by Randy Pellis
FULTON, May 15, 2019 — With $10 million on the line, and only 16 days remaining to apply for it, three of the five people working to win that state award meant for the economic and lifestyle development of Fulton’s east side downtown met with 30 members of the public Wednesday evening to lay out their plans, gather input, and ask for the community’s help.
Joseph Fiumara, executive director of the Fulton Community Development Agency and a member of the city’s DRI Committee, led the presentation of the committee’s plans and summarized the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI).
Now in its fourth year, the DRI awards $10 million to one municipality within each of New York state’s 10 economic regions. Fulton is part of the Central New York region comprised of the counties of Oswego, Onondaga, Cayuga, Madison, and Cortland. The award is a competition among all the municipalities within the region that choose to apply. It is decided by the members of central New York’s Regional Economic Development Council (REDC), a public-private partnership made up of local experts and stakeholders from business, academia, local government, and non-governmental organizations. Deborah Stanley, president of SUNY Oswego, was named co-chair of the central New York REDC in March.
Fulton applied for the $10 million two years ago and lost out to Auburn by one vote. Not a city that is easily dismayed, Fulton is applying again this year. Joseph Fiumara expressed great optimism for success this year based on lessons learned from the past.
“We learned a lot, and we grew a lot from that application,” he said. “As you can see, this team does not give up. We’re very confident.”
The state has placed a high value on community input this year, according to Fiumara.
“They (the REDC) want to see what the residents and the business owners of the city of Fulton think about what they could do with this $10 million. How could we improve on certain current activities that we have in our downtown? And what do we envision the city of Fulton being in five or 10 years? Those are some of the important questions that the state wants us to answer through this public input session,” he said.
Fiumara was joined in the presentation by two others: Brittney Jerred, a member of the DRI Committee, and LoEsther Brooks, Fiumara’s coworker at the Fulton Community Development Agency. Unable to attend, but very much a part of the DRI Committee, are Dave and Marie Mankiewicz. Steve Chirello of Chirello Advertising is an advisor to the committee. Deana Michaels is also a volunteer resident advisor.
The DRI award is not meant to be the end all and be all of the funding required to complete the projects outlined within a municipality’s application. The $10 million is meant to leverage additional private investment.
Brittney Jerred referenced this point in explaining some of the intricacies of the DRI application.
“How much of a private dollar investment are we going to garner from this grant?,” she asked. “In other words, a $10 million grant, how much can that offer our city? Is it going to leverage an initial $100 million? That’s the goal. We want to try and think big. We want to express in this application how many others are working on trying to do the same thing essentially, revitalizing the community.”
Should Fulton win this year’s award, state agencies will come in and help with obtaining some of that other funding. “That’s what their job is,” said Fiumara. “They’re going to be able to bring other leveraging funds to the table on some of these projects, and that’s really helpful.”
The projects can range from the very big to the rather small.
“Anybody inside the (DRI) boundary can benefit from this project,” said Fiumara.
That boundary runs from Oneida Street to the former Nestle site and includes the land between the Oswego River and Route 481. It is entirely on the east side of Fulton according to specifications the state requires of the downtown in question.
Fiumara explained, “The state wants us to have a clear, concise, and compact downtown. They don’t want it to be stretched out all over the city.”
Given those parameters, some of the main targets for development are easy to see.
The Nestle site “is probably our number one ready-for-development property now,” Fiumara said. But a number of other projects are closer to the river.
“We’re going to focus on the Fulton library as one of our anchor projects because that is a Carnegie, historical building in our historical downtown,” said Fiumara. “That building needs to be addressed.”
And “CNY Arts is going to be included because they have other phases to finish up. We want to make sure that we continue with those efforts down there.”
But the projects that elicited the greatest response from the public in attendance were those that centered on the river, or more precisely, the marina and the trails along the river.
The present marina includes 10 to12 boat slips built perpendicular to the breakwall. “So it is very difficult for any boat over 20 to 21 feet to make that turn (around the breakwall and into the slips),” Fiumara said. “But if they reconfigure it to where they were slanted slips, larger vessels could pull in and back out. Now you could accept up to 30-foot boats, and those are the ones you want stopping here. Those are the ones who are going to utilize our restaurants and our storefronts.” That idea will be part of Fulton’s DRI proposal.
Secondly, more trails. The first to be completed: the Pathfinder Trail which will start at Indian Point and will run to the Oneida Street bridge. It will then continue down to the water’s edge where it will follow the river all the way to the Broadway Street bridge.
“This is going to open up opportunities for the Fulton library,” said Fiumara. A stairway will be built from the upper Canalview trail across from the Fulton Municipal Building, down to the water and the Pathfinder Trail along the river. “This is going to get many more people utilizing it,” Fiumara said. “That’s one of our goals to improve the waterfront district and make sure pedestrians can use it.”
As far as the general, overall downtown goes, “We want to have wifi downtown. We want to upgrade the fiber optics there for the businesses,” Fiumara said. “There are so many things we want to do to really attract people into our downtown. One of the main things is, we want to get housing back in our downtown. We’re going back to what we used to be.”
Well, maybe as regards housing, but, according to Fiumara, certainly not in other things, for the main goal of this DRI, he said is “attracting businesses to downtown and the 481 corridor.” And to accomplish that, Fiumara said, “We have to build on what we have, and we have to look at other ways to attract other businesses to the area, not just manufacturing.
“We used to be known as a non-friendly business community,” said Fiumara. “That’s not the way it happens anymore. We all get together, all of the key players get together at a table, Planning, Code Enforcement, Community Development, the mayor’s office, everybody who eventually will make a decision on this gets together, and they don’t say ‘no.’ They say, ‘How can we help you get through this?’”
Ten million dollars will certainly help a lot of people get through a lot of things. This was the first meeting of the DRI Committee with residents. They’ve been meeting with businesses over the last two weeks. There’s not much time left. The deadline for the application is May 31, and Fiumara hopes to have “all the projects ready and all of our ideas ready” by May 24. The last piece of the puzzle may be public support, and Fiumara and Brittney Jerred asked for that Wednesday night.
“You’re here because you care about this community, and we are too. We’re very passionate about this community. We see an opportunity for this community. We really want to take advantage of it,” Fiumara said.
Letters of support from the community can be very important to Fulton’s success in this application. The DRI Committee has created an online template of such a letter that can be easily downloaded and edited as you see fit. Here’s a link to that letter: www.ilovefultonny.com/news
Fiumara also asked that residents answer an online survey. Your answers will be read by the state, but you will remain anonymous. Here’s a link to that survey: www.surveymonkey.com/r/G9YYZ77
Lastly, Brittney Jerred put her request for residents’ help this way: “I encourage you to submit a letter of support,” she said. “Anybody that wishes for our community to get that money and to make those investments and turn it back around should write one.”
Certainly life presents many opportunities. And certainly along with that truth comes this one: opportunities come, and they also go. There are endless quotes on opportunity, on seizing the day, on answering when it knocks. Opportunity is now knocking on Fulton’s door. This seems to be a good time for the people of Fulton to answer.