By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Springbrook CEO Patricia Kennedy, got the good news a few nights before Christmas.
Her proposed Ford Block Revival – 22 apartments for executives and professionals above 186-212 Main St. – has been awarded a $1 million CFA grant through the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council. The three-story building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s not just our Christmas present,” she said. “It’s our gift to the community.”
The Oneonta plan came about last year, as Springbrook completed Century Sunrise, a 120-apartment complex in the former Endicott-Johnson Shoe Factory that provided housing for people with developmental disabilities.
“We realized that this was our first step in working in housing development,” said Kennedy. “We believe we’re a good partner.”
Kennedy was involved in the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, COO Seth Haight was on the Fox Hospital board, and saw how young professional the institutions were trying to recruit couldn’t find a place where they wanted to live.
“People are coming to the area for a job, whether it’s at Springbrook or Fox or one of the colleges, and they can’t find housing,” said Haight. “It puts us at a disadvantage. No one wants to live in the middle of nowhere.”
They looked at other spaces, but when Kennedy and Height saw the Ford Block’s upper floors, they were sold.
“We were looking at another project in Binghamton and we were talking to the developer, and we mentioned the Ford Block,” said Kennedy. “And he said, “The owner, David Sarkesian, is one of our clients.’”
“It’s a great space,” said Kennedy. “It’s a blank slate and it’s all open, but we want to maintain that edgy, modern but historic vibe.”
“It’s got a tremendous amount of light,” said Haight. “It’s a beautiful space,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “I’d live there in a second.”
The 22 apartments will be one and two bedroom on the second and third floors, with elevator access. They’ll maintain the exposed brick, and though the windows will be updated for better insulation, the stained-glass fronts and historic character will be preserved.
The facades will be updated, including the first-floor spaces already occupied by the Latte Lounge, Green Toad Bookstore and Key Bank.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, “so we’ve made provisions to keep the footprint of the building,” said Kennedy. “It will be energy efficient, but also beautiful.”
The $1 million in CFA funding is the first piece, and Kennedy said DRI upper-floor-housing funds are already being sought. Once all funding is secured, Haight and Kennedy will present the final plans to the Springbrook board for approval.
“A special committee will evaluate the plan and make a final decision,” said Kennedy. “But they’ve indicated they’re in favor of this project and very excited.”
If it’s a go, Kennedy hopes construction can begin in the spring, with completion by spring 2021.
And though the apartments will be marketed to young professionals, they are not limited to Springbrook or Fox employees.
“Part of our research was getting an assessment of the need for housing,” said Kennedy. “We didn’t do a formal study, but what we found was corroborated over and over that there’s a need for this type of building project.”
But more than just being a place to live, housing downtown will help revitalize Oneonta’s economy, Herzig believes. “The closing of Bombers Burrito Bar reflects on the struggle we have,” he said. “We don’t have enough people who are part of our downtown.”
He continued, “The Ford Block and the Lofts on Dietz are so important because they are the opportunity we need. No one like’s empty storefronts, and having people living downtown is what we need to support our downtown businesses.”
Kennedy and Haight hope that the project will inspire other building owners to look at renovating their upper floors into housing.
“It’s expensive,” he said. “But it’s an investment in our community. We all need to have good employees who are not only happy in their job, but also where they live.”
And although Springbrook is expanding, with offices in Norwich, Binghamton and Ithaca, Kennedy wants to remain close to the original Upstate Home for Children’s roots.
“Oneonta has been our home for 94 years,” she said. “We’re here, we’re can do it and we’re committed to staying local.”