Editor’s Note: This is reprinted from this week’s Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta editorial pages. Click here for related editorial. What do you think? Letters to the Editor welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
In a couple of weeks, we won’t remember that Cooperstown’s Main Street is a ghost town from Columbus Day to Memorial Day. The 500,000 visitors will begin arriving in earnest with Dreams Parks’ June 1 opening.
By the time we again become Coopers(ghost)town, the opportunity will have been lost.
The opportunity, of course, is 100 Main St., a gap in the village’s set of most perfect teeth since CVS moved to the southern edge of the village in November 2017 –yes, it’s almost been two years.
The story is it’s been vacant this long because the owner, Constance Gilson of Belmont, Mass., had a lease with CVS for $14,000 a month rent through April, then through August; now, the word is the lease will expire in September.
Since CVS and the Cooperstown General Store closed within weeks of each other, downtown Cooperstown is no longer a destination for year-’round residents.
(That doesn’t mean there aren’t big, although focused, successes: Fred Lemister and Andrew Oberitter’s wine and liquor stores, the Grady boys’ astonishing Stagecoach Coffee, but – regrettably – they are the exception. More than ever, baseball shops are shutting for the winter. Notable exception: Mickey’s Place – thanks, Vinnie Russo.)
If the CVS, an anchor property, becomes just another baseball store – even worse, a mega-one – it’ll be a lot harder for downtown to struggle back to a multi-purpose community center. Plus, it will jeopardize the smaller, Cooperstown-committed shop owners, including this beam of hope, the four women’s dress shops – LJ’s Sassy Boutique, Kate’s Upstate, Ellsworth & Sill, and May’s All About The Girls.
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and Trustees Dean, Dewey, Falk, Sternberg, and newcomers Benton Maguire and Joe Membrino: BUY IT!!
For the past five years, the village has been garnering $400,000+ in new revenues from paid parking. The streets are largely repaired. Issue a bond, buy 100 Main and redevelop it as a center of a reborn downtown.
We can’t, the mayor and some trustees will immediately tell you. We’d have to issue an RFP (request for proposals) and give a contract to the highest bidder, who can then do whatever he/she likes.
There are two options.
One, the village would be able to structure the RFP in a way that bidders would be required to develop a multi-purpose retail property at affordable rates – that’s the problem now: only stores serving the tourists can afford to locate on Main Street. This new enterprise would be a magnet for general purpose retail.
Two, the trustees could form a Local Development Corp. which would include a similar goal – a hub for general purpose retail – in its trustee-defined mission. Sure, the Village Board would lose some control of the property’s development, but it would appoint the LDC’s board, and could appoint people sympathetic to the need for a general purpose downtown.
Hey, why not sit down with Perry Ferrara, who put together an investment group five years ago to build a hotel downtown, and come up with something that includes multi-purpose retail. A year-‘round hotel right on Main Street would certainly help businesses thrive year-‘round. Perhaps, under the right circumstances, he’d be interested in putting apartments above first-floor retail.
A hotel would bring some people downtown year-’round. Apartments might be even better. It’s generally understood if you get people living downtown, downtowns will revive – Oneonta is acting on that understanding. Maybe market-rate apartments above mixed-retail on the first floor.
Yes, yes, yes – downtowns are challenged these days due to the dominance of Emperor Amazon. Downtowns, and everything else. But pick up a copy of Preservation, the National Trust’s magazine, and you see example after example of community after community rebuilding their centers by restoring and repurposing their historic buildings, enhanced by strong merchant groups, frequent promotions – remember the village’s lovely Christmas-time Victorian Stroll? – and off-season festivals.
Think Skaneateles, Cazenovia, Balston Spa, Saratoga, Lake Placid. Plus, we have the Baseball Hall of Fame, the museums most of the year, and the year’-round aura of such summertime attractions to develop the missing piece: year-‘round livability.
The Village Board has been pouring millions of dollars into upgrading the infrastructure – new streets, sidewalks, lampposts (with LED bulbs), water pipes and sewerage, including a fancy redo of Pioneer Park. That’s great, but if there’s no one to put trash in the multi-thousand-dollar computerized receptacles, what’s the point?
Not all, but most of the village trustees in recent years have, disastrously, been piously anti-business, routinely roughing up Matt Hazzard when he was Cooperstown Chamber executive, and steadfastly adhering to a church-state philosophy.
Merchants are just one of their many constituencies, some trustees will tell you, straight-faced. We don’t want to pick winners and losers, they’ll tell you. So we all lose.
There’s rot at the core.
And that rot is 100 Main St. Embrace it. Buy it. Develop it as a centerpiece of a future Cooperstown that all the trustees should want. Don’t say it can’t happen; get started.