20 Questions: Guiding downtown development

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS

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Focus for a Vibrant Future

Kylie Peck

I often find myself ringing in the New Year by reflecting on the past twelve months both personally and professionally and categorizing what worked and what didn’t, how fortunate I am and how I can make improvements for the future. For the sake of this column, I will leave the personal reflections out and focus on the efforts put into the future of the Chamber of Commerce.

    At the chamber office we regularly discuss the importance of our members and how to best serve the needs of businesses in the Greater Watertown region. For 2018 we are focused on strengthening the value of our organization to promote and support business and industry and enhance the community in which we live, work and do business. Plans are in place to educate members on the tools and programs available to them through the chamber. We will focus on retaining the interest and involvement of our existing members and want an even better understanding of each of the businesses we serve. What are your wants and needs? How can we fulfill them? I look forward to having these questions answered by getting to know each of our member businesses better, and continuing to build upon our success while attracting new members, focusing on young professionals and enhancing our overall communication.  

    With changes to the horizon on many levels – federal, state, local – the chamber looks to establish partnerships more than ever. There are many entities in the region that can broaden opportunities to our membership base. We look forward to strengthening partnerships in the areas of business development, education and networking and continue to foster our relationship with Fort Drum. If you are a business or organization that would like to partner with the chamber, or if you have thoughts on a partnership that you feel would benefit the business community, please share them with us. We are always accepting of suggestions from the community we serve.

    As we take on 2018 and focus on our goals established for the upcoming years, we are excited to have two new team members on staff. We welcome Director of Events Kayla Perry and Director of Marketing Jessica Piatt. Each of these women bring vibrancy and enthusiasm to our organization and will help us reach our goals of connecting with young professionals in the region and enhancing our utilization of social media among many others. Kayla and Jessica join us with skill sets that complement each other and enhance the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce team.

    As you continue to map out your year and implement established plans, I encourage you to visit our office to see how we can play a part in a successful 2018. The GWNC Chamber office is located at 1241 Coffeen Street, Watertown, and meetings can be scheduled by calling (315) 788-4400.

Kylie Peck is the president and CEO of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. She lives in Clayton with her husband and two young boys. Contact her at kpeck@watertownny.com or 315-788-4400.

20 Questions: Senator Ritchie Looks to 2018

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS Patty Ritchie in Ogdensburg City Hall talked with NNY Business about the year gone by and plans for the year ahead.

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Giving, Sharing, Makes Lives Better

Rande Richardson

BY: Rande Richardson
Nonprofit organizations across the country are looking at the implications of the tax reform bill on the work they do and those they serve, including operational and compliance issues, potential related state and local government changes and the impact of the increased standard deduction as it relates to charitable giving. Changes in laws that affect nonprofits have direct impact, and make a statement on how we view their role in our society and the value we place on them.

    At the same time we were hearing about tax reform, media retrospectives were reminding us of lives lived and lost. The year-end summaries honor those who have left an imprint on our world. It is in those moments that we have a heightened sense of the way others affect our lives and shape us. The most profound legacies are those that reach deep into our collective, human souls and the heart of our communities.

    There are diverse ways others touch us and leave their mark but there is a common theme. As a society and as individuals, the greatest meaning comes from that which makes us uniquely human. Throughout our lifetimes, the things that become the fabric of our culture and heritage are the expressions of the essence of our humanity.

    Each December, the Kennedy Center recognizes those whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America. The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize celebrates the work of artists whose careers reflect lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. There are numerous other awards that we bestow that affirm the values and ideals we hold most dear. It is through these that we celebrate and uphold what matters most to us.

    What this has to do with nonprofits? When I hear acronyms such as NPOs, NGOs and NFPs to generalize the nonprofit community, I cringe. When I see legislation enacted that devalues charitable investment and its role in our country, I am disheartened. Somehow, in the generalization of “nonprofit,” something gets lost in the translation. If you take the time to think about the way nonprofit organizations have become part of all of our lives, you realize that they are simply a formal expression of our humanness. They embody the values and beliefs that make us human. They represent the best in the human spirit that demands that living life by simply existing is not enough.

    Our nonprofit organizations are a primary mechanism through which we make a difference in the lives of others and express our values. They are the way our own lives are made more enriched and fulfilled. Their importance goes beyond a classification.

    Our community’s nonprofit organizations not only provide a tangible link to the golden rule, they also are the way we sustain things government and the private sector should not or cannot alone provide.

    It is natural to generalize when we place groups in a sector. In doing so, however, we must not lose sight of what the sector actually is. In a world where over-generalization happens too often, we should pause and see nonprofits as an extension of our human existence and our love for the things that make life worth living.

    As long as there are good people in our world, those organizations providing the most value will find the support needed to continue. If you found a way to make a difference in 2017, congratulations. You already know how it feels to experience something so fundamentally human.

    Use 2018 to find more opportunities to express what matters most to you. It is in this way, that nonprofit organizations quickly become more than a sector, more than an acronym. They are an essential part of our lives, they are worthy of our care and nurturing. Ultimately, they are a clear reflection of ourselves. When you look back on the retrospective of your own life, may it have had meaningful moments that are consistent with the core of the beliefs and values that our nonprofit organizations embody.

    So what are nonprofits really? They offer us opportunities to surround ourselves with things that really matter, and, in the end, help ensure that we have more happiness and fewer regrets through this transitory experience called life. Giving, sharing, volunteering and working for a better world makes our lives better, tax deduction or not.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.

Third Quarter Sales: Tri-county home sales drop to lowest price point

BY: Marcus Wolf
Realtors sold more homes in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties during the third quarter last year than any third quarter in the past four years, with prospective homebuyers securing stable employment cited as the reason.

    Third quarter median home prices for both counties, however, fell to their lowest during that time as homes, particularly foreclosures, were sold at lower prices.

    “We’ve seen economic recovery in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties,” said Lance M. Evans, executive officer of both the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and St. Lawrence Board of Realtors. “From the big downturn, unfortunately, we also had some foreclosures.”

    The number of houses sold in Jefferson County during the third quarter increased from the same time in 2016 by 34 units, or 10.3 percent, from 330 units to 364, according to the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors.

    At the same time, the third quarter median home price in Jefferson County fell from the same quarter 2016 by $16,750, or about 11 percent, from $152,000 to $135,250.

    Vickie L. Staie, president of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors, said the U.S. Department of Defense has been stationing more soldiers and federal employees at Fort Drum and providing more long-term work to some current Fort Drum workers, which has led to more home purchases.

    Investors have also driven up homes sales during the third quarter by continuing to purchase foreclosed homes on the cheap and refurbishing them to later sell at a higher value, which has also lowered the median price.

     “I think it’ll have a great effect. We’re eliminating many zombie homes in our area,” Mrs. Staie said.

    Zombie properties are homes that owners abandoned after they stopped paying the mortgage and before banks began the foreclosure process.

    Homes sales during the third quarter in St. Lawrence County were up from the same time in 2016 by 23 units, or 11.3 percent, from 204 units to 227, according to St. Lawrence Board of Realtors.

    The third quarter median home price in the county fell from the same quarter in 2016 by $7,250, or 7.2 percent, from $101,250 to $94000.

    Richard J. Wood, president of the St. Lawrence Board of Realtors, said the Canton-Potsdam Hospital expansion continued to bring more homebuyers to the county. Several people also moved from a different home within the county to expand or downsize, which also drove up homes sales.

    “I think it has a lot to do with the length of time on the market,” Mr. Wood. “People want to wrap stuff up before it gets to the cold weather.”

    Prospective buyers also bought several foreclosed properties in the county, which Mr. Wood, who owns RJ Wood Real Estate LLC in Gouverneur, said brought down the median price.

“I’ve seen homes go right now that have sold for $10,000,” he said.

    Unlike Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, home sales in Lewis County remained relatively flat in the third quarter compared to the same time in 2016.

    The number of houses sold in Lewis County decreased slightly from the same time in 2016 by two units, or about 3.3 percent, from 61 to 59.

    The median home price for the third quarter in Lewis County, however, decreased from the same quarter in 2016 by $20,000, or 17.4 percent, from $115,000 to $95,000.

    Mrs. Staie, who also owns Staie on the Seaway Real Estate Services LLC and Appraisals USA in Alexandria Bay, said several sellers’ asking prices were too much when compared to their market value, which keeps them on the market for a while. Many homes that sold during the third quarter were winter camps and cottages.

    “That brought (the median price) down a bit,” she said.

    Home sales from January to September last year increased from the same time in 2016 in all three counties. 

    The number of houses sold during the first three quarters increased in Jefferson County by 130 homes, or 18.3 percent, from 711 to 841; in Lewis County by 13 homes, or 8.9 percent, from 146 to 159, and in St. Lawrence County by 63 homes, or 12.7 percent, from 496 homes to 559.

    Foreclosure and waterfront home sales drove up the number of units sold last year in Jefferson County, Mrs. Staie said. The Kraft-Heinz plant expansion in Lowville led more people to buy homes in Lewis County, she said.

    “I think people are seeing the advantage of buying over renting,” Mr. Evans said. “It looks like we’re going to have a lot higher number for units sold than we had in previous years.”

    The median price for homes during the first three quarters of 2017 in Jefferson and Lewis counties, however, fell compared to the same time last year.

    The median home price for the first three quarters this year decreased in Jefferson County by $3,500, or 2.5 percent, from $138,500 to $135,000, and in Lewis County by $15,500, or 14.7 percent, from $90,000 to $105,500. Both price drops were driven by foreclosure sales, Mr. Evans said.

    “There are always foreclosures. There will always be foreclosures,” Mr.  Evans said.

    The median price in St. Lawrence County for the first three quarters of 2017, however, has remained relatively flat for the past four years.

    The price for the first three quarters of 2017 only increased by $1,000, or 1.3 percent, from $88,000 to $89,000.

    “We don’t have huge jumps,” in price, Mr. Wood said.

    Statewide, home sales in the third quarter decreased from the same quarter in 2016 by 1,248 units, or 3.1 percent, from 39,693 units to 38,445 units, according to the New York State Association of Realtors. The statewide third-quarter median home price, however, was up this year by $12,500, or five percent, from $249,000 in 2015 to $261,500.

 

Looking Downtown: Revitalizing Watertown’s public square

COURTESY OF watertowndri.com

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Retail Woes? A look into the 2018 tri-county economy

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
The Gander Mountain in Watertown was slated to remain open after another company acquired it, but remains closed.

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Northern New York’s Emerging Leaders: 2017 class of 20 Under 40

 

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Enjoy the Outdoors Year-Round

Judy Drabicki

Northern New York has a well-deserved reputation as a great place to raise a family. Part of what makes it great are the year-round opportunities to enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities. The four seasons, combined with vast amounts of New York state lands for hiking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or horseback riding, pristine waters for fishing, and abundant wildlife for viewing or hunting set the stage for adventure, exploration, and good, quality family time. Let me be clear, my idea of family is broad and includes a couple with a dog, blended families, and all other combinations that individuals choose to define themselves as a family. Regardless, my point is this—the family that plays together, stays together.  

    Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative, a multiyear outdoor recreation campaign to connect families and visitors to the outdoors, estimates that New York state lands accommodate more than 75 million visitors per year. 

    Region 6, which includes eastern Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River, Tug Hill and eastern Adirondacks has 11 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) totaling 18,795 acres in Jefferson County alone. These state lands provide wildlife habitat management and wildlife-dependent recreation. Several are located within a 20-minute drive of Watertown. 

    Lakeview WMA, in Ellisburg on State Route 3, is part of the largest natural fresh water barrier beach system in New York state. Lakeview is open to the public year-round, and some of its most beautiful areas can be seen by boat. DEC has provided boat launch sites for canoes or car top boats with a 10-horsepower limit.

    As stewards of the land and the wildlife, sometimes we must carefully manage public access to state lands to provide habitat and nesting opportunities for species that depend on these areas. Perch River WMA, which encompasses 7,800 acres in the towns of Brownville, Orleans and Pamelia in Jefferson County, is one such area where we balance public access with natural resource protection. This restricted wetland and refuge area provides habitat for several of New York’s endangered and threatened species, including bald eagles, black terns, and northern harriers (marsh hawks). By late August, the nesting and brooding season is mostly complete and the fall migration period has not yet begun. That’s when we open access to the public and it’s traditionally a huge draw for bird watchers of all ages. 

    Bird watching is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreational activities that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Young people between the ages of 12 and 18 can get involved in the State’s “I Bird NY” beginning bird challenge. This past spring, more than 100 young people completed the challenge and became I Bird NYers.

    In September, Rich Schmitt of Rochester took his 13-year old son and the child’s 14-year old friend hunting at Perch River WMA. He wrote to us in an email that the boys ended up with eight blue-winged and three green-winged teal. “It’s always fun to see the younger kids have a successful hunt,” said Mr. Schmitt.

    For the nature observer and hiker, we have many miles of well-marked trails in all areas of the five-county area of Region 6. In May, we cut the ribbon on new improvements at the John Young trail, which make it more accessible to visitors. This newly accessible, 2,000-foot trail is located within the Tug Hill State Forest at Barnes Corners. Our focus is on inclusion, and accessibility improvements invite people with mobility issues and families with children in strollers to our state lands.

    Camping is an amazing opportunity to live off the “grid” for a short amount of time. Visitors can choose from three DEC campgrounds in Region 6; or find primitive camp spots on state lands. Even teenagers sometimes reluctant to spend time with their families enjoy sitting around the camp fire after enjoying a meal cooked over a propane camp stove or sitting quietly around the fire taking time to gaze at the stars. And don’t forget, every fourth grader in New York is eligible to visit one of the state’s day use areas at a DEC campground for free.

    These opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, and many more, can be found on our DEC website, at www.dec.ny.gov where a drop-down menu under Recreation provides a treasure trove of information about available opportunities. Our regional office is also more than happy to take your phone calls at 315-785-2239 to help visitors find a great place to recreate with their families.

                Whether it’s active or passive, back country or front country, on land or water, I recommend that all New Yorkers—and visitors, too—do their family’s physical and mental health a favor and enjoy New York’s great outdoors!

Arts Play Role in Community’s Vibrancy

Rande Richardson

During the holiday season we are especially aware of the important role the arts play in the vibrancy of our communities. You surely have a yuletide carol or two that reaches deep within you and touches you in a way nothing else can. While, rightly so, much focus is placed on nonprofits that serve basic human needs, supporting, sustaining and nurturing our arts and cultural nonprofits must remain in our focus. They are an important enhancement to quality of life and bring us closer together within communities and across communities.

    I recently attended two nonprofit-sponsored arts performances over a weekend. Not once did I think about the political affiliation of the performers or the audience. Not once did I care to think in what ways we were different. At both, there was a multi-generational element. This all speaks to the fundamental human enjoyment of the arts and the way they touch, move and inspire us. The arts are a great unifier with a universal language.

    We are fortunate to have opportunities to enjoy varied expressions of the arts. We have second-to-none, live symphonic experiences provided by the Orchestra of Northern New York. We have both participation and performance through local theatre groups. Arts organizations introduce and develop a love and appreciation among children and youth. Stage Notes and Watertown Musicales combine both youth arts engagement and purposeful civic mindedness. 

    Throughout the year, nonprofit organizations and events such as the Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund at the Clayton Opera House, Thousand Islands Piano Competition, Community Performance Series, Ogdensburg Command Performances, Norwood Village Green Concert Series, Clifton-Fine Summer Arts Series, Disabled Persons Action Organization and Trinity Concert Series and others bring programming that we would be a lesser community without. Volunteer groups such as Northern Choral Society, the Clayton Community Band and the Sackets Harbor Vocal Ensemble offer especially memorable moments. Local schools bring their students together to produce amazing musicals and concerts. There are other arts organizations, including within our north country colleges and universities, venues for all the various expressions of the arts and humanities.

    We recognize the importance of the arts, not only to fulfill something fundamentally human, but also in the way they indirectly support our local economies. Nationally, the arts contribute a large share to the country’s gross domestic product. Locally, there are many who benefit indirectly from arts and cultural opportunities. People being recruited to relocate here often ask what types of entertainment options are offered. Increasingly, arts programs are tied to involving children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the elderly, the developmentally disabled, at-risk youth, and numerous arts in healthcare programs. Just recently the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council awarded a grant to launch a music therapy program for those dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Many would agree the arts are not an add-on; they are not just nice things to have around. In many ways, they reach into a special place of the heart, soul and mind. They represent the best things of our human existence. We must do all we can to make these opportunities both accessible and appealing. Each year, although the Community Foundation makes substantial investments in the arts, we pay special attention to those that are provided free of charge to people of all ages across the vast geography of our region. The Orchestra of Northern New York this season is offering free admission to  those 17 and under. The annual concert in Thompson Park is fully underwritten, and Sackets Concerts on the Waterfront Series is open to the public.

    I hope you have had the opportunity to be exposed to the arts in ways that have enhanced your life. If you’re able, consider supporting the arts and nonprofit organizations that bring them to our communities. Fill the seats, show your appreciation, bring your children. We never want to live in a community without the special something the arts offer us. Through the will of the people, may they continue to unite us to sustain them and sustain ourselves to better face the many challenges life presents. In this way, it will help make our days, and those of our friends and neighbors, more merry and bright during the holidays and all year long.