With tourism dealt another pandemic-related blow last week, Otsego County’s leaders are increasingly turning to outdoor adventures to lure visitors.
“We’re actually in the process right now of trying to launch a massive campaign to tout our outdoor adventure,” said Cassandra Harrington, executive director of Destination Marketing Corporation, which promotes tourism in Otsego and Schoharie counties.
Harrington said the tourism news has been mostly dismal in the week since Cooperstown Dreams Park announced it would require all teams playing at the park’s summer tournaments to be vaccinated for the coronavirus pandemic. The uncertainty of getting vaccinations for children and a hard refund deadline has left dozens of teams in a catch-22, leading to hundreds of reported cancellations.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s winter announcement that it was moving its postponed 2020 Induction Weekend to a virtual event, had already crushed pre-pandemic hopes for a record sized crowd for Derek Jeter’s induction.
However, the reopening of the baseball parks, Dreams Park in Hartwick Seminary and Cooperstown All-Star Village in West Oneonta, was a big pillar of the county’s hopes for a renewed summer of tourism. All-Star Village has not announced similar vaccination requirements for its teams, but the Dreams Park changes make its June opening unlikely, Harrington said.
“Now that the bottom fell out with Dreams Park, our accommodations are dealing with a flood of cancellations,” she said. “So, we really need those outdoor visitors more than ever.”
It looks like the Cooperstown area, which hosts both a Price Chopper and a Tops Friendly Market, will be an oddity with the merger of the two supermarket companies that was announced Monday, Feb. 9.
The two companies have “a footprint that’s almost perfectly contiguous,” with minimal overlap, Price Chopper/Market 32 President/CEO Scott Grimmett told the Albany Times Union.
With Price Chopper at Chestnut and Walnut in the village, and Tops 3.8 miles away in Cooperstown Commons, that wouldn’t be the case in Baseball Town, particularly since the corporate merger appears to end all competition in Otsego County north of Greater Oneonta, where the Price Chopper in Emmons competes with Hannaford, Aldi’s, BJ’s and Walmart.
“Right now, there are no plans to close any stores,” said Jonathan Pierce of Pierce Communications, Albany, which is handling press queries.
The only other supermarket in Northern Otsego is in Richfield Springs, also a Price Chopper.
Pierce said the merger is being examined by the Federal Trade Commission to assess its impact on the competitive picture.
PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION – 46th President Joe Biden to be inaugurated in Washington DC.
VIRTUAL TOUR – 2 p.m. Zoom meeting featuring walk through of exhibit ‘Hamilton’s Final Act: Enemies and Allies’ with manager of arts education Kevin Gray. Free, registration required. Suggested donation $5. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown. 607-547-1400 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org
Among other things, Fred Lemister was famous for decorating the front window of Rudy’s Liquor Store, which he and his wife Karen operated for 48 years.
His final window – the Lemisters sold Rudy’s to Matt Dennison and Joe Festa at year’s end – was the simple crèche you may have noticed walking by 143 Main St. this Christmas season.
A perennial was Fred’s Titanic window. “I’m a Titanic buff,” he said, also noting the local connection: Arthur L. Ryerson, president of Ryerson Steel, Chicago, who owned a summer estate on Otsego Lake, died in the sinking, although his wife Emily and four children rode on Lifeboat Four to safety.
“The one that meant the most to me was our 9/11 window,” said Lemister, himself the celebrated responder to 9,400 calls in a half-century with Cooperstown’s EMT squad. “I always found it extremely hard to put up. Tears would come to my eyes thinking of the young men and women who passed away on that day.”
The Lemister family has been a force on Main Street since 1952, when Andrew Lemister, Fred’s father, bought Sherry’s Restaurant in the three-story red brick block “at the light” where Mel’s at 22 is now.
In 1970, a few years after his father’s passing, Fred’s mother Evelyn married Rudy Omerzu, a local painting contractor.
Looking for a less strenuous occupation for her new husband, Fred’s mother and her son approached Cyril T. George, who had opened the liquor store, called George’s, in the late 1960s.
George also operated the Hitching Post at 149 Main, next door to the liquor store, where Alex’s Bistro is now, and he offered mother and son a two-business deal: Buy the restaurant now (1970), and the liquor store at a future date.
On Aug. 7, 1972, the Lemisters did buy the liquor store, renaming it Rudy’s, although things didn’t turn out as anticipated. That Christmas, Rudy Omerzu suffered a fatal heart attack while bowling at the Bowl-A-Rama (today’s Price Chopper).
So Fred, his mother and Karen found themselves running three establishments: Sherry’s, the Hitching Post and – keeping the name in Omerzu’s memory – Rudy’s.
In 1989, an electrical fire in the kitchen damaged the Hitching Post, and former Bruce Hall partner Richard White bought and renovated it for his daughter Ellen Weir’s Homescapes.
It became a restaurant again in 2007.
In 2018, the Lemisters sold the former Sherry’s property to restaurateur Brian Wrubleski, who operates Mel’s at 22 there.
So the Rudy’s sale, which includes the building, signals the end of a 67-year family and Main Street legacy.
In an interview, the Lemisters said they plan to put their Eagle Street house on the market in the spring. Son Andy lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and daughter Kim Knapp, near Orlando, so the parents are looking at the St. Augustine area, in between.
The four grandchildren are also a draw: Andy’s twins Addison and Andrew (A.J.), and Kim’s Makenna, 10, and Kassidy, 8.
In addition to the window displays, the Lemisters’ landmark Rudy’s is remembered for Bassett hound Barclay, who in the early days greeted patrons at the door.
When he passed away, the Lemisters commemorated him with a front window display of Bassett hound memorabilia.
“For 14 and a half years, he was the ruler,” Karen remembers.
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” William Shakespeare
Can it be 15 years since The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta, (after its founding in 2008), have recognized a Citizen (or Citizens) of the Year in the final edition of the 12th month?
In 2006, Cherry Valley Town Supervisor Tom Garretson, digesting information brought before him on industrial-scale wind turbines, changed his mind and led the charge to block them. That took guts and flexibility.
In 2020, Heidi Bond is a worthy successor. Like Garretson, she didn’t expect the worst epidemic in a century to explode upon us. But, like Garretson, she rose to the occasion, deploying her limited staff and doing what needed to be done, including long hours of hard work many days on end.
When called for a comment, but not yet knowing who had been chosen, county Rep. David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, said, “Your Citizen of the Year should be Heidi Bond.”
Of course, she is. Greatness was thrust upon her, and she was ready.
That is the case in several of the 42-some people who have been Citizens of the Year. (Several years, more than one person was chosen, the peak being Oneonta’s 12-person Charter Commission.)
But that idea: Not expecting a specific challenge, regular citizens can still be prepared, discovering that, through training, discipline, energy, intelligence and mental toughness, they can rise to the
occasion and overcome the challenges at hand.
That certainly applies to Heidi Bond, but also to Adrian Kuzminski (2010), who led the anti-fracking movement; Cooperstown then-mayor Carol Waller (2007), who led the village through a trouble-free record turnout to Cal Ripken’s 2007 Induction, to Pastor Sylvia Kevlin (2017), who responded to the fiery destruction of the Milford Methodist Church with the declaration, “We will rebuild.” And her congregation did.
Some achieved greatness in a more conscious way: Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich (2016), who raised a record $32 million, launched numerous innovations and renovated the campus. Is it any surprise that she largely succeeded in limiting the COVID spread on Oyaron Hill?
Or former Oneonta Mayor John Nader (2009), who, required to resign when he was promoted to SUNY Delhi dean, put the pieces in place for the renovation of the former Bresee’s Department Store into a reborn downtown anchor?
Or state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford (2013) – he is retiring this week after representing us in Albany for 34 years – whose hiring of a hard-driving economic developer and the elevation of the IDA to Otsego Now grew out of two “Seward Summits” on economic development and a personal determination to help his natal county better succeed at job creation?
It’s interesting that some of the Citizens, chosen with high hopes, didn’t quite work out.
The new team of Kathy Clark, Kay Stuligross and Linda Rowinski (2012) on the county board helm was heralded as a “return of amity,” but it didn’t turn out that way.
Entrepreneur Tom Cormier’s plan (2010) to revive the Oneonta Theatre as a concert venue was an exciting one, and had traction for a few years before collapsing.
Arguably, the Oneonta Charter Commission was visionary in professionalized governance (2011) through creating a city-manager position. But three failed or iffy city-manager tenures later, the City Fathers and Mothers are looking for a greater role for elected officials.
Still, these have been learning efforts. While economic developer Sandy Mathes’ energy didn’t prevent his forced departure, his successor – the more low-key Jody Zakrevsky – has been able to move Mathes initiatives forward. Plus, Mathes – and Seward – underscored the importance of jobs, jobs, jobs.
Not all promising initiatives succeed. As John Kennedy declared in his Boston brogue: “Why do we go to the moon? Not because it is easy – but because it is HAWED.”
One thought: Over 15 years, Otsego County – north and south – has been operating as more of a unit, with much more communication and collaboration between Oneonta and Cooperstown.
At first, it made sense to have separate Hometown Oneonta and Freeman’s Journal Citizens of the Year. No more, with Senator Seward, the Hager family (hops yards in Pierstown, Northern Eagle’s new brewery in West Oneonta), Stacie Haynes, serving distressed animals countywide, with Oneontans working at Bassett, and Cooperstonians at the colleges, a single county agenda made more and more sense.
Another thought: While eight of the first 10 Citizens were men, six of the last nine were women.
That brings to mind a quibble: In the recent efforts to fill state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s county board seat, both Republicans and Democrats declared it should be filled by a woman.
Folks, that battle’s been won; we can knock it off. The “little ladies” are beyond needing a leg up. They’ve fully arrived.
With MacGuire Benton’s election to the Cooperstown Village Board in a hard-fought race, and county Rep. Clark Oliver’s elevation to county Democratic chairman, it seems the county’s gay community is also claiming its proper place in our public life.
Fifteen years of recognizing our fellow citizens’ strivings to achieve, to solve problems, to realize visions, to meet challenges, demonstrate that imperfect human beings can do great things, whether they pursue us or are thrust upon us.
As COVID’s first anniversary approaches, the 42 Citizens provide reasons for pride and hope.
WE can overcome.
►FROM GARRETSON TO BOND, GREATNESS PURSUED
Tom Garretson: Cherry Valley town supervisor led opposition to industrial-scale windmills.
Carol Waller: She proved to be Cooperstown’s “Little Mayor That Could” during record attendance at Cal Ripken Induction.
• Hometown Oneonta: The Centennial Committee – Tom Klemow, Kevin Herrick and Mayor John Nader – which organized city’s 100th-anniversary celebration that ended in a knock-out parade.
• The Freeman’s Journal:
Penney Gentile; her son Chris’ death in a Holy Thursday car crash spurred her campaign to make drivers’ education mandatory in state’s schools.
• The Freeman’s Journal: Reinventing 22 Main – Mayor Joe Booan, Trustees Eric Hage, Willis Monie Jr., Neil Weiller. Republicans took control of Village Board and vowed clean-sheet look at Cooperstown government.
• Hometown Oneonta: John Nader, who resigned as mayor when he was promoted to SUNY Delhi provost (he is now SUNY Farmingdale president), but not before the Bresee’s renovation was assured.
• Hometown Oneonta: Tom Cormier – Entrepreneur bought Oneonta Theatre, launched
• The Freeman’s Journal: Adrian Kuzminski, activist led
local fight against fracking.
• Hometown Oneonta: 12-person City Charter Commission recommended professional city manager, got idea through referendum. Dave Rissberger, chairman; John Dudek, Martha
Forgiano, Karen Geasey, Tom
Kelly, Larry Malone, Steve Londner, Sarah Patterson, Paul Scheele, Kay StuliGross, Kathy Wolverton, Laurie Zimniewicz.
• The Freeman’s Journal: “Farmers of the Future” – Hartwick beef farmer Chris Harmon’s profile launched monthly profiles of futuristic farmers over 2012.
New amity on county Board of Representatives hailed as County Reps. Kathy Clark, chairman, Kay Stuligross, and Linda Rowinski took over leadership.
Jim Seward, “Building a
Consensus on a Properous
Future,” as former Greene County Economic Developer Sandy Mathes prepared to lead
The Hager Family, “Reviving the Golden Age of Hops.”
“Fighting The Scourge: They Opened Four Fronts Against Heroin Tide”: County Judge
Brian Burns, now Supreme
Court judge; Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, LEAF executive Julie Dostal; District Attorney
Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich: “Beacon on Oyaron Hill,” as record $32 million fund drive came to a successful conclusion.
Pastor Sylvia (now kEVLIN): “Gethsemane & Back,” as new Milford Methodist Church building was rising after fire razed former church that March.
Stacie Haynes: “For The Love Of Misty,” a childhood pet who nurtured a love of animals, and inspired drive to build new Susquehanna Animal Shelter,
now rising on Route 28, Index.
Meg Kennedy: “The Kennedy Method,” where county board vice chairman, first local rep to serve on NYSAC board, built momentum behind county-manager system.
Heidi Bond: “General in the
COVID-19 Fight.” The county’s public health director led
contact-tracing, much more to limit disease’s spread.
By CHRYSTAL SAVAGE & LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
The good news: Residents and staff at Cooperstown Center are receiving the Pfizer vaccine, as have 900 Bassett Healthcare Network employees, who have so far received the Moderna vaccine.
The bad news: Five more people have died from COVID-19 this week, a weekly record, bringing the year-end toll to 17 deaths in the largest spike this month.
“They have all been sick for a while and were all hospitalized,” said Heidi Bond, Otsego County public health director.
Three were men, two women, all over age 55, and all had been hospitalized. One of them, said Bond, got sick after being exposed to someone who caught the virus at the Copper Fox in Oneonta.
“This person didn’t go to the bar, but they contracted the disease through secondary spread from someone who did,” she said.
Additionally, cases reached staff members at both Mel’s at 22 and The Otesaga’s Hawkeye Grill, leading to both shutting their doors until after the New Year.
“Until recently, we have been very fortunate that our Mel’s at 22 community has not been affected by COVID-19,” wrote Mel’s owner Brian Wrubleski in a Facebook posting on Christmas Eve.
“Last week one of our servers tested positive,” he continued. “In accordance with the best practices from the Department of Health, we have decided to remain closed until the New Year.
“This will give us time to make sure that all of our team members are safe and healthy before returning to serving you.”
Said Bond, “We don’t require businesses to close if a staff member tests positive for COVID. But we do recommend they close for at least 24 hours for cleaning.”
She was “unaware” of similar restaurant closures elsewhere in the county, although previously, Applebee’s, the Latte Lounge, Red’s Ale House, the Red Jug Pub and the Copper Fox, all in Oneonta, closed temporarily after COVID cases were reported among patrons and staff members.
At Centers, residents and staff began receiving the vaccine on Tuesday, Dec. 29.
“Seventy-six percent of residents received their first vaccine today,” said spokesman Jeffrey Jacomowitz. “We are anticipating all residents that have consented to the vaccine to have both doses by February.”
Walgreen’s is assisting with the vaccine distribution. “Thus far, neither residents nor staff has had any adverse reactions following administration of their vaccine,” he said.
At Bassett, Karen Huxtable-Hooker, Public and Media Relations Director, said that the network is awaiting a “formal invitation” from the state Department of Health to begin using the state’s prioritization schedule for vaccine distribution going forward.
But despite the rapid increase in vaccinations, Bond doesn’t expect cases themselves to decline any time soon.
“Any time now, cases from Christmas gatherings are going to start coming in,” she said. “We’ve already had some people who reported symptoms before the holidays, but gathered anyways.”
Those who have been identified as being in contact with a positive COVID case during the holidays are instructed to quarantine inside their home for 14 days, as they may only be eligible for a test if they begin showing symptoms.
“That means that you do not gather for New Year’s Eve, you do not leave the house for anything,” she said.
Sure, local governments and school districts can close their doors and send thousands of employees home Friday, March 13 – tax revenues will ensure they get paid.
Private enterprise is different. Your favorite diner or restaurant. That lively boutique or gift shop. They need your continuing support – in many cases, to simply survive.
Same goes for local institutions we rely on. The Catskill Symphony Orchestra had to cancel its Cabaret Concert Saturday, March 14, at SUNY’s Dewar Arena. Last year, that concert raised $47,000. Helios Care delayed its March 29 Epicurean Festival to the fall, forgoing $70,000 for now.
Click on the “Coronavirus Cancellations” icon on www.AllOTSEGO.com, and you’ll feel wistful not only about the fun delayed, but the support lost by our many cultural institutions.
If no one’s moving around, buying things or doing things, it won’t be long before our local economy will begin shedding staff. It’s simply addition and subtraction, P&L.
So, as individuals, let’s do what we can. Order takeout from local restaurants. Don’t wait to up your memberships to local institutions and organizations. Stay 6 feet away from the nearest fellow shopper, but don’t abandon local business to amazon.com.
It matters. Even for the longterm health of our schools.
Upstate’s recovery from the Great Recession is the weakeast of any U.S. region. According to a recent study. You can examine all the nooks of Upstate’s economy. Most every one is daubed with lackluster. Papered with anemic. Writ large with blah.
Upstaters grew accustomed to this long ago. Our motto should be “We’re Number One at being Number Fifty!”
Most of us know what would help revive Upstate. Lower taxes would. Fewer regulations would. Fewer mandates from an out-of-touch Albany bureaucracy would. A much slimmer state government would. Because the slimness would suck less money from Upstate taxpayers. The slimness would reduce the number of state government fingers in Upstate pies.
We tend to lead the nation in taxes and regulations. We lead the nation in making life difficult for businesses large and small. Don’t you wish we could lead the nation in something else?
There is one move that would help Upstate.
Getting rid of downstate would.
The idea excites few. Lethargy pervades. (Maybe we lead the nation in lethargy too?) This is because upstaters know downstaters in the legislature would never allow us to split. And downstaters call the shots.
In other words, the guys who know and care nothing about Upstate decide Upstate’s fate. A good example of this is that Greens in the Big Apple are major voices in blocking fracking in our Southern Tier. Can you imagine Upstaters blocking projects on Staten Island? Upstaters opposed to tree-culling in the Hamptons? C’monnn.
Downstaters really do know nuttin’ about upstate. This is more than a laugh line at a party. Folks in Glen Cove and Oyster Bay really think Jamestown is only in Virginia. Utica really is another country to denizens of Commack. Syracuse and Binghamton are Fuhgettusville to dwellers of Brooklyn.
Oh yeah? Well, vice-versa to you too, buddy! Really. I mean, tell me all you know about the latest problems in Amityville and Islip.
Truth is, we don’t know and we don’t care that we don’t know. We feel so little allegiance to each other.
We New Yorkers have scant connections. We have no state TV or radio network. No statewide newspaper. And Upstate doesn’t even get its fair share of the state’s greatest industry: corruption. We don’t get no respect.
Splitting the state in two would work. Surely it would.
First, we would have less corruption in government. Because no new state could ever compete with the sleaze that oozes up the Hudson to Albany from the City and Long Island. Downstaters are simply too practiced in corruption for us.
Second, an Upstate government would be sensitive to Upstate issues and challenges. Its legislators and bureaucrats would more likely know how to locate Canandaigua without GPS.
Third, a separate Upstate might well end up with two political parties. As now composed, New York State has one.
Two parties, competing ideas? Hey, it might work!
This column goes to some heavies in the Big Apple. At this point I could write that they are all slobs. None of them would respond. Because none of them will have read this far. As soon as they saw the word “Upstate” they fell asleep.
A prime minister of Canada once mused that living in the attic of the U.S. was like sleeping with an elephant. The big fellow kept the bed warm, but when he rolled over…
This is the predicament of Upstaters.
If we all voted the same way and organized and outright demanded…
Oh, forget about it. Yawnsville. It would never work. We have met puny and he is us. Even in the corruption business. We could all contribute to raise a mountain of money to buy off the downstate legislators and governor. Yeah, but it would flop. Those birds are too accustomed to the big bribes. They would laugh at our paltry efforts. Not that they wouldn’t take the money.
From Tom…as in Morgan. Tom Morgan, the retired Oneonta financial adviser and syndicated columnist, lives in Franklin. His new novel, “The Last Columnist,” is available on amazon.com
Uncreative? With Full Plate,
That Might Be Just The Thing
‘I’m not creative,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky told the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its October meeting on the 3rd, as he began to deliver an “economic update” on the economic-development organization’s 2018 accomplishments.
While lacking creativity, Zakrevsky continued, he said he has the capacity to embrace someone else’s ideas and carry them to fruition.
Credit Zakrevsky with self-awareness and frankness, both virtues. Thinking about it further: The ability to carry great ideas forward may be just what’s needed right now in the local economic-development realm.
Zakrevsky’s predecessor, Sandy Mathes, was eminently creative; many of his initiatives are moving. Slow and steady implementation now might indeed win this race.
Among other things, Zakrevsky shared this very good news with the county board: Otsego Now has issued $11 million in bonds to Corning to expand its Life Sciences Plant in Oneonta; in return, the nation’s foremost glassmaker has committed to keeping 175 quality jobs in the city for at least 15 years.
Several other initiatives Zakrevsky shared with the county reps are important to pursue, such as a $750,000 grant sought toward Custom Electronics’ $2.2 million production line of futuristic self-recharging batteries. That’s 50 prospective jobs.
The batteries are used at disaster scenes, but also at movie shoots, to allow crew
to easily move sets when on location.
Of course, better batteries – in effect,
power storage – are essential as we shift
Another big challenge, of course, is moving forward redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards; six site plans have been developed over the past few months. Also new, Otsego Now has gotten the state to designate a big chunk of the railyards as a new type of “opportunity zone,” providing tax breaks to prospective employers.
Also, Zakrevsky said, he is working with an unnamed “existing manufacturing company” on a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Oneonta Business Park (formerly Pony Farm) that promises to create 300 new jobs, with construction due to begin next year. He pointed out that 10 buildings in the park (only one owned by Otsego Now) are occupied, and only three available lots remain.
The Route 205 corridor through the Town of Oneonta is underway, necessary before the state DOT can upgrade that sometimes-congested stretch. And an airport study – Zakrevsky said consultants have promised its completion by Dec. 23 – may pave the way for county participation, as is proper, in what’s been a City of Oneonta facility.
There’s a lot more, including comprehensive master plan updates in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs and lately Schenevus.
Zakrevsky also heralded the creation, finally, of a one-stop shop for economic development in Otsego Now headquarters on the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta.
Michelle Catan of the state Small Business Development Center has been joined in recent months by the Otsego County chamber; Southern Tier 8, the regional planning agency, and CADE, the Center for Agriculture, Development & Entrepreneurism.
If you remember, the keynoter at the second “Seward Summit” in November 2013, Dick Sheehy, manager/site selection, for CMH2Mhill, an international industrial recruiter, said a one-stop shop is an essential prerequisite to economic development.
Of course, putting loosely related entities on the same floor doesn’t, in itself, mean a one-stop shop exists. But at least proximity makes a tight, broad, comprehensive economic-development recruitment effort possible. Be still, beating hearts.
As we’re now all aware, if we’ve been paying attention, our county, from Greater Oneonta to Cooperstown, lacks sufficient natural gas and electricity even to meet current needs, much less recruit new employers, and Zakrevsky has become the lightning rod for that undertaking.
Otsego Now is seeking $3.5 million toward a natural gas decompression plant in Pony Farm, and its president has taken the brunt of criticism – and legal threats – from anti-gas adherents. He has to be unapologetically tough to keep that moving forward, and his board members need to get behind him publicly in a united front.
Regrettably, Sandy Mathes left too soon. But we have to move forward regardless.
From the railyards to Oneonta’s $14 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (the state’s DRI) to the potential 300-job distribution center at Schenevus, another Mathes initiative, Mathes left Zakrevsky plenty to do.
To the degree that slow and steady wins the race, Zakrevsky, who is reaching retirement age within a few months, can do a lot. His report to the county Board of Representatives was, simply, promising. Amid fears economic-development had been set back a generation, there’s reason to believe our economic-development challenges can, to some degree, be met.
Let’s go for it!
You know, of course:
Creativity is making something out of nothing.
Or, better, recognizing potential where nobody else does.
The scoop in last week’s paper is a case in point: A group calling itself The Market Street Alliance is proposing a distillery in the former Oneonta Ford building, that dreary, long-empty, black-painted hulk at the foot of Chestnut Street, across from Foothills.
But that’s just the beginning: The idea is to make it a centerpiece for a downtown Oneonta transformed into a beverage center, with breweries, wineries, even mead-makers. (Yes, mead, that honey-based brew quaffed by King Hrothgar and his knights.)
The local CPA and investor in the prospective distillery, Johna Peachin, got the idea from a visit to her son in Walla Walla, Wash., where she participated in a
monthly Sip & Stroll event.
At the Walla Walla – “twice as nice,” promoters say – Downtown Foundation, Events Manager Cindy Frost says her region is
being marketed these days as
“The New Napa Valley.”
There are over 100 wineries in the Walla Walla valley, and three-dozen wineries have tasting rooms in the downtown, attracting top-tier restaurants and hotels there.
Last summer, the foundation came up with the idea of the Sip & Stroll, which has just finished its second May-to-September season.
One evening a month, the wineries waive the fee on their tastings, and about 100 people have been buying $10 tickets to partake. Many participants, of course, then buy a glass or two, shop, dine, etc., making it worthwhile for the downtown establishments.
The evening’s a magnet, which is what every downtown wants.
The $1,000 revenue is used to promote the event, Frost said.
Peachin said she and fellow investors have a sales agreement with the Twelve Tribes, the religious community that owns the adjacent Yellow Deli.
She mentioned Ken Wortz, an owner of Kymar Distillery in Charlotteville, Delaware County, as an investor. And landlord Brian Shaughnessy and businessman Al Rubin accompanied her to the July 26 Otsego Now meeting where the original pitch was made.
The timeliness may not be great – just a few days before this news broke, Peachin had exploded negotiations between the Town of Oneonta Fire District and City Hall. City officials may not be too interested in accommodating her right now.
Still, the idea is intriguing.
Hold on a minute.
As outlined on this week’s front page, City Hall and the DRI (the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative), see the Oneonta Ford site as THE prime prospect for Artspace.
Artspace is that Minneapolis-based national entity that has been creating combinations of housing and studio space for artists across the nation since 1987. (Check www.artspace.org; very exciting.)
The colleges are active partners, seeing Artspace as a way to attract students; City Hall, as a way to keep them here after graduation. Doesn’t downtown Oneonta as an art magnet sounds much more enticing than Oneonta as a beer and liquor magnet, which, to a degree, it already is?
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig low-keys it: It’s the preferred site, but if the Twelve Tribes has another deal, the DRI, the most exciting news for the City of the Hills in a century, will just look somewhere else.
Come on. Are we serious or aren’t we? The state has already committed $3.5 million to cleaning up the Oneonta Ford property and building something new there, with more – likely – to come.
Enough dithering. Common Council should man and woman up, condemn what’s been an eyesore and a hazard for decades, pay the fair market value, and get started.
The Peachin group may make it work; but it may not.
If it doesn’t, the site could be locked up for decades to come. Our great-grandchildren will be seeing the same mess we are today, only moreso. Does anyone want that?
If Peachin’s creativity spurs City Hall – finally – into action, she certainly will deserve the community’s thanks and
Recently, nearly 100 people crowded the Oneonta Town Hall to respond to a report by Otsego Now head, Jody Zakrevsky, about the controversial gas decompression station proposed for Oneonta.
The backlash was overwhelming. A long series of speakers unanimously condemned the project and demanded instead a full-scale effort to transition to renewables as soon as possible.
As the speakers pointed out, a myriad of solutions exist to the problem of inadequate natural-gas supply affecting some institutions and businesses in Oneonta. We heard about retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, replacing gas and oil furnaces with heat exchange systems, and developing local renewable energy sources, including solar and wind.
This isn’t pie in the sky. The Otsego County Conservation Association, for instance, is currently supporting a NYSERDA-funded program, Heat Smart Otsego, to promote the financial and environmental benefits of currently available non-fossil fuel technologies. Check it out.
The speakers also made clear the gravity of this issue.
We’re not just talking about inconvenience, higher costs, or limits to local economic development. We’re talking about a global crisis increasingly affecting us all.
The inability of our local community to do its part in getting us off fossil fuels is symptomatic of a larger political failure which is dangerous to our future. We have mostly relied on someone else to deal with this problem, usually in Albany or Washington.
They haven’t done the job, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to, at least not unless they’re prodded from below.
Yes, our community continues to be divided over energy policy. The editorial in last week’s edition of this paper characterized speakers at the town of Oneonta meeting as “anti-gas true believers.”
There were a couple of strident speakers, as with any large group, but nearly all were thoughtful people pointing out the very real and harmful consequences of using more gas.
Mike Zagata in last week’s paper also misinforms the public by talking about “clean-burning natural gas,” when in fact there’s no such thing. The combustion of natural gas unavoidably produces CO2, a polluting greenhouse gas. Zagata admits as much by worrying if plant growth will absorb the extra CO2.
Even worse, he ignores the seepage of methane from wells, pipes and compressors, which adds another, more potent greenhouse gas to the mix, making natural gas as bad as any other fossil fuel.
By contrast, Zakrevsky, to his credit, bemoaned his fate at the Town of Oneonta meeting, confessing to the crowd his own confusion and lack of expertise. He was hired to promote local economic development, he noted, not to make energy policy. He’s exactly right. He and Otsego Now are not qualified to make energy policy and should not be tasked with that burden.
What was painfully obvious at the meeting was the lack of coordination among capable parties interested in developing a local energy plan. Currently we have groups too often confined to their respective silos – elected officials, economic development people, the local business community, the colleges, the hospitals, the environmentalists, etc.
Each of them is working on their piece of the elephant. What’s lacking is an effective mechanism for combining their resources and talents to develop a plan for all of us.
In my last column I mentioned the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap (Google it!) as a precedent for what should happen here. That initiative began in 2010 as part of a Tompkins County Energy Strategy for 2020. It was first developed as a project by Cornell graduate students.
In 2014, a steering committee was formed composed of individuals “who represent the breadth of experience, interest and perspectives within the community regarding our energy future.” The draft Energy Roadmap was then presented to numerous community groups and has since become the focus of Tompkins county energy policy.
This Energy Roadmap doesn’t rely on hiring expensive outside consultants, who are often ignorant of local circumstances; nor does it narrow options by handing authority to a single, unprepared agency. Instead it utilizes the expertise already found in a variety of existing organizations and individuals.
We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.
Let me suggest, again, that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.
The point is to get key people in the same room and tackle the problem. It’s up to the County Board to make this happen. The time is NOW.
Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.
When Otsego Now Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky was Schoharie County economic developer, a Canadian firm was a half-step away from buying long-vacant Guilford Mills, that rambling complex to the right of I-88 as you drive to Albany.
All that was lacking was a letter from the mayor, assuring the company would be guaranteed sufficient power to conduct business.
Such a letter was forthcoming, but the last line read, “except in case of flood.”
As you can imagine, the president of the Canadian company saw that and the deal was dead. Who would want to invest millions in a complex where, “in case of flood,” production could come to a standstill?
Oh, poor Otsego County.
Our poverty rate (16.3 percent) is a couple of points higher than the state (14.7) and national (14), per http:/datausa.io, interesting site.
Our median household income ($49,609) is substantially lower than the state ($62,908) and nation ($57,617).
Our population is declining (0.68 percent), almost three times as fast as the state’s (0.26). Nationally, population is rising (0.53).
And it’s been proved we lack the energy – in particular, natural gas – needed to attract economic development here.
In fact, a team put together by Otsego Now – it includes Lou Allstadt, no natural-gas groupie (quite the opposite) – has been meeting with NYSEG President Taylor over the past few months on this very issue.
Today, the county gets natural gas through a pipeline from DuRuyter, near Cortland, but the line is old and too narrow. NYSEG pledged to expand it, and obtained a rate increase to finance it – the pricetag is an astonishing $100 million – but is backing away.
Then, the energy cavalry arrives, in the form of a sensible idea!
Instead of waiting for NYSEG to act (or not), why not install a gas decompression station, perhaps in the former Pony Farm (the Oneonta Commerce Park, right off Interstate 88’s Exit 13)?
Otsego Now thought so, and has applied for a $3 million CFA grant to help pay for the cost, perhaps $17 million (maybe somewhat less).
Prudently, Jody Zakrevsky asked to brief the Oneonta Town Board at its regular meeting last week, to make sure it was in the loop. When he arrived, 100 of our region’s anti-gas true believers were there to grill him and paint nightmare scenarios.
We’ve seen this drill before. But we shouldn’t take it to mean there’s widespread local opposition to the idea.
Sustainable Otsego and similar environmental groups have powerful social-media tools that can summon the troops at short notice. If anything, 100 is a paltry number, given the 300+ brought to those 2015 hearings on the Constitution Pipeline.
According to Oneonta Town Supervisor Bob Wood, about half the crowd was local, but some came from as far away as Ithaca, 75 miles. Another, quoted on www.AllOTSEGO.com, was from Oxford, 45 miles and a county away.
Town board members didn’t have to make any decision that night, but Wood estimates they are split, 2-2. If funding comes through, the plant will probably need a Zoning Board of Appeals vote; this was just a prelude.
At base, the decompression station is a sensible, low-impact way to overcome the key obstacle to economic development.
Lacking a pipeline like the Constitution, gas is being compressed so, as a liquid, it can be transported in tanker trucks to a decompression station, then turned back into gas and delivered to customers through existing gas lines.
Many sensible people object to too-big XNG gas trucks traversing two-lane Routes 205 and 80, and they’re right. Two rigs so far have toppled over due to soft shoulders. But this plan would allow gas trucks to stay on I-88 except for a quick left and a second quick left into Pony Farm. Just what most people want.
Zakrevsky estimates two, maybe three trucks a winter would be required so that Oneonta’s major institutions – the colleges, Fox Hospital and the like – would no longer be on an “interruptible” regimen. Right now, whenever there’s a cold snap – a couple of weeks a winter – they have to shift to more-expensive and more-polluting fuel oil.
Even better, the decompression station would assure a dependable energy source to anyone seeking to locate at the D&H yards, which has everything else – space, rail, proximity to an Interstate and airport.
Let’s not be Cobleskill. Let’s not declare, “except in case of flood.” The numbers, and what we see around us, prove it: We need more and better jobs.
Let’s not be diverted. When an opportunity arises, let’s declare, “Otsego County: Open for Business,” and mean it.
It’s amazing that the natural gas opponents all talk about wanting to protect the environment by moving from natural gas to “renewables.” Is it that they are misinformed or have an agenda?
It’s difficult to tell, but here’s what the science tells us. Natural gas, or methane, is naturally occurring. It is emitted from volcanoes, manure piles and humans. It is the cleanest burning fuel yielding carbon dioxide and water.
If we remember our high school biology, it is carbon dioxide and water that green plants use in the process of photosynthesis to produce oxygen and sugar – two very important products for humankind and all animals that breathe oxygen and consume green plants containing sugar for food.
To date, we don’t know if those green plants, found on land and in fresh and marine waters, aren’t able to process the carbon dioxide that is being produced. If there was more of it, could green plants produce more oxygen and sugar, or if there was more than they could process would it affect the climate?
Answering those questions will take some good minds and pretty heavy-duty computers.
Because the proposed Constitution Pipeline has not been built and there is an increasing demand for clean-burning natural gas, companies are looking for ways to serve customers.
One of those ways involves compressing the natural gas to reduce its volume and then transporting it in specially developed canisters. That approach is being used in our area and some people are concerned about it.
Here’s what we know. There have been accidents with trucks carrying this gas and there haven’t been any releases – the safety mechanisms built into the trucks and containers have worked as expected. That is a good thing.
Is the same true for the fuel oil, propane and gasoline trucks that have traveled our highways for decades? There have been accidents and spills, but not the outcry facing the current use of trucks to transport natural gas. Why is that?
Institutions and businesses in Oneonta are facing curtailment during periods of unusual cold and heat.
What that means is that there isn’t enough gas being delivered by NYSEG to meet current needs – no less to support any new demand that might arise if a business that could provide jobs wanted to locate here. As it stands right now, they won’t locate here because there isn’t enough natural gas or three-phase power.
Some say Otsego Now should be condemned for trying to remedy that situation. Instead, they would like to form a committee to study it and dilute the momentum – the oldest trick in the book. If you want to delay something, form a committee of folks with widely different opinions and interests.
The anti-fossil fuel crowd will tell us renewables are the environmental panacea – they are without issues. Really, now?
It takes about 20 acres of solar panels to produce enough electricity for about 1,000 households – and we still need fossil fuels to produce the electricity needed to heat or cool our homes at night and to recharge our electric vehicles as off-peak power is cheaper.
New York’s population is about 20 million. If we multiply 20 acres by 20 million and then divide by 1,000 we get 400,000 – the number of acres that would be covered by the solar panels needed to produce enough daytime only electricity for New Yorkers.
That’s 400,000 acres that used to be forests, farmland and wildlife habitat. And what about having to dispose of the hazardous wastes in the solar panels that once produced electricity?
We could use hydro-power, but that means building dams that impede the progress of fish trying to move upstream to spawn.
We could use wind power, but that means using windmills that kill migrating birds.
We could use woody biomass, but that, along with the other “renewable” energy projects that have been brought forward for this area, was shot down by those who oppose anything that might lead to prosperity for our area.
All of a sudden, it isn’t so simple – in fact it’s downright complicated and might take some time to get it right. In the meantime, we have an abundant supply of gas – natural gas or methane – to serve as a bridge to get us where we all want to be – warm or cool depending on the time of year and pollution free.
Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.
Let’s not be prophets of doom, but we’re all thinking people who can more or less put the pieces of the puzzle together.
In her March 29-30 column, our colleague,
columnist Cathe Ellsworth, alerted us to an
Albany Business Review report that Upstate
New York lost 2 percent of its population
between 2011 and 2015. Seven counties gained population; 20 lost it.
In our general area, Tompkins County – home of Cornell and Ithaca College – surprisingly lost the second most, 5.1 percent or 5,294 people. Our Otsego County was 11th on the list, losing 2.26 percent or 1,408 people.
The next week on our front page came the story, “Utility Retreats From Gas Pipeline Upgrade,” reporting how the utility serving our county, NYSEG, has backed away from upgrading the DeRuyter natural-gas line that runs to Sidney and then Oneonta, even though it received a rate increase to do so a couple of years ago.
In the article, Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky reaffirmed NYSEG can’t provide enough natural gas – or electricity, either – that any new manufacturer of any size would require to move here.
A Chinese company looking to establish a manufacturing plant somewhere in the U.S. came calling a few months ago, Zakrevsky continued. “We had proximity to an Interstate, water, sewer – but we could not meet their energy demands, either electrical or gas,” he said. “…Without that power, we’re limiting our ability to compete.”
The news hook for the story was a meeting state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, hosted at his Albany office in mid-March for local business and community leaders to make a plea to NYSEG’s new president, Carl Taylor.