Upstate cities have had varied experiences with their Downtown Revitalization Initiative awards
The five rounds of funding through the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative have brought hundreds of millions of dollars to downtowns across the state since 2016.
As Gloversville embarks on its DRI process, here’s a look at how things have gone in nearby cities that were recipients in previous rounds of the coveted $10 million economic development prize.
Closest geographically is Amsterdam, which was chosen as the Mohawk Valley recipient in DRI Round 3, in 2018.
Like Gloversville, it’s a city that hasn’t fully recovered from the loss of its signature industry decades ago. Amsterdam’s efforts to revitalize its downtown are complicated by the scars of Urban Renewal and the segmentation of highway realignments.
But it enjoys the benefit of interstate highway access and is seeing renewed activity in some of the hulking old industrial buildings.
“Besides the 10 million, which was great, it really … has done its job in getting developers interested in downtown Amsterdam,” said Amanda Bearcroft, the city’s director of community and economic development.
This is a main goal of DRI: attracting investment and building momentum toward a cleaner, newer, busier downtown. DRI alone won’t accomplish that — two projects or even one project can cost $10 million or more. Further public and private investment is critical.
The Veedersburg Apartments under construction on East Main Street is one such example. It is not DRI-funded and is not even in the DRI zone, but the developer was spurred by the DRI award to pursue the 62-unit project, Bearcroft said. “We spent maybe a year looking for the right site for them.”
This is another intended effect of DRI, she said: extending the work beyond downtown. “We need to start initiating other larger-scale projects in other neighborhoods,” Bearcroft said.
The pandemic, with its shutdowns, labor shortages and supply shortages, pushed completion timetables back but not off track, she said. And some of the highway reconfiguration that cut the downtown into segments difficult to navigate on foot will now be undone.
Challenges remain. The city’s planning documents are outdated and crumbling remains of the industrial past still dot the city streets, including a huge East End factory complex that is partially collapsed. There’s no money to seize and demolish it, but various state and federal funding streams provide at least the hope that the city can get assistance for what Bearcroft — also the executive director of the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency — calls a top priority.
One of the marquee DRI projects in Amsterdam, renovation of the historic Key Bank Building into commercial space and apartments, is far along and heading toward completion, said Joe Tesiero, managing partner of Cranesville Properties, the owner.
Cranesville got $1 million from DRI toward a project that originally was budgeted at $2.4 million but has since seen costs jump.
“We’re laying tile on the upper floors now,” Tesiero said earlier this month.
The appliances and kitchen cabinets have been delivered, the carpet is on order, but the countertops are delayed. Most everything is more expensive to buy and less prompt to be delivered, he reflected.
But the 24 apartments are just months away from completion and potential occupancy. He’s in discussion with a possible tenant interested in the commercial space on the bottom two floors of the eight-story building as a restaurant and small banquet facility.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for Amsterdam,” Tesiero said of the DRI initiative.
He says his project will outlive him, providing quality housing downtown for decades to come.
Schenectady was a Round 4 DRI recipient in 2019, but saw its award frozen for a year as the state wrestled with its finances in 2020. There was no Round 5 in 2020 — that was pushed back to 2021, when state coffers were flush with federal assistance.
Also in 2021, the state finally sent the city of Schenectady a list of green-lighted projects to support with its $10 million.
Ray Gillen, director of planning and economic development for the county and DRI czar for the city, said even with the delay, the award is accomplishing the program’s goals: Attracting unrelated development downtown.
In some cases, the DRI-approved projects themselves became financially doable because of the DRI award.
“There’s a number of large development deals that this made possible,” he said.
The $2.5 million award to a single developer working on three major downtown projects leverages a combined budget estimated at $38.7 million, for example.
More than half of the awards aren’t actually for buildings, they are for aesthetics and the functionality of downtown as a walkable place. Another award is $600,000 to be handed out in dribs and drabs to improve the look of lower State Street as development continues there.
“We’re excited about the lower State facade fund, which is really going to help us continue the momentum there,” Gillen said.
First out of the gate in Schenectady will be an ugly-duckling office building across from City Hall. Spraragen Partners was promised $425,000 toward a $2.4 million transformation into a glass-walled showpiece that is nearing completion.
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Cropley, John, and Erica Miller. “DRI: Upstate Cities Have Had Varied Experiences with Their Downtown Revitalization Initiative Awards.” The Daily Gazette, 20 Feb. 2022, https://dailygazette.com/2022/02/20/upstate-cities-have-had-varied-experiences-with-their-dri-awards/.