2021 STATE OF CITY ADDRESS
He Looks Forward COVID’s
End, New Projects Planned
Editor’s Note: This evening, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig is delivering his sixth “State of the City” address to Common Council at City Hall, where he said “thank you” to his constituents for how they’ve pulled together against COVID-19, and detailed programs about to go into high gear, including the demolition of the former Oneonta Ford as part of Market Street’s renewal. This is the text.
By GARY HERZIG • Mayor, City Of Oneonta
Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
2020 was a year that Oneonta will always remember – not only for the unprecedented challenges it brought – but also for the way we came together to overcome them. From the shutdown of the spring, to the SUNY outbreak of the Fall, and now the second wave of the Winter, we have stuck together and we are getting to the other side.
I know that Oneontans are independent-minded folks – never shy about letting you know when they disagree with you – but we come together as one when times are tough. I could not be more proud of your doing so this past year.
On March 17, I sat in this room for our last in-person Council meeting. I spoke about there being many unknowns ahead and that we faced a potential shutdown of all we take for granted. I said at that time that we may be tested in ways we have never before been tested.
I am proud to say, “Together, we passed that test with flying colors”.
Here in Oneonta, we kept our infection rate amongst the lowest in New York State and to all of you, I say, “Thank you”. You did so with self-sacrifice and caring. Yet still, let us not forget that, sadly, to date we have lost 23 members of our Otsego County community. For their families and friends, we are all saddened.
Our “Survive, then Thrive” initiative this year brought people of all walks of life together – to support our local businesses with grants, outdoor dining and shopping, marketing, and a new priority list for making sure Oneonta does Thrive when the cloud of COVID is lifted. And for that I say, “Thank you”.
When the SUNY outbreak hit, we came together, with the support of our county Health Department, Governor Cuomo, and Chancellor Malatras, to stop the outbreak of more than 700 cases at SUNY Oneonta before it could spread to the greater community. And for that I say, “Thank you”.
Our business community, with leadership from the Otsego Chamber and Destination Oneonta, has been nothing short of remarkable – showing innovation and resilience with a “We are all in this together” approach. And for that I say, “Thank you”.
And I am also proud that, in these distressing times, so many in Oneonta have raised their voices against hate, racism, and bigotry. To the many individuals and groups – Our Oneonta Chapter of the NAACP, our City Commission on Community Relations and Human Rights, the Oneonta Pride Community, Oneonta for Equality Community, and more – who have stood up and spoken out, I say, “Thank you”. And I commend the more than 40 people who have been working with our Community Advisory Board and the Oneonta Police Department to make a good police department even better. We await their report by April 1, 2021.
The post-COVID world will certainly be different and it will create new opportunities for some communities. When the doors open in 2021, Oneonta will be coming out of the gate running. The strong partnerships we have built between our business community, local government, our friends in Albany, our colleges, and our not-for-profits will serve us well. Through 2020’s fog of COVID, we have been busy putting together the pieces that will allow us to move from Survive to Thrive:
- We are now seeing new signs and facades sprouting up on about a dozen of our downtown businesses. Expect to see dozens more by spring. We are very proud to be able to help our business owners in this effort. And look for new Directory Signs coming this spring as well.
- No community can succeed without a diversity of quality housing. We know that this has been a tough challenge for Oneonta for more than 50 years. I am proud to say that we are now helping four local investors in their efforts to turn vacant downtown upper floors into quality market-rate housing.
- In partnership with New York State, Kearney Development and Hartwick College, we look to break ground for the Lofts on Dietz Street. This project will provide quality affordable apartments for middle income households and artists. It will bring people, vibrancy, diversity, and customers to our downtown.
- And, I want to talk about The Hartwick College Grain Innovation Center because it is truly a win-win-win – providing local farmers, brewers, and bakers with research and testing services while students get real-life learning experiences. And it will bring new energy to our downtown. And to Hartwick College, I say, “Thank You” for believing in and investing in the City of Oneonta.
- At tonight’s meeting, our Council will discuss and, I hope, endorse a plan to demolish the blight at the corner of Market Street and lower Chestnut Street; create a new Transit Hub; and renovate our Market Street Parking Garage.
- And here is a real challenge – and we are up for it: The Susquehanna River runs through our downtown but it is inaccessible – isolated by the construction of 1-88. In partnership with New York State and professional planners, we will undertake a Local Waterfront Revitalization Planning effort with the goal of making the Susquehanna waterfront accessible to the people of the City of Oneonta. Think bicycling, running, and walking along the river!
- We are partnering with the Greater Oneonta Historical Society, the Friends of the Oneonta Theater, and local investors in working to find ways to restore and reopen this historic jewel – it is vital to supporting the arts and the economy of Oneonta.
- We will continue to work in partnership with the Otsego County IDA with the goal of developing the Oneonta Rail Yard into a center for jobs and economic growth.
- Yes – West Street will be finally repaved.
- And, I will push to see that we finally build what has been one of the most requested items by the people of this City – a dog park in Neahwa.
And finally, I want to talk about the importance of our two colleges – Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta. Our relationships with both colleges are crucial to our success. The pandemic has demonstrated how, more than ever, it is important to foster the positive and constructive involvement of our students in our community – along with how important it is to confront and prevent negative behaviors that disrupt our neighborhoods. That message is now being communicated consistently by both of our colleges and in partnership with the City.
I am optimistic that, this year, we have created an opportunity to reset expectations and set the bar higher for the future. The expectation for all is to live as neighbors, support each other, and even party while respecting others. This is now a time of unique opportunity – one which we should not waste.
In closing, let me say that, just like Rocky the owl, “We have had a rough ride and we have survived. In 2021 and beyond, we shall spread our wings and thrive”.
Thank you to all the people of the City of Oneonta for working so hard in getting us through a year with challenges we could not have foreseen, and for giving us much to look forward to as we move ahead.