Mayor Barlow: Excitement Pumps Through CityDowntown Revitalization Initiative to unfold in 2017
By Lou Sorendo
The city of Oswego was awarded $10 million as part of New York state’s competitive Downtown Revitalization Initiative program. The plan looks to pump excitement into the Port City. City of Oswego Mayor William “Billy” Barlow gives readers a look on where that money should be spent.
Q.: What do you believe put the city of Oswego plan “over the top” for it to be selected for Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds?
A.: We developed a very diverse, multi-faceted plan with three core principals. We selected six “anchor” projects that we believe will spur economic development in our downtown in strategic locations to help connect and strengthen the core of our downtown.
These projects primarily focused on leveraging private investment based on the ambition of the property owner, total amount of private investment from the business owner, job creation and retention and diversity of product. We wanted these buildings and businesses to draw people downtown to visit while also including projects with a housing component as we try to attract more people, Millennials specifically, to live downtown.
We also mixed in a municipal planning and downtown beautification component with our state Route 104 Complete Streets project and some small business building facade programs.
Lastly, we discussed the progress, energy and momentum currently in our community and explained how some help from or state government could be just what we need to propel Oswego into a modern Upstate New York attraction in the 21st Century.
Q.: In order of priority, what are the proposed key anchor projects associated with the $10 million DRI?
A.: As mayor, setting out to designate “anchor” projects was almost like trying to pick a favorite child. We have some great investors and ambitious business owners in our community but we had to be realistic and strategic when picking these potential economic development projects, and all six projects are important and unique in different ways.
The Harbor View Square/Flexo Wire site I believe is important when discussing waterfront development. The West Pier Landing and Cahill Building projects are historic sites critical to riverfront development as we try to connect the river walk up to the Water Street area into downtown.
The Buckhout-Jones Building is home to the Children’s Museum of Oswego on a crucial corner at West First and Bridge streets.
The Midtown Plaza site is vital to enhancing and reinvigorating the east side. We also discussed small business development via a business incubator through the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency at the former Price Chopper site off East Cayuga Street.
So it is important that we see progress with each site and we ultimately hope these sites make it through to the final plan with sizable financial allocations.
Q.: How will that money be leveraged to attract private sector investment and job creation?
A.: Our plan focused on leveraging private funds to complement public investment. We explained that with our anchor projects, we could take the $10 million and leverage more investment from it.
We focused on the idea of gap financing and demonstrated specifically how a local business developer could start and complete a project with his or her own investment if they had some concrete backing from another funding source.
These projects are multi-million dollar projects and we expect the private investor to take the lead and push the project through to fruition.
Therefore, they had to demonstrate their “gap.” If they invested, lets say, $4 million into a $5 million project, and needed the $1 million difference to see the project through, those were the projects we took seriously and considered.
Q.: In regards to public sentiment, what sense are you getting from the people as to how to allot the funds? Can any deviation from the original plan be expected based on public sentiment?
A.: Absolutely. We made it clear to New York state that we wanted our residents involved in the process from beginning to end. In fact, the proposal has drastically changed already due to the feedback from the public.
No allocation is set in stone quite yet and we’ve added some other projects like the proposed water park into consideration based on the public’s enthusiasm.
The public is also very interested in seeing the Midtown Plaza site developed along with the Cahill building. I also believe the public wants to see our Complete Streets project move forward, beautifying state Route 104 through our downtown and make West First to West Fifth streets more pedestrian friendly and easier to cross in order to help those businesses north of 104.
Q.: What is it going to take to make the DRI a success in the city of Oswego?
A.: I believe the final allocations need to be made to developers and investors who are serious and dedicated to seeing these anchor projects through. We need to have projects completed and open for business after this $10 million investment.
We need projects that provide folks with options to live in downtown Oswego, give our residents a reason to regularly visit downtown Oswego and provide people from other areas a reason to visit downtown Oswego.
When we make progress in those three areas, I believe the private investment engine will turn on, economic development will happen more naturally and the business climate in downtown Oswego will become more vibrant, more diverse and much more durable.
Q.: How long before residents of the city as well as tourists realize some of the upgrades associated with the DRI?
A.: We have one more public engagement meeting where we will reveal what we consider to be the final plan before we submit it back to New York state.
That meeting will be held in the middle of February and we intend to send it off to the state by March. We fully expect the first batch of funding to come sometime this summer, but of course, it is always subject to change. There are four different parties — Stantec, our planning team assigned by the state; the Department of State, the city of Oswego and the public — all working together to form the best plan, and the process has gone very smooth so far.
Q.: Can you update us on the Route 104 Complete Streets project? Is that part of the DRI?
A.: The Complete Streets project is a major part of the DRI and I fully expect some serious allocations made to the Complete Streets project, particularly along state Route 104 through the heart of our downtown. I believe that calming traffic along 104 through our downtown and beautifying our main corridor is essential to encouraging people to visit downtown and further stimulate business in the area.
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