The City of Batavia is proof that the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” has merit. And, in Batavia’s case, a value of $10 million.
In 2016, Batavia was unsuccessful in its first proposal for consideration in the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, or DRI. The following year, Batavia officials took the advice they received from DRI officials, narrowed their focus and tried again.
On its second go-round, Batavia, the seat of the Genesee County micropolitan area, was named the Finger Lakes recipient of the DRI, announced last summer.
“The first year we applied we had a citywide approach to it and we didn’t win. They gave us some feedback and said maybe you want to narrow it down to a more specific area, because when you spread that kind of money over a whole city you’re not getting the impact the state’s really look for,” said Eugene Jankowski Jr., president of Batavia City Council.
So the city did just that. At first, then-city manager Jason Molino came up with a plan to narrow the focus to downtown Batavia, which was further tightened to include just Batavia’s business improvement district, which consists of a Main Street and Ellicott Street core.
The state DRI is a $100 million initiative that began in 2016. Communities statewide apply to their Regional Economic Development Councils for $10 million in funding; one downtown area is then selected by each of the state’s 10 REDCs. The Finger Lakes region recipient in DRI’s first year was the City of Geneva.
Those involved with the winning proposal said its structure began several years ago with the city’s Batavia Opportunity Area planning, or BOA, a 366-acre area targeted for economic development. The area is compact and densely populated—roughly 3,400 people per square mile—and nearly 10 million people travel through Batavia’s downtown district annually, according to the state Department of Transportation.
The City of Batavia is home to more than 15,000 people and is roughly equidistance between Rochester and Buffalo. The micropolitan area has some 60,000 residents.
Since the BOA program started in 2009, the city has seen more than $15 million in public and private project completion and has another $80 million in the pipeline in the BOA boundary.
“(The DRI proposal) really emanated from several years of planning,” said Steve Hyde, president and CEO of the Genesee County Economic Development Center. “There was a lot of strategic planning that Jason really led the way on for the City of Batavia for the last seven or eight years that really became the cornerstone. And then things got freshened up and focused.”
In its DRI proposal, called “Bet on Batavia,” city officials noted that for the last decade they have been laying the groundwork by redeveloping and rebuilding the city’s urban fabric and downtown economy that was lost during its mid-20th century urban renewal and subsequent economic declines. Batavia’s leaders felt the city now needed to bolster its community and cultural amenities and “expand downtown entrepreneurial and living opportunities to attract more boomers and millennials that will further stimulate the downtown economy’s transformation.”
“Change is a part of life—you’ve just got to accept it,” Jankowski said. “But our urban renewal really killed us. It really knocked out a lot of our old, historic buildings and left us with empty spaces that nothing ever went there. Fifty years later we’re still trying to fill that streetscape, because that was the plan.”
Batavia’s DRI plan calls for capitalizing on the economic development success the region has experienced in the last decade. The DRI will close project funding gaps, officials said in their proposal, increase project feasibility and provide certainty for private investors to move forward.
Downtown partners are collaborating on more than $87 million in future projects, all on BOA strategic sites that could take advantage of DRI funding to make them happen. Some of the projects that may be included in Batavia’s DRI are:
A committee of about two dozen business and community leaders are tasked with choosing which projects to present to the state, which will then decide which projects to fund. The state is expected to determine that later this year.
“The committee over the last three or four months really have built our own vision, our own goals and strategies on how to build off of the DRI application,” Hyde said. “We had 23 projects that applied, and now we’ve been vetting them as a local planning committee, with a team of consultants that the state has connected us with, and really kind of measuring those against the goals and strategies we establish as a committee for what we really want to do to revitalize our downtown.”
The committee’s key goals, Hyde said, revolve around accessibility to downtown.
“So projects that will create opportunities for all individuals to live, work and play,” he explained. “We’re looking for synergy among projects so that they’ll be complementary to one another, that help improve the mix of business and properties and organizations and investments and activities that are going on.”
The City of Batavia for some time has engaged in an “edge” development strategy; that is, targeting industry greenfield sites on the city’s edge in order to leverage natural resources and available infrastructure to attract private investment and job creation. Those projects include the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, which houses HP Hood LLC; and the planned Science Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP), which is expected to employ up to 10,000 at full build.
“We’ve been building multiple industrial parks all around the City of Batavia,” Hyde said. “We’re kind of at a tipping point, where the edge development strategy is creating pressure on the city for growth and development opportunity and upgrades. At the same time, the city’s done a fabulous job paralleling that for the last seven or eight years, developing their own strategic plans on how to revitalize the city and downtown.”
The hope, Hyde and Jankowski said, is that the influx of money to Batavia projects will serve as a catalyst for future private and public investment in the area.
“I want to make sure we make a decision for the future that we don’t regret 40 or 50 years from now,” Jankowski said. “Malls were the ‘in’ thing back in the day and now we have a large mall in the middle of our downtown and we have to address that. What we think might happen is, if it doesn’t get addressed by the DRI, that would be a project that we would definitely continue to develop because all around it is DRI.
“We have to take that momentum, as a city, to keep building on that and creating an environment of welcome to developing here,” he added.
Hyde called the relationship between the city’s edge development and DRI, and the additional development the two might bring to the region, a “synergistic interplay.”
“What you want is a vibrant center city so that when you’re trying to convince companies to make these hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and create hundreds of jobs, they see your community,” Hyde said. “I’m thrilled that it’s all coming together in what I think is a pretty neat mosaic for long-term economic sustainability for Batavia and Genesee County for years to come.”
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