By JENNIFER HILL & JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – By next summer, Oneonta could see the first major fruits of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative as a 64-unit, four-story Artspace-like complex breaks ground on Dietz Street.
“I’m very excited about this,” Mayor Gary Herzig said of what’s being called the Lofts On Dietz. “If all goes as planned, it could start transforming downtown Oneonta.”
Meeting Tuesday, July 2, Common Council voted to make Parkview Development & Construction, Inc. the “preferred developer” of the mixed-used building – 44 artists’ lofts and 24 middle-income apartments – to be built on part of the Dietz Parking Lot.
The developer, a father and son team from the Hudson Valley, Ken and Sean Kearney, will go into more detail at Council’s July 16. The next day, they will go before the Planning Commission.
If the Dietz Street project is ultimately approved and implemented, it would become the first development to use Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) funds, which Herzig said would “partially” pay for it.
The city’s Comprehensive Master Plan envisions downtown as an arts’ hub and sees a need for more housing. The Dietz Street project, Herzig said, “checks all the boxes.”
Herzig said he began talking with the Kearneys a year ago when he learned of their development projects they had done in Poughkeepsie and Peekskill.
“Both projects are thriving [and] became fully occupied as soon as they opened,” he added. Both have had an immediate impact on the surrounding downtown neighborhood – more people on the street, more businesses opening.”
Last September, the mayor sent a ten-person delegation of Oneonta developers, Council members, and business owners to tour the Kearneys’ $28 million development, Lofts on Main, in Peekskill and came back raving about it.
“We looked at three apartments there,” said Bob Brzozowski, a member of the group. “They had 14-16-foot ceilings, with one all-glass wall looking over Main Street. It was a breathtaking view.”
Brzozowski said they also looked at one building’s commercial space, with some of it designated for an art gallery specially for exhibiting the works of the artists renting the apartments.
Herzig said the Dietz Street building will likely be a mixed use building as well, with commercial space on the first floor “to bring downtown development to retail.” One possible occupant of the commercial space would be “academic programming” from either SUNY or Hartwick or both to occupy some of the space.
“We’re in conversations about it,” said Herzig. “The city has wanted the colleges to have a downtown presence for years and years.” He said would connect the colleges more closely to the city.
Oneonta residents will have a clearer idea in two weeks of what the Kearneys have in mind. They are scheduled to brief Common Council July 16 on their plans and will appear before the Planning Commission to begin site plan review the next day
Herzig cautioned that the Common Council’s vote, which authorizes the mayor to enter a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the developer is “a preliminary step.”
“There are still many steps ahead of us,” Mayor Gary Herzig said. “But the MOU starts the process.”
Plus, the Minneapolis-based Artspace national non-profit did a feasibility study and found its concept would work here. However, City Hall decided to seek a private developer, which means the building will be on the tax rolls.
The project, to be located across Dietz from the Lizard Lick, will use 50 existing parking space. The developer will also have the opportunity to lease spaces in the downtown parking deck, which would free up further spaces in the Dietz lot.
This had some residents concerned. “When there’s snow and the city calls for people to not be on the street, where will they park?” asked Stanley Mariece.
But Herzig said that on multiple tours of the lot, he has rarely seen it full, counting only 80 cars on the single busiest day.
“This development will bring in so many benefits,” said Council member Melissa Nicosia. “We just keep hearing people complain that there’s no housing, then they complain about parking.”