First and foremost, welcome back!
The half-million or so visitors who will be coming to Greater Cooperstown over the next 13 weeks – for Dreams Park and Cooperstown All-Star Village, for the Baseball Hall of Fame, for The Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers’ Museum and Hyde Hall, for Glimmerglass Opera, for fishing and boating and summering on Otsego Lake, for hiking and canoeing.
While our visitors are here, pretty much everybody prospers – the restaurants, stores, the rental and hospital business, banks, the hospitals and urgi-cares, every form of entertainment.
Because of you, our visitors, the rest of us get to experience things a rural area generally wouldn’t, from rock and roll (Herb Ritts at The Fenimore and Ommegang’s offerings) to chamber music and opera, baseball stars, to dozens of restaurants, many attractions, lots of golf courses and, of course, more fireworks per thousand population than any community in the country.
Thank you, and let’s all enjoy.
But while we enjoy like grasshoppers, we have to think like ants.
After Labor Day, the underlying realities of life in Otsego County will still be there – outmigration, declining towns, poverty and all the attendant problems there.
Which brings us back to a topic of a few weeks ago: The redevelopment of downtown Cooperstown so it continues to charm visitors and entice them back, but with enough housing, variety of stores and other attractions so locals will keep coming downtown once the summer ends and visitors, too, have to get on with the more serious challenges of life.
The original editorial – it called for the redevelopment of the now-vacant CVS building at 100 Main St. in Cooperstown downtown – drew some blowback, so the arguments undoubtedly could have been stated more diplomatically.
Here’s what’s happening: Since the loss of CVS (it moved to the south end of the village in November 2017) and the closing of the Cooperstown General Store within weeks, the downtown is often pretty much empty in the off season.
A photo taken with a long lens at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon in March showed no one on the sidewalk from the Cooperstown Diner to the flagpole. No one.
Mostly, the empty CVS, its lights on 24 hours a day, has been considered just an eyesore. Actually, it’s an opportunity, an opportunity to put a three-story building with stores on the ground floor and apartments above.
One, that would bring people downtown to live. Two, that would an important first step in allowing stores serving a year-‘round population to survive and perhaps prosper.
This would require Village Hall to take a leadership role, to negotiate a sale agreement and to seek enough state funding to make the site’s redevelopment attractive to a private developer.
That’s happening all across Upstate. Last week, an article was excerpted from BBJN.com on a downstate developer building apartments on a former Dollar General stores in Johnson City. This week, BBJN.com reported (see below) in a much more ambitious – but similar – undertaking north of here at the former Griffiss Air Force Base near Rome.
It’s happening all around us, and can happen in downtown Cooperstown, too.
It’s already happened in Oneonta.
A decade ago, the City of Oneonta, under the late Mayor Dick Miller, successfully did repurpose former Bresee’s Department Store, which today is a flourishing apartment building with retail on the ground floor.
As Miller explained it at the time, the cost of renovating Bresee’s was “X.” But the completed project would only generate “X” minus “Y” in revenue.
In other words, it would be unprofitable, and thus of no interest to private developers.
Through state grants and other measures, City Hall provided “Y,” and that allowed Corning developer Chip Klugo to renovate one of Oneonta’s keystone properties and operate it profitably since.
Today, Klugo is doing the same with the former Stevens Hardware Store next door.
Time is of the essence, so – reluctant as we may be at this time of year to get out of grasshopper mode – let’s shake it off and start thinking ant-like.
Let’s prepare that CFA application – CFAs applications, the main way to obtain state economic development funding, are due by mid-summer. Otsego Now, the county’s economic-development arm, would gladly help.
Negotiate for the building. Get the grant to close the gap Dick Miller defined. Find a developer. Job done.
Maybe there’s a visitor in the development sector ready this right now and, entranced by what he sees around him, would be interesting in taking on.
The inspiration for writing a second editorial so soon after the first was, admittedly, inspired by retired CCS teacher Rena Lull, who dropped off the December 1984 copy of Town & Country the other day, where Mary “Cissie” Busch Hager, now married, mother of adult children and residing in Fly Creek, took a T&C reporter on a tour of the downtown.
Yes, that was 35 years ago, but it shows the variety of stores that could succeed here and might, in some altered form, be recreated today.
The other day, we picked up the phone and called Constance Gilson of Brookline, Mass., who owns 100 Main
St., the former CVS building. She’s a lovely lady. Her parents had a summer home on Otsego Lake, and the family has many fond memories of long-ago days here.
She’s 91, she said, and not actively involved in managing real estate. But no doubt she, or her brother, who is more hands-on, would be open to a sensible proposal that might preserve Cooperstown of memory, and reinvent it for a new age.
Happily, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch has many fond memories of her own, and a native’s love of the Cooperstown that was. She’s THE ideal leader to make downtown what it should be and can be.
Perhaps a task force, perhaps chaired by Richard Sternberg, the retired physician and able trustee, would be a good way to get things moving.