Lou Allstadt led the charge on upgrading the historic Village Hall. Stop by and take a look, and stop by the library and Cooperstown Art Association gallery while you’re at it.
No one has a ready tally of all this. $5 million. $10 million. Maybe more. Whatever, a lot for a village of
There’s more still to come, particularly at Pioneer Park (Main and Pioneer), where initial work – a bike rack and water found – has already begun.
A stage is planned against the Tunnicliff Inn side wall for the popular “Music on Main” programs during the summer. Brick pavers will add handicapped accessibility. And landscape – a London plane tree and birches – will be added, three lampposts and new furniture.
“We all recognized new sources of revenues were needed, and aggressive grant application, to take care of infrastructure that was just going to deteriorate,” Tillapaugh said, who was fully involved in all of this as deputy mayor to Jeff Katz, who retired from office a year ago April 1, and now as mayor herself.
She also pointed out that merging village court into Otsego Town Court, and repositioning the municipal library as a school-district library, paid for by a separate levy, further helped the village’s financial picture.
The free-wheeling nature of the 2008 Ripken-Gwynn weekend is no more. Everywhere you’ll see high-security measures: from temporary iron fences to such additions as $4,000 trash cans that can be locked during the Legends of Baseball parade Saturday evening. You’ll also notice a much greater police presence.
Regrettably, that’s the nature of our post-9/11 world, intensified after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It can’t be helped for now; maybe in a better world to come. We can at least be assured that state-of-the-art measures are in place to ensure the security of the at-least 84,001 of us this weekend.
Enjoy – the Induction of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Harold Baines and Lee Smith will likely be one for the record book. In beautified downtown Cooperstown this weekend, we may be participating in history.