Contributed by: Samantha Flavell
OSWEGO – Historic downtown Oswego may have seen better days, but the mayor has a vision for the revitalization of its future.
It is no secret that the historic buildings of Oswego are no longer in their heyday. Many of the buildings are in need of major renovations. Efforts are under way to restore and enhance many, commercial as well as residential.
While Oswego will always hold its own unique character and charm, some fear these qualities are lost in the cracked concrete and vacant lots of the downtown area.
“We have a downtown that is rather dense,” Oswego Mayor William Barlow said. “We have some strong buildings that just need a little help. We have buildings that need to be renovated and vacant lots that need to be developed.”
Some of these areas are being developed currently from different individuals and privately owned businesses.
For those that do invest in the downtown area as it currently is, large monetary and time investments are needed to improve the quality of the buildings to make them available for tenants.
“Every investment is different,” said Brian Parkers, a partner of Parkhurst Enterprises, a construction and realtor company. Through their business model they put in anywhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per apartment.
The reviving of these buildings is a significant investment to make, that not everyone can afford. But the investment is worth it and tenants do consider how recently the building was renovated when buying or renting housing in Oswego, Parkers noted.
“I chose my house because it’s new and updated and gives me a sense of pride that everything is taken care of,” SUNY Oswego off-campus student Tyler Burns said. “It builds confidence living in a nice home and makes me want to take better care of everything.”
Barlow, wants to inspire more people to feel this way towards their homes and the city of Oswego.
“The goal is to make downtown Oswego a place where people can live and want to live,” Barlow said.
Oswego residents worry that the condition of the downtown area may be a deterrent to tourists and possible tenants and homeowners.
“I believe that tenants, when they go to look at a building or a place to live, if the building or surrounding buildings are in disrepair I believe this negatively impacts the neighborhood,” Parkers said.
Barlow hopes to eliminate this worry by utilizing funds from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative project.
Last year, the mayor attended the State of the State Address in Albany where Gov. Cuomo announced a downtown revitalization grant competition.
The competition focused on revitalizing downtowns in Upstate New York.
“As the governor outlined the criteria involved in the grant, Oswego kind of fit the criteria,” Barlow said. “So, when I got back from the State of the State the next day, we immediately got to work on researching more info and we began putting together a plan.”
When Oswego was chosen as one of the 10 municipalities out of the 122 that applied to be awarded the grant, Barlow was excited to begin finalizing a plan to present to the governor and begin the work Oswego needs.
Barlow does not plan to lose Oswego’s rich architecture, history and character with the revitalization, however.
Instead, he hopes to accentuate it and reestablish the beauty that is currently hidden behind deteriorating buildings.
“We want to maintain and preserve the character of the buildings,” Barlow said. “They’re all historic buildings and they’re rich in architecture.”
The mayor’s love for the historic architecture and historical character of Oswego stems from the time he spent living in Arizona while attending college.
“I went to school in Arizona, where everything’s new and it’s boring. There’s really not a lot of local flavor if any at all. So, we want to preserve that, but we also need the buildings to look nice,” Barlow said.
The members of Oswego Renaissance Association agree with this sentiment.
Members such as executive director Paul Stewart shares the mayor’s belief that a key component of renovation is not to completely recreate a town, but instead to focus on accentuating the positive aspects of an area.
“Too often, efforts to revitalize neighborhoods focus on fixing negative conditions but ignores a key factor in how to restore neighborhoods and that is building on assets,” Stewart said on the ORA website.
And building upon downtown Oswego’s strengths is exactly what Mayor Barlow plans to do with the $10 million DRI grant the city won.
Barlow recognizes the important role in which small businesses play in downtown Oswego and wants to allocate a portion of the grant to improving and aiding local small business.
“We’ll use a chunk of that $10 million to help small business who obviously don’t make a lot of money but they need to do improvements like façade improvements and improvements to their business,” Barlow said. “Giving them the money will help ensure that they stay open and continue to be a part of downtown Oswego.”
When the Downtown Revitalization Project plan is approved by the state, the mayor plans to begin distributing the money to begin renovations by late summer.
The work will include, renovations on buildings as well as work on city streets, particularly 104 to make it easier for pedestrians to cross. The plan will also focus on beautification projects such as planting flowers and making the town more aesthetically pleasing, while maintaining Oswego’s historic character and charm.
Even before this renovation is able to start, city residents such as Parkers believe that Barlow is already starting to take steps to ensure that landlords are held accountable for maintaining certain standards in their buildings.
“Billy Barlow is really doing a good job,” Parkers said. “I think they have a new code enforcement board which is definitely holding a new standard for Oswego.”
Parkers hopes landlords will be required to have someone in the city or at least in the county, in order to ensure that the buildings are being properly managed and held to a certain standard.
The mayor and Oswego residents such as Burns and Parkers believe that the DRI program is aimed towards bringing back the downtown area, and bringing it to a level where people will be proud to live in the city of Oswego.
“I believe that Oswego is on the up and up,” Parkers said. “There are so many different actions that are being taken by city council and everything else to deter slumlords and to actually force people to take pride in the ownership of their buildings.”
The council and Barlow have been working to make a chain of positive adjustments to revive the downtown area of Oswego.
The DRI s another link in this chain to bring Oswego back to a level that residents and business owners can be proud of; to boost the economy as well as the community pride of those in Oswego.