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Panel airs ways to spark downtowns

Panel airs ways to spark downtowns

Patience, focus and a commitment to long-term change are the keys to a successful downtown, accordin

Patience, focus and a commitment to long-term change are the keys to a successful downtown, according to a panelist at a symposium on city revitalization held Thursday at the BOCES center in the town of Johnstown.

Ken Tompkins, regional director for Empire State Development’s Mohawk Valley Region, was one of six speakers at the symposium sponsored by the CEO Roundtable. The roundtable consists of a group of business, education and community leaders from Fulton and Montgomery counties.

Roundtable member Dusty Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, said the group put together the symposium to provide information on resources to help cities revitalize themselves. “We are excited to talk about what is out there to help,” he said.

Swanger said the cities of Fulton and Montgomery counties “have a lot of offer. We have beautiful main streets in Johnstown, Gloversville and Amsterdam. They have potential to develop.”

Tompkins offered some other pointers to the approximately 90 people who attended the five-hour event at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services center. “Many cities are looking to attract employment. If there are jobs downtown, a lot of other things come with them,” he said. These include housing, restaurants and specialty shops.

Tompkins said the “important first start is a plan” focused on a particular area and tied into a regional plan developed by one of the 10 state Regional Economic Development Councils.

The connection could help local projects obtain state funding for development, as “money is an obvious challenge,” he said.

Another panelist was Chris Curro, manager of the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market on Main Street in Gloversville. The market took a $15,000 loan from the Fulton County Economic Development Corp. and launched a business venture in the city’s dilapidated downtown that now has more than 400 members. Many have called the market a success and a model for revitalization.

Curro said the ingredients of a successful downtown are that it be energetic, exciting and safe. “Safety is a big feature,” he said.

Authorities should enforce local zoning codes and public safety laws. “The way people look at downtown is how they look at the whole area. Downtown has to make people feel at home. We have to give people a reason to come downtown,” he said.

Curro said private investment is available to help people promote their businesses downtown. “There are investors who will come downtown. They need a positive incentive,” which can come from local leadership.

Curro said the owners of the market had to wait 10 months for the $15,000 loan. “That is a long time in the world of small business,” he said.

Another of the symposium’s participants was Michael Reese, president and CEO of the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, which promotes economic development in Fulton County. Reese said there is no magic bullet for revitalization. “If it were easy, everyone would have a great downtown.”

He said successful downtowns will have to reinvent themselves by becoming residential and entertainment venues.

Michael Quill, mayor of Auburn, gave the opening remarks at the symposium. Quill said Auburn started its economic decline about 50 years ago when its major employer moved out. He said local business leaders came together and developed several master plans. The plans included the creation of an arts festival, the reuse of downtown structures and the creation of green space and parks.

Quill said business leaders spearheaded the revitalization effort and the city helped by offering block grant funds and tax breaks.

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