I know the Village blew something like 30 grand on the Hyett-Palma Study, but I’m willing to give them a better blueprint for action right here, right now, free of charge.
The Slums Along the Mohawk Downtown Enhancement Guide
Cobleskill is a Village with assets (a great park in the center of town, a lively college student population and a lot of great Downtown businesses). However, it is not without its problems. Chief among these, are a group of developers anxious to see the Village dissolved in order to gain access to the Village’s water and sewer services and surround the Downtown area with suburban sprawl.
Here’s how the Village should respond to these threats and proceed with an economic revitalization of Downtown Cobleskill.
1. Abandon discussions about dissolving the village, instead initiate plans to incorporate as a city, the threat alone will force Town officials to the bargaining table as they will be afraid to lose Village tax revenue.
2. Create a “Downtown improvement fund” which will be used to subsidize private façade improvements and public streetscape improvements. This fund will be supported by entering into “community benefits agreements” with Town developers who want access to Village infrastructure and services. This recognizes the need for balanced economic growth on the periphery as well as Downtown.
3. Relocate Village Offices to Downtown Cobleskill. My advice would be to look into renting out or purchasing the now-vacant Advance Auto building on West Main Street. The buildings’ ample space would allow for court proceedings, board meetings and extra space for various other governmental or non-profit agencies to locate. Perhaps the Village can negotiate to have the Town locate offices there as well, in exchange for water and sewer services for some (tastefully designed and compact) residential developments in the Town.
4. Work with SUNY Cobleskill to increase awareness about Downtown Cobleskill among college students. Better advertise existing Schoharie County Public Transportation Shuttle Routes downtown, limit SUNY shuttles to Wal-Mart.
5. Create an Online Community Bulletin Board geared toward young people letting them know what Downtown has to offer (restaurants, bars, musical performances, Arts in the Park events, library events, etc.)
6. Increase # of Housing Units in Downtown Cobleskill. The Village should set as a goal, the renovation and eventual occupancy of every structurally sound residential unit in the Downtown area and pursue grants (such as Restore NY) to fund this.
7. Establish Strict Guidelines for Chain Stores in Village. Every effort should be made by Village planning personnel to ensure that future commercial developments are pedestrian friendly, architecturally compatible with the Village and do not take away from the overall image of the Village. One case in point is the proposed “Rite-Aid” on East Main Street. If this development is not going to be prevented, the Village must at least make sure it does not become an eyesore. Parking should be IN BACK. The Village should limit the setback so that there is an entrance off the sidewalk. Architecturally, the new Rite-Aids and the proposed office building should form a coherent façade rhythm with the existing auto parts store already on the block. Future developments of a similar nature should follow a similar formula.
8. The Village Should Build a Skate Park/Youth Recreation Center in Downtown. The Village should immediately begin looking for places in the Downtown area in which to locate a skate-park and youth recreation center. Such a facility could be used as an anchor to attract young people from around the county to Downtown Cobleskill. The facility could also be used as a venue for all-ages musical performances, educational workshops and other such events. While we’re on the subject of young people using Downtown, it is important that the Village view young people as potential assets, not loiterers.
9. Increase/Build Pedestrian Infrastructure. The Village should begin looking into creating a pedestrian plan for downtown that uses garden trails or bike trails to connect residential areas both to Downtown, the Fairgrounds and various natural resources near the Village such as Cobleskill and Mill Creeks.
10. Work with the Fairgrounds. The Village should establish a committee to work with the fairgrounds to increase the number of events held on the fairgrounds during the year. Currently, the fairgrounds is an extremely underutilized asset. It is used for the Schoharie County Fair for a week in August (beginning in 2009, the fair will last 2 weeks), the American Motorcycle Jamboree and a small number of other agriculture-related events. What about large concerts, renaissance fairs and other kinds of outdoor conventions of a non-agricultural nature? I’m sure I don’t need to point out that increased fairground activity would have significant spillover effects for Downtown business.
11. Clean up Side Streets. If you drive down France Lane, Railroad Avenue or Center St. (to name a few) you’ll notice plenty of abandoned structures. The Village should begin efforts to redevelop these properties, preferably using state funds (Restore NY). Buildings which can not be adaptively used should be demolished and replaced with compact, well-designed affordable housing.
12. Improve Appearance. In and around the Downtown area, there are numerous unsightly properties. Every effort should be made to make the owners of these properties aware of available subsidies to help improve their appearance. If this doesn’t work, the Village should undertake and implement a “Landscape Plan” to cover up unsightly properties, particularly the homes on East Main Street, and the sea of crumbling parking lots south of the Central Business District (on Division, Center and Railroad Streets).
While some of these action items overlap with those contained in the Hyett-Palma Study, most are my own. If I were to overthrow the Village government, I guess this would be my “12-Point Plan”.
Of course, the Village Board is free to use these recommendations without paying me $30,000. All I want is a cooler town to loiter in.