In August of 2019, 32 transformative downtown revitalization projects were funded in two New York communities: Owego and Penn Yan. In late 2018, both of these communities were recipients of $10 million from New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo‘s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
Now, 17 projects in Owego and 15 projects in Penn Yan will move forward as part of that effort.
The strategic investments in downtown Owego will build upon the community’s assets, including a historic core with crucial civic and cultural uses, a strong and growing arts and business community, access to local and regional tourist attractions, and well-established and historic residential neighborhoods surrounding the downtown core. The investments are part of the Governor’s ongoing efforts to revitalize the upstate economy and create more opportunities for the Southern Tier.
“These projects will transform Owego’s downtown by enabling the community to enhance its public spaces, create employment opportunities and further diversify the local economy,” Governor Cuomo said. “This Southern Tier city’s historic neighborhoods and cultural spaces are ripe for a revitalization, and the Downtown Revitalization Initiative will be instrumental in bringing economic growth and improved quality of life to the area.”
Owego was named a DRI Round 3 winner in August 2018. The Village of Owego is a charming riverfront community that serves as a gateway to acclaimed institutions, attractions, and employers of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier. The village’s compact and walkable downtown contains year-round amenities that contribute to a high quality of life, including parks, cultural attractions, a historic commercial district, and walking paths that connect to the river.
The Village will leverage DRI funds to build upon recent public and private investment in downtown buildings and infrastructure, growing employment opportunities and a strong tourist economy. The DRI effort will boost the local economy by attracting new and strengthening existing business and skilled labor, enhancing cultural and recreational amenities, and addressing the demand for affordable and resilient housing for residents of all ages and income levels.
“The Village of Owego is full of history and charm with a walkable downtown and amenities along the riverfront,” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “This funding for 17 projects as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative will enhance cultural and recreational offerings, add affordable and resilient housing, and increase employment opportunities in the area. The investment is part of our overall efforts to accelerate growth in the Southern Tier with the creation of new jobs to strengthen the local economy now and in the future.”
The specific projects to be funded through the DRI include:
- Enhance Waterfront Accessibility and Recreational Opportunities: Provide access at key locations to the Susquehanna River and Owego Creek waterfronts and create connections between the Riverwalk and waterfront parks, increasing the use of these resources, drawing activity to existing and future businesses along Front Street, and providing attractive amenities to anticipated upper-story residences overlooking the walkway. The project will include aesthetic improvements, shoreline stabilization, and lighting and signage along the Riverwalk; expansion and improvements at boat launches; and installation of recreation amenities along the Owego Creek walking trails.
- Enhance Recreation Amenities and Drainage Infrastructure at Marvin Park: Install recreation amenities and improvements to the drainage system at Owego’s largest open space, rendering the park easier to maintain by the village and enabling greater use by residents and visitors. Examples of potential improvements include landscaping, handicap-accessible playground equipment, resurfacing of the existing tennis and basketball courts, replacement of the existing skate park, walking path upgrades, restroom improvements, additional security measures, and additional drainage infrastructure and flood mitigation strategies.
- Support the Creative Community with Marketing, Public Realm Amenities, and Improvements to the Tioga Arts Council Facility: Create a dual marketing and branding strategy promoting Owego’s creative community to attract and support local artists and arts-related businesses. The project will consist of developing cohesive branding for members of the local arts and business communities in coordination with the Tioga Arts Council, Historic Owego Marketplace, the Tioga County Chamber of Commerce, the Tioga County IDA, and the Tioga County Tourism Office, and hiring a professional marketing firm to create a marketing strategy, theme, branding logo, and comprehensive signage plan that will also serve as the basis for digital and social marketing, brochures and magnets, and improvements to building image and the public realm. This marketing and branding campaign will be supplemented by interior improvements to the Tioga Arts Council (TAC) facility to create greater opportunity for art exhibitions and arts-related programming. Facility upgrades include expanding existing gallery space, improving workshop space, enhancing the quality of Tech Lab space, and implementing environmentally-friendly strategies.
- Improve Accessibility at the Coburn Free Library: Construct an elevator system providing access to all floors of the historic Coburn Free Library, enhancing its ability to meet all of the educational needs of the community. The construction will include a 1,200-square-foot annex with an elevator shaft and system, including required electrical connections, necessary modifications to the building, expanded reading room space, and handicapped restrooms.
- Expand the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center’s Facility and Capacity: Expand the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center to increase its capacity for productions and programming and create new educational opportunities for Owego residents. The expansion will consist of a 2,200 square-foot addition to the ground level of the southwest side of the existing structure, as well as a new full basement of the same size, to provide an easily accessible workspace for building and storing production materials, enabling the existing storage space and stage to be leveraged for additional programming, rentals, events, meetings, parties, films, and concerts.
- Expand the Tioga County Historical Society Museum: Expand the Tioga County Historical Society Museum’s 1959 facility to create additional space for exhibits, storage, a lecture hall, and office space, enabling the museum to increase its exhibit and programming capacity, drawing more visitors from the community and beyond, and bolstering Owego’s identity as a destination for arts, culture, and history in the Southern Tier.
- Transform a Vacant Lot into the North Avenue Art Park: Transform a highly visible vacant lot on North Avenue into a unique creative space anchoring the Owego Creative Community and serving as a recreational resource for residents of all ages. The North Avenue Art Park will include an interactive sculpture garden, an amphitheater, and on-site parking in a new public lot accessible from Central Avenue.
- Enhance Downtown Parking Options: Improve downtown parking lots, increase the visibility of available spots, and reconfigure employee parking options to leverage existing underutilized parking options and facilitate access to DRI businesses and amenities. This project will include better signage directing visitors to parking lots with a surplus of spaces and a comprehensive parking strategy reorganizing the village’s supply.
- Improve Key Facades as Cornerstones of Revitalization: Improve prominent downtown facades to collectively transform the village, improving its outward-facing image, attracting new businesses and residents, and encouraging visitors to linger, explore, and frequent attractions throughout DRI area. Properties identified for improvement include the JJ Newberry Building, 32-34 Lake Street, 194 Front Street, 53-55 North Avenue, 57-59 North Avenue, 62-64 North Avenue, 100-106 North Avenue, 132-134 North Avenue, and 50 Lake Street.
- Upgrade Lake Street Infrastructure to Support Mixed Uses: Repair and upgrade the collectively-owned sanitary sewer line supporting the mixed-use buildings along the western side of Lake Street, integrating the line into the public system and enabling the maintenance necessary to ensure community health and full use of the retail and residential properties affected. DRI funds will also support comprehensive mapping of the sanitary sewer system.
- Enhance Lighting along Southside Drive: Repair streetlights along the southside portion of the village and improve electrical connections to better link this area to the downtown core and increase safety for people of all ages and abilities, resulting in greater visitor activity with beneficial impacts for downtown shops and restaurants.
- Restore the Owego Central Fire Station: Restore the historic Owego Central Fire Station as a North Avenue anchor to protect a historic resource integral to Owego identity and maintain the downtown charm and character that appeals to residents, visitors, and businesses. Proposed physical improvements include facade enhancement, stabilization of the bell tower, masonry, repairs, repointing, repainting, roof replacement, chimney work, interior repairs, expanded accessibility, basement repairs and flood proofing, signage improvements, and repaving.
- Create a Mixed-Use Brewery as a Gateway to North Avenue: Transform an existing building on North Avenue into mixed-use facility serving as a gateway to Owego to spur further redevelopment of this neglected end of this main artery leading to the heart of the village. The project will include a craft brewery and tap room, food service, non-profit/artist incubator space, three residential units, and public open space capitalizing on the facility’s location at the threshold of the Finger Lakes Beer and Wine Trail.
- Support the Development of a Diverse Business Community: Provide suitable structures for office, residential, commercial, and studio uses in the DRI Area through new construction, upgrades to existing buildings at key sites, and expansion of existing small businesses. This multi-site effort responds to applications received during the DRI planning process and includes projects at 127 McMaster Street, Ice Cream Works, Home Central, 171 Front Street/2 Court Street, the Cellar Restaurant building, 20 Church Street, 37-41 Lake Street, and the Parkview Restaurant and Hotel.
- Complete the Restoration of a Prominent Mixed-Use Building: Close a funding gap to complete the transformation of a formerly blighted building at 167-169 Main Street into a mixed-use facility, attracting a diverse population of residents and workers with market-rate housing opportunities and updated amenities at one of the village’s most prominent intersections. The project includes eight new apartments, two new commercial spaces, and an enhanced facade.
- Create a Modern Industrial Employment Hub: Facilitate the expansion of Applied Technology Manufacturing Corporation (ATMC), which will transform a dilapidated site into a modern industrial building and property and create 6-10 new jobs. The project consists of rehabilitating the northern end of the 14,000-square-foot building and demolishing and reconstructing the southern end.
- Create a Neighborhood Non-Profit Hub and Emergency Shelter: Construct a non-profit hub on a 1.6-acre parcel on North Depot Street to provide conference rooms, a large training room, and affordable rental space including shared printers, telephones, office space and utilities to charitable organizations, freeing up funds for community services and staff support. The facility will also serve as a community emergency shelter with temporary accommodations for 150 displaced residents, as well as showers and a kitchen for their use. The sponsor is also pursuing the possibility of adding residential use at this site at a later date.
Owego developed a Strategic Investment Plan to revitalize its downtown with $300,000 in planning funds from the $10 million DRI grant. A Local Planning Committee made up of municipal representatives, community leaders, and other stakeholders led the effort, supported by a team of private sector experts and state planners. The Strategic Investment Plan for downtown Owego examined local assets and opportunities and identified economic development, transportation, housing, and community projects that align with the community’s vision for downtown revitalization and that are poised for implementation.
New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said, “Owego, with its home on the river, is primed for revitalization. Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative delivers real promise and development to communities across the state. Through these projects, downtown Owego will see smart investments come to life while attracting visitors from the entire region and beyond.”
Penn Yan Projects
The strategic investments in Penn Yan highlight its historic mixed-use core, the Lake Street commercial corridor, a robust craft food and beverage industry, and the Keuka Marsh and Outlet in the heart of the Finger Lakes region.
Steve Griffin, CEO of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center said, “Penn Yan’s revitalization is a testament to the commitment of Governor Cuomo to revitalize and enrich Upstate New York. This burgeoning region is only moving forward and this investment and the community that ardently supported it will bring unprecedented growth to the Finger Lakes region.”
Penn Yan was named a DRI Round 3 winner in October 2018. The Village of Penn Yan, a hub of business and recreational activity surrounded by bucolic farmland, leads the Finger Lakes Region in manufacturing job growth. Rich in history, the Village’s downtown is comprised of lovely tree-lined streets, intact historic buildings, and beautiful landscaping.
While so many other main streets have lost out to strip mall developments and big box retailers, Penn Yan’s downtown is still the center of commerce for residents and visitors alike. However, a number of barriers, including the impact of recent extreme floods and lack of housing options, are suppressing Penn Yan’s full potential for leveraging private investment and increasing economic opportunity for all.
The DRI planning effort in Penn Yan will focus on overcoming these barriers and promoting sustained, year-round economic growth by concentrating on four areas: leveraging the abundant natural assets, capitalizing on the growing craft food and beverage industry, using the local art scene as an economic engine, and capturing the intellectual capital that lives and vacations in the Village.
The specific projects to be funded through the DRI include:
- Revive the Sampson Theater as a Cultural Anchor: Stabilize and expand the Sampson Theater for year-round use as a cultural destination to draw larger audiences to downtown on weeknights and weekends. The project includes interior renovations, exterior rehabilitation, and sprinkler system updates to the 1910 theater.
- Transform Historic Knapp Hotel into Mixed-use Gateway: Convert the vacant historic Knapp Hotel into a mixed-used anchor and gateway to downtown, creating a vibrant mix of commercial spaces and 11 residential units and bringing new jobs and residents to Main Street. The project will include historic restoration of facades and cupola; demolition of a dilapidated addition; the installation of a new roof, HVAC, lighting, electrical and plumbing systems, and energy-code-level insulation; installation of historically appropriate windows; and addition of an elevator and rear stair tower.
- Repurpose Struble’s Arcade as Mixed-Use Development: Restore a historic three-story masonry structure as a mixed-use development with six commercial spaces and seven residential units, creating new jobs and drawing new residents to downtown Penn Yan and rendering the iconic property attractive once more. The project will include an indoor year-round gathering space and anchor tenants providing culinary, exercise, and retail amenities.
- Expand Penn Yan’s Parks and Trails Network: Enhance the Indian Pines Park as a waterfront destination drawing residents and visitors to the lake. Install trail extensions along the Keuka Outlet Trail to connect downtown Penn Yan to lakefront attractions. The improvements would create a cultural event venue, waterfront seating, public boat docks near downtown businesses, updated playground facilities, overlooks with interpretive signage, and greater connectivity between the village’s natural and commercial assets.
- Install Streetscape Improvements Facilitating Downtown Circulation: Undertake streetscape enhancements along Water and Wagener Streets to improve walkability, provide additional on-street parking, ensure historically appropriate street lighting, and, ultimately, extend Main Street’s character and charm along these corridors for an improved pedestrian experience. Additionally, the project will include enhancements to the existing Wagener Street parking lot.
- Enhance the Pedestrian Experience of Maiden Lane and Main Street: Redevelop and repurpose part of Maiden Lane as a pedestrian promenade offering outdoor event space and increased walkability. Install streetscape improvements on Main Street to improve the public’s experience of downtown Penn Yan. Examples of streetscape improvements include overhead decorative string lighting, resurfaced pavements, planters, and public art installations.
- Transform Vacant Lot into Water Street Townhomes: Transform a vacant lot at 131-147 Water Street and 120 Wagener Street into 18 townhome condominiums with on-site parking and facades incorporating historic design elements to create additional housing options for both seniors and young professionals.
- Rehabilitate the Historic Belknap for Downtown Living and Working Opportunities: Convert the vacant Belknap building into three residential units and one commercial space to provide new opportunities for downtown housing and employment that serve as catalysts for future development and bring vitality to the core of Penn Yan. The project is expected to attract 12 new jobs and six new residential tenants to a vital Main Street block and includes facade restoration and interior renovations.
- Add a Brewery and Outdoor Event Space to the Historic Laurentide Inn: Renovate the 1820 Laurentide Inn to accommodate drinking, dining, and event venues that cater to and cultivate visitor interest while celebrating the history and culture of Penn Yan. The project will include repurposing the existing carriage house and stables into a micro-brewery and tasting room, creating a first-floor lounge, enhancing the site to accommodate outdoor events, and transforming the driveway into a pedestrian walkway for inn visitors and brewery guests.
- Expand the Reach and Capacity of a Children’s Services Organization: Install an elevator and implement interior renovations at Milly’s Pantry, a not-for-profit serving Yates County’s children, enabling the organization to expand its services, programming, and accessibility. Modifications to an existing staircase will provide safe egress from each floor.
- Convert Vacant Office Space into Upper-Story Apartments at 126 Main Street: Convert vacant second floor office space at 126 Main Street into three rental apartments, contributing to Penn Yan’s downtown housing stock and tourist lodging options. The renovation will include the demolition of non-load bearing walls; installation of new insulation, dry wall, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and appliances; and implementation ofthermal window replacements.
- Enhance Birkett Landing’s Commercial Capacity: Install amenities and infrastructure improvements to Birkett Landing, a four-story, mixed-use property including apartments, a wine bar, and 4,500 square feet of undeveloped space, to increase the facility’s appeal to potential patrons and draw commercial activity to the DRI area. The project will include finishing the interior of ground-floor commercial space, creating an outdoor patio for restaurant use, constructing restrooms, adding infrastructure improvements, and installing a bar.
- Transform an Empty Storefront into a Farm-to-Table Restaurant and Bar: Transform an empty storefront on Elm Street into a farm-to-table restaurant and cocktail bar, Little Elm, to bolster the region’s wine and lake tourism industry and support local farmers and beverage manufacturers. The project will include general construction; mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection work; and furniture, fixtures, and equipment for restaurant use.
- Establish a Building Improvement Fund: Establish a building improvement fund supporting interior and exterior enhancements to buildings within the DRI area to improve downtown aesthetics, attract and retain small businesses, preserve historic structures, and, ultimately, create an improved quality of life and visitor experience in Penn Yan.
- Transform Underutilized Space into a Village Bakery: Attract a successful regional bakery by transforming the underutilized space at 132-138 Water Street. The Village Bakery will use local grains to produce artisan breads for restaurants and the general public, contribute to the cluster of food-related businesses downtown, and integrate agritourism into Penn Yan’s appeal. Improvements include finishing the space’s interior walls and ceilings, installing plumbing and HVAC infrastructure, and constructing an ADA accessible bathroom.
Penn Yan developed a Strategic Investment Plan to revitalize its downtown with $300,000 in planning funds from the $10 million DRI grant. A Local Planning Committee made up of municipal representatives, community leaders, and other stakeholders led the effort, supported by a team of private sector experts and state planners. The Strategic Investment Plan for Penn Yan examined local assets and opportunities and identified economic development, transportation, housing, and community projects that align with the community’s vision for downtown revitalization and that are poised for implementation.
Penn Yan Mayor Leigh MacKerchar said, “Governor Cuomo’s dedication to the Upstate New York economy and the revitalization of our downtowns is unparalleled. This investment in Penn Yan will further transform our great village and I am looking forward to seeing the growth we experience.”
Featured photo of Owego is by Carol Sunderwirth courtesy of Visit Tioga.