City finishing up $10 million downtown application

City officials are putting together the final touches on an application for a $10 million award from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative program.

About 25 city officials and community and business leaders met for more than an hour Thursday morning to go over the city’s application before shipping it off to the state in time for the May 27 deadline.

Syracuse consultant Leann West, of Strategic Development Specialists LLC, is helping the city with its application. The competition is for $100 million in state funding that will be distributed to 10 selected communities in upstate New York for use in the transformation of their downtowns. One downtown in each of the 10 regions will be awarded the $10 million.

Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. encouraged community members to get involved in supporting the city’s efforts to earn the award. A rally is scheduled for 5 p.m. next Thursday at an after-hours business event at the Jefferson County Historical Society museum on Washington Street.

He also asked the group to send letters of support detailing why Watertown should be chosen for the award, stressing that downtown already is going through an economic development renaissance and the state funding will finish the job.

“This is about telling the city’s story, why we meet the criteria and deserve the $10 million,” he said. “We’re telling the governor’s office that we’re at the midpoint and this would get us home.”

The city will include information about past economic development accomplishments such as the restoration of the Woolworth Building, Convergys adding 300 positions to its downtown call center and plans to redevelop the old Mercy Hospital site.

The chosen community will get $300,000 in planning funds from the state to piece together an economic development program for downtown, said Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators.

At a conference last week in Lake Placid, a contingent of community leaders found out the governor’s office and the Department of State will have the final say on which community gets the $10 million, Mayor Butler said. The application first will be reviewed by a four-person committee from the North Country Regional Community Economic Development Council. Before last week, the state had said it was a regional economic development council decision.

Local officials said they did not know the identity of the regional council members. But state economic development officials identified them as: Mark Tryniski, Community Bank; Bridget Hart, Kinney Drugs; Hugh Hill, The Richardson Group; and Donna Wadsworth, International Paper.

Noting that the application must include all the criteria, Mayor Butler believes Lake Placid, Massena and Plattsburgh also will be competing for the $10 million. While some have surmised Lake Placid might be Watertown’s biggest competition, that community does not fulfill the downtown housing requirement, the mayor said.

Guidelines include job creation, a commercial or retail component, water access and a connection to an anchor institution. To get the $10 million, investors would be expected to provide $50 million in private money.

Showing a connection to Fort Drum and Jefferson Community College and making downtown more accessible to the Black River are some of the points that the city will make in the application, Ms. West said.

By Craig Fox, Watertown Daily Times