Saturday, October 4, 2008

Downtown deserves grant

Stella McKenna has been planning to build a new fitness and rehabilitation center in the town of Richmondville on Route 7. This facility would include a sports complex, a physical therapy facility, a strip of retail businesses and a restaurant featuring adaptive use of two historic barns. The complex would be a virtual one-stop shop for all your physical therapy and health & fitness needs.

But in order to make it happen she needs a little help. So far, she has been applying for a number of grants to get that help. This year, she is again applying to New York State’s Empire Development Corporation for a Restore NY grant.

McKenna however, has some competition for Restore NY grant funding. The village of Cobleskill is also planning on submitting a proposal for Restore NY money to rehabilitate the Newberry Square building in downtown Cobleskill. Here we have a project that comes with numerous obvious benefits to downtown Cobleskill. It is a large building with two large store-fronts on Main Streets (they’re the one’s currently covered in plywood). There is also additional commercial and potential residential space throughout the large arcade-style building. Newberry’s takes up a large part of Main Street, and with a new fa├žade could make a real impact on downtown as a whole.

But here’s where things get a bit complicated. McKenna has asked the village of Cobleskill to withdraw their grant proposal for Newberry Square so that the state will be more likely to grant her the Restore NY monies. Making things even more complicated is the fact that McKenna’s project falls within Schoharie County’s empire zone, making it somewhat more likely to receive Restore NY funding. Yet at the same time, the Newberry Square building is an anchor building in a potentially resurgent downtown area, which makes it highly worthy of state grant money, perhaps more so than McKenna’s fitness complex. So we have two projects that are both deserving of state monies, but chances are, we’re only going to get one grant, if we get anything at all.

Setting aside McKenna's request for the village's exclusive support, the Cobleskill village board voted 3 to 2 to continue to pursue funding for the Newberry Square building. While McKenna's fitness center may be deserving of public monies, the Cobleskill village board made the right decision. Here’s why. The Restore NY program was created to bring back downtown areas. Rehabilitating an old building in a historic downtown is a much better fit for the Restore NY grant, both in spirit and in terms of the village's obligation to its own downtown business district. This doesn’t mean that communities can’t work together for the common good. In fact, rehabilitating Newberry Square does more for the common good of the region than McKenna’s project. But for the village board to abandon a grant proposal for a critical project in a struggling downtown would be a travesty.

We also have to ask if the proposed location for the fitness center is best for the region. Why use taxpayer money to build more sprawl? This is an especially critical question when there is a surplus of empty space in downtown Cobleskill that McKenna could expand into. In fact, wouldn’t McKenna’s relocation leave an existing building empty? Fact is, if McKenna tried, she could certainly find a suitable location in downtown Cobleskill. And if she did, I doubt she’d have much trouble getting the Cobleskill village board to endorse a grant proposal.

In the end, the Newberry Square grant doesn’t take away from McKenna’s chances of receiving a grant, except in the sense that the Newberry Square project seems to be more deserving. If in fact that is the case, Cobleskill village has every right and responsibility to pursue grant funding and no business whatsoever supporting another project in another town.


Bob Nied said...

Stella's project seems to have a great deal of merit and may deserve the support of elected officials but it does not preclude the need to make downtown revitalization a priority, especially given the high commercial vacancy rate in the county. The Restore NY grant program was intended to help address similar vacancies across the state, with a focus on bringing existing properties back into productive use. The negative and positive impacts of a new large scale commercial project along Route 7, as proposed by Ms. McKenna should be evaluated on its own merits but it should not jump to the front of the line ahead of a much needed restoration project. While I have not seen Ms. McKenna's business or site plans I'm assuming they are well-conceived and mindful of the context in which they are proposed. If so, the project should surely garner sufficient funding to move forward without the necessity of public monies intended for a specific type of restoration. An effort to breath life into downtown Cobleskill AND preserve an historical building certainly deserves as much support as plans for a commercial health club along Rt. 7.

Anonymous said...

Its also ashame that the complex is leaving cobleskill and no thoughts or effort were made by our politcal folks to due just what they all want to happen.Keep business here and rejuvinate the downtown.

Anonymous said...

In a free economy what are the village folks suppoed to do to get Stella to have her business in the village? Did stella ask for help from village fokls to set up her complex in some village building?

Sean said...

Bob, you are exactly right about the purpose of the Restore NY grant. But I think you're overlooking the main point here.

McKenna was asking village officials to turn their backs on the Newberry Square grant to support a project that would actually result in a business leaving the village for the town of Richmondville.

How the village could even contemplate this is beyond me. They would essentially be paying a business to leave the village!

Cobleskill has enough vacant buildings. I strongly question the wisdom of using Restore NY funding to help create another one.

Anonymous said...

i don't want my taxes helping any business. If you do it for newberry's you should do it for all. Oh wait O'bama is going to do that.

Anonymous said...

has anyone seen how her current facility is run, and maintained? if that dump is indicative of any business plann, you clowns are being taken for a ride. She will take the money and the entire project will look like the closed mill.