Symposium looks at best ways to revitalize areas


Recorder News Staff

What can be done to revitalize local cities?

This was the question posed at a symposium at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES campus Thursday, sponsored by the Fulton Montgomery CEO Roundtable.

Representatives and business partners from the cities of Amsterdam, Gloversville and Johnstown attended the City Revitalization Symposium to learn and discuss.

"These are great small cities (and) there's a lot of potential out there," said HFM Boces District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel in his welcome.

"It's time for us to work together and talk about coordinating opportunities," he added.

With that, Michel introduced opening speaker Michael Quill, mayor of the city of Auburn.

The city at one time housed rope, carpet, and locomotive manufacturers, but started its decline in the 1960s, Quill said, and began its boost back about six years ago.

"Reinvention starts with a good plan," Quill told the crowd.

From comprehensive plans to a downtown master plan, Quill said they have had a strong focus in Auburn to re-energize the city.

"We said, 'We need to reinvent ourselves,'" Quill said.

The city teams worked on redeveloping properties into more useful purposes, creating a well-designed streetscape, reworking their riverfront park, and creating citywide events that people would look forward to, like Musical Theater Fest, he said.

"It was quite a change in the downtown area," he said, adding that private, local investors and businesses believed in the city of Auburn. "They believed Auburn could do great things."

"This has to be a team effort," he said later.

And part of that dealt with asking the citizens what they would and wouldn't like to see, even with the "naysayer" here and there.

"We had a nucleus of people that wanted Auburn to grow," he said.

Following Quill's first-hand account of city revitalization, the attendees listened and asked questions to a few different panels, the first centering on what makes a downtown successful.

During the panel discussion, marketing specialist Richard Kline told the crowd that jobs, clustered living environments, walkable areas and education are the pieces that make up a successful community.

Ken Tompkins, regional director for New York State Economic Development, who also sat on the panel, said that it's about being focused.

"It's not fixing the whole problem all at one," he said, "but start working on it one piece at a time."

And part of what makes a downtown successful is establishing a good atmosphere and tone, said Chris Curro, manager of Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market, another panel member.

"The downtown needs to rethink itself and each city needs to rethink," he said, adding that the energy, excitement, safety, car speed, bike placement, and even "ruffians" can alter people's perception of the downtown area.

Creating a positive perception starts with a comprehensive plan, real action, and cooperation, he said.

"What we need to do is give people a reason to go downtown," he added.

All three panelists agreed that there are obstacles, put with planning and involvement from the community, it's possible to revitalize the downtown areas of the cities, they explained through their discussion.

After a second panel discussion from the developer perspective, the representatives and business folk from the three cities broke into three small groups for their final hour to work through some questions and brainstorming on what is working and what can be done further to help attract private investment.

At the Amsterdam break-out session, ideas were tossed around about addressing the perception of safety in the city, and working on the self image.

"Talking to existing people is what we need to do more of," said Amsterdam Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln.

Recognizing internally in the community that Amsterdam can re-energize and has things to offer investors was also a topic that the attendees tossed around.

Vic Giulianelli, president and CEO of St. Mary's Healthcare said part of what he feels will work is taking a regional approach to revitalization.

Other attendees agreed.

Many chimed in to talk about the assets of the city and region, like the convenient location, both in terms of having the interstate and river close-by, and in terms of how easy it is to get to various places in the state, like New York City, the Adirondacks, and even casinos and mountains.

And the group identified prospective properties right within city limits that would be the most attractive to developers, like the Chalmers site, the downtown strip, the waterfront, and even the old Mohasco Mills.

Dustin Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, said part of making those properties and this area even more attractive is leveraging future projects, like the pedestrian bridge.

But the first step, Swanger said, is putting an actual plan on paper with renderings of what the city's vision is for its downtown and neighborhoods.