Community shows enthusiasm for city’s downtown revitalization application

Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. speaks at a rally for the $10 million downtown initiative competition that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is holding. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. speaks at a rally for the $10 million downtown initiative competition that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is holding. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. called for the crowd to make noise on Thursday at a pep rally to show support for the city’s efforts to win a $10 million award from the state.

And the crowd reacted, with cheers of support.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” he said.

About 70 business and community leaders, and local officials waved signs that read “Revitalize Downtown Watertown” in big blue letters at the rally held at the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum.

It was held a day before the city submits its application for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative program. It’s due today.

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.

“The people of Watertown love competition,” the mayor told the cheering crowd.

Syracuse consultant Leann West, of Strategic Development Specialists LLC, helped the city with its application. A group of community and business leaders also met a few times to come up with a strategy to win the $10 million.

Mayor Butler believes Watertown has a good shot at winning the funding, stressing the city can always rely on “community support.”

“We have a lot of great people,” he said.

In thanking them for how they’ve promoted downtown and its growth, Mayor Butler rattled off a long list of businesses and downtown merchants.

“In my opinion, I think we’ve already won,” he said.

An old photo of Public Square from 1890 showing crowds of people cheering on its streets was prominently displayed behind the mayor while he spoke.

Diana Page Jordan, executive director of the historical society, said she could envision downtown becoming a more bustling place with all the development projects happening in the business district.

The city’s recent renaissance includes the restoration of the Woolworth Building, Convergys adding 300 positions to its downtown call center and plans to redevelop the old Mercy Hospital site and the Lincoln Building.

The governor’s office and the Department of State will have the final say on which community gets the $10 million. The application first will be reviewed by a five-person committee from the North Country Regional Community Economic Development Council. Previously, the state had said it was a regional economic development council decision.

But the first review comes down to:

Bridget-Ann Hart, president and CEO of KPH Healthcare Services, Kinney Drugs;

Hugh Hill, planning and development director of The Richardson Group;

Donna Wadsworth, communications manager, Ticonderoga Mill at International Paper;

Dan Wilt, president of Wilt Industries and;

Mark E. Tryniski, president and chief executive officer of Community Bank.

Mayor Butler is employed as a financial consultant with Community Bank.

Asked about the Community Bank connection between the two bankers, Anthony G. Collins, co-chairman of the regional economic development council, said he saw no problem with the bank president overseeing Watertown’s application.

“I don’t see any conflict,” Mr. Collins said. “Why would there be a bias? He has no direct contact with the branch.”

Mr. Tryniski also will be reviewing other communities’ applications where Community Bank has branches, and no conflict exists with them, as well, Mr. Collins said.

The council looked at the connection, and concluded “there wasn’t a conflict,” he said.

Lake Placid, Massena and Plattsburgh are also expected to compete for the $10 million.

By Craig Fox, Watertown Daily Times