By DANNY LAPIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
“What does Downtown Oneonta need?”
This is a question I’ve heard and asked nearly every day since I moved to the City of the Hills in mid-2015. Answers vary but they usually fall within three categories: more people, fewer storefront vacancies, and more stuff to do.
In 2017, the City of Oneonta received a $10 million award through Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
The intent of the DRI was to spur development downtown by revitalizing the Market Street Corridor, improving the connectivity of downtown walkways, restoring upper-floor housing, improving building facades, and improving downtown’s marketability.
Since the announcement of the DRI, downtown Oneonta has seen nearly $2 million awarded to local businesses and property owners, one mixed-use housing project approved with another being proposed, the launch of a new marketing campaign, and the purchase of the abandoned car dealership on Market Street.
With all the positive momentum flowing through the city, I would argue that it is time to think about how to sustain it moving forward. After all, it is not every day that the city can get a $10 million boost.
Sustaining the positive momentum will require three things:
1) The ability to identify and make small bets that yield a high return;
2) The ability to coordinate marketing and branding efforts; and
3) A steady revenue stream which can be readily reinvested Downtown.
Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) represent one possible way to make this happen. BIDs are city-designated districts where property owners and businesses direct funding to improve the vibrancy of a commercial corridor.
BIDs are complicated quasi-governmental organizations typically led by an executive director. The executive director is overseen by a Board of Directors comprised of downtown stakeholders. Funding for BIDs come from a special assessment billed to property owners, which is decided by the BID’s Board of Directors.
BIDs can undertake a wide range of activities, ranging from streetscape beautification, to trash cleanup and snow removal, to security, to marketing and branding. Ultimately, the decision of what to do is left up to the BID’s Board of Directors.
It can be argued that Downtown Oneonta has all the pieces in place for a BID.
Otsego County’s one-stop shop for economic development is located at 189 Main St. There’s an energized city government and staff. Destination Oneonta coordinates marketing for its members and hosts events. And the buzz of redevelopment has reached the ears of many downtown property owners.
BIDs can empower downtown entities to coordinate with one another, decide how monies should be invested, and have the skin in the game necessary to encourage strong decision making.
BIDs have been implemented successfully in communities of varying sizes nationwide ranging from smaller municipalities like Hyannis, Mass., to a large metropolis like New York City. However, BIDs, on their own, are not a surefire key to downtown success. The public must be given the opportunity to weigh in on the services the BID could provide. Administration of the BID must not hinder the delivery of services. Outcomes achieved by the BID must be tracked, verified and reported on.
The completion of the DRI will lead to a more vibrant, resilient downtown. As we look longterm, past Common Council terms and economic upswings and downturns, Oneonta will need the services of a BID or equivalent organization to make targeted investments that make our community a great place to live, work and play.