The Genesee County Economic Development Center board of directors will consider final approval for a building renovation project in the city of Batavia at its Sept. 3 board meeting.
Neppalli Holdings LLC is proposing to invest roughly $1.165 million to renovate a three-story building at 99 Main St. in Batavia. The renovation and redevelopment of the 7,500-square-foot building, which was built in 1865, would include a new storefront, façade and reconstruction of the existing three floors.
A dental practice will occupy the first floor with the second floor being developed for commercial office space. The third floor will include two 2-bedroom market-rate apartments.
Neppalli Holdings is the latest transformational building renovation project to proceed in downtown Batavia since the seat of Genesee County won the state of New York’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) in 2017. Eight projects in downtown Batavia were approved for DRI funding when the city won in the second year of the competition.
Neppalli Holdings is requesting sales and mortgage tax benefits totaling $63,500.
Seneca Falls will be the next recipient of the state’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant in the Finger Lakes region, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
Now in its fourth year, the DRI awards $10 million to a downtown location in each of 10 regional economic development councils. The competitive initiative is designed to award 10 downtowns statewide with enough funding to begin their transformations into vibrant neighborhoods while boosting local economies.
“With this funding, Seneca Falls will be able to share its rich history with more people through infrastructure and commercial developments that will encourage economic growth,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Through DRI, local governments are able to actualize changes they wish to see in their communities with creative solutions to make long-lasting, positive impacts on their economies and their cities.”
Officials in Seneca Falls on Wednesday also celebrated the opening of the new home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, located at the historic Seneca Knitting Mill building. The mill had closed in 1999 after more than 150 years of operation. Empire State Development assisted with the hall’s relocation project with a $2.5 million Restore New York grant in 2010, as well as a $500,000 grant through Market NY. The New York State Canalway Grant program provided $300,000 for the project, while the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation provided $830,000 for hall upgrades.
“The transformative Downtown Revitalization Initiative will invigorate Seneca Falls with economic opportunity and investment by encouraging business development and job creation. Seneca Falls holds an important distinction within our nation’s history and will serve as a crucial catalyst for our economic development efforts throughout the Finger Lakes region,” said Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler.
DRI involves a competitive review of proposals by the Finger Lakes REDC. FLREDC considers the following criteria when choosing a recipient of the annual DRI:
The downtown should be compact, with well-defined boundaries;
The downtown is able to capitalize on prior or catalyze future private and public investment in the neighborhood and its surrounding areas;
There should be recent or impending job growth within, or in close proximity to the downtown that can attract workers to the downtown, support redevelopment and make growth sustainable;
The downtown must be an attractive and livable community for diverse populations of all ages, including existing residents, millennials and skilled workers;
The municipality should already embrace or have the ability to create and implement policies that increase livability and quality of life, including the use of local land banks, modern zoning codes and parking standards, complete streets plans, energy-efficient projects, green jobs and transit-oriented development;
The municipality should have conducted an open and robust community engagement process resulting in a vision for downtown revitalization and a preliminary list of projects and initiatives that may be included in a DRI strategic investment plan; and
The municipality has identified transformative projects that will be ready for implementation with an infusion of DRI funds within the first one to two years.
The 2018 Finger Lakes recipient was the village of Penn Yan. The cities of Batavia and Geneva are past winners of the DRI funding.
“Today we celebrate the opportunity to build on the rich heritage of Seneca Falls thanks to the Governor’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative,” said Robert Shipley, chairman of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors. “Seneca Falls will capitalize on this investment to further expand opportunities for residents and visitors to live, work and play in our historic downtown. This new funding will help spark development in the entire Finger Lakes region.”
Seneca Falls will be tasked with developing a strategic investment plan to revitalize its downtown with up to $300,000 in planning funds from the $10 million DRI grant. A local planning committee of municipal representatives, community leaders and other stakeholders will lead the effort, supported by a team of private-sector experts and state planners.
“As the birthplace of the women’s movement, Seneca Falls will always hold a special place in our nation’s history. Today we recognize the incredible achievements of the past and the bright future this community can look forward to,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. “With new state investments into downtown revitalization and the continued renovations to the new Women’s Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls has much to celebrate.”
Where Rochester’s downtown once featured four department stores and two grocery stores, now there are none.
A quarter century after the last department store closed, in the places where all of Rochester once shopped, there’s a car museum, a large gravel lot and a stately building with papered-over windows.
The old five-and-dime is now a Social Security office, and there appears to be just one clothing store in all of downtown, offering sportswear for young men.
Retail has been on hiatus for some time downtown. Downtown experts say it’s never coming back the way it was, but there are some encouraging signs of new and different retail life:
This week’s Rochester Cocktail Revival.
This is the second year for both Rochester Restaurant Week and Roc Holiday Village.
Construction will begin in the fall on two projects in Sibley Square. One is the kitchen commissary, a food-business incubator run by Rochester Downtown Development, and the other is a food hall riffing on the success of places like North Market in Columbus, Ohio, and ethnic markets in New York City.
Late last year Rochester Institute of Technology opened a downtown art gallery.
Sibley Square is shopping around the idea for a new full-service grocery market on the ground floor, along the lines of the now-closed Hart’s, but about half the size.
Amid the high-tech startups and empty nesters flocking to downtown to live in luxury apartments, there’s also a growing number of eateries and devoted followings of two major festivals that bring in international headliners — the Jazz Fest and Fringe Fest.
In terms of traditional retail, you can still buy a few things downtown, such as fashionable kicks, comic books, art supplies and high-end furniture. For essentials, though, you probably have to go elsewhere.
“Do they sell handbags or cables? The answer is no,” said Ken Greene, asset manager at Sibley Square, the mixed-use project being redeveloped from the former Sibley’s department store.
Nevertheless, it is possible to buy any number of brewed coffee drinks, upscale meals, casual meals, vegetarian meals, craft beer and specialty cocktails, suggesting a shift away from material purchases and more toward experiential service retail.
“We see our retail becoming more service-driven for the community,” Greene said, noting the return of banks — with or without staff physically present — and the planned addition of urgent care.
“I think food and beverage is going to be part of the answer and you need a critical mass for that,” said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp. Indeed, downtown Rochester’s population is about 7,200 now, double what it was in 2000.
So the restaurants that have been popping up around downtown are serving both an urban working crowd and an urban residential crowd.
The once-popular notion that retail stores will start to return from the suburbs once we hit a certain number of downtown residents, however, is a notion that has gone the way of the, well, department store.
A little thing like the “Amazonification” of retail happened since retail left downtown. That includes sales moving onto the internet, not to mention an entire industry that arose in the last few years to bring consumers whatever they need from brick-and-mortar stores.
You don’t need those stores near you if you have apps like Uber or Shipt or GrubHub or InstaCart.
“On-street, brick-and-mortar operations are not likely to come back,” said Zimmer-Meyer.
People are voting with their feet, however, that they do want to be ON the bricks — whether it’s the Jazz Fest, Midtown Eats or a winter village that was a huge hit at holiday time the last two Decembers.
“In this community it seems to me that we tend to do things in short spurts. We love festivals. Look at Roc Holiday Village,” Zimmer-Meyer said. “They had food and beverage and retail sales… people went nuts.”
Jenna Manetta-Knauf, owner of Bella Events and originator of the Roc Holiday Village, said she got the idea from New York City’s Bryant Park, which has ice skating in the winter and a series of pop-up shops and eateries in the holiday season.
The local event featured 20 retailers offering things from hand-made soap to funky furry hats. Food, drinks, music and ice-skating all encouraged people to hang out and do their holiday shopping, and groups could rent heated igloos to hold their own parties.
Manetta-Knauf said sales exceeded expectations, with vendors telling her they experienced the highest number of sales in their business’s history.
“It was crazy,” she said.
Events like that are shaping how people shop, Zimmer-Meyer said.
“It’s an experience, all about the experience. That’s one of the things we’ve heard continually about the whole national debate about retail,” Zimmer-Meyer said.
Pop-up retail is becoming more popular in Rochester too. Earlier this year Sibley Square hosted a pop-up vintage furniture sale that did well, Greene said.
Manetta-Knauf manages the Wilder Room in the former Rochester Club and that space was booked for a pop-up women’s fashion retail event.
Designers use their social media following to advertise an event and then set up shop, perhaps with a bar, other refreshments and music, in an event space. The Wilder Room isn’t the only one designers have used for pop-up sales.
“Once or twice a year they pop up in different spots and people go and buy their stuff,” Manetta-Knauf said.
While these pop-ups and festivals are all part of the evolving retail picture, Zimmer-Meyer said Rochester could use a coordinating organization to make sure they keep happening, she said.
She noted the vibrant winter scene Ottawa enjoys, where the community celebrates its frigid temperatures.
“This is what I want Rochester to be all the time,” she said. Downtown Rochester draws crowds during events like the Jazz Fest, she said, but there isn’t much residual effect. “The festival ends and everyone goes home,” she said.
Greene suggested downtown is going through an evolution of sorts that is dependent on both numbers and demographics of new residents and daytime occupants.
“As downtown continues to grow, you’ll start to see hair salons and nail salons. You’ll start to see drycleaners, more daycares. There will be service-related retail,” he said.
When Sibley’s leased space to Monroe Community College, Rainbow, a discount clothing store, was a good fit for community college students. But now that MCC has its own downtown campus and Sibley’s is adding 280 apartments, a more upscale store to serve the new residents is in order, Greene suggested.
Similarly, bodegas have sprung up downtown to accommodate tens of thousands of bus riders who come through the RTS transit station downtown. There are three in a two-block stretch of North Clinton Avenue, Greene said. As the population of downtown residents increases, those residents will need a more expansive food market, he said.
“There are just so many obstacles to successful retailers in downtown Rochester,” Greene said. One is parking — Rochester-area residents still want to park within three rows of a store, like at a mall. Then there’s a shopping nostalgia, which he described as “A psychological barrier in trying to recreate the retail experience of the past.”
People do hanker for the past, Zimmer-Meyer said, at least in terms of finding a central place to inhabit together.
“With everybody doing stuff online, and operating so individually, there is a human need to come together,” she said. “We love coming together for special things. For special reasons. We’ve got to look at what’s happening in other cities that are doing a far better job” of that year-round.
Eight downtown projects have been approved for funding in the City of Batavia’s $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative win in 2017.
The strategic investments in downtown Batavia, the seat of the Genesee County micropolitan area, will help drive new, mixed-use development, improve access to local health care and transform public space for community use, officials said in a statement last week.
“Through smart investments and sustainable development, we are transforming Batavia’s downtown and generating prosperity throughout Western New York,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “These projects will help to not only preserve Batavia’s rich history and character, but they will enhance the city as a destination and act as an engine for future growth for the entire region.”
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.
In Batavia’s 2017 DRI proposal, titled “Bet on Batavia,” city officials noted that for the last decade they have been laying the groundwork for revitalization 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.”
The specific projects to be funded through the DRI include:
Create a thriving residential and commercial hub on the site of the former Della Penna property by constructing a new mixed-use development on the vacant and abandoned industrial brownfield. The new Ellicott Station will contain mixed-income residential units, four commercial spaces and a brewery/restaurant and will leverage more than $20 million dollars in grants and private investment to become a thriving residential/commercial anchor for downtown Batavia. ($425,000)
Rehabilitate the former Genesee Bank and the Carr’s Department Store buildings for mixed-use redevelopment. The first floor of the buildings, which have been vacant for more than five years, will be renovated for commercial uses, including a new cidery/café and retail and office incubator space. New mixed-income residential units on the upper floors will provide additional housing options for downtown residents. ($1,000,000)
Establish Ellicott Place as new mixed-use gateway to downtown by renovating a large, underused building at a prominent location on Ellicott Street to include three first-floor commercial spaces, first-floor covered parking and 10 upper-floor residential units. A new elevator and facade upgrades will improve access and instill community pride in a previously chronically vacant space. The redevelopment of the 48,121-square-foot building will complement the nearby Ellicott Station project and establish a new gateway to the downtown. ($1,150,000)
Develop an intergenerational healthy living campus in the heart of downtown, including a new home for the Genesee Area YMCA. The centrally located facility will include a roughly 60,000-square-foot building and parking for 300 cars. Together with a complementary medical building planned for the site of the former YMCA building, the project is expected to generate 3,000 visits downtown daily. ($4,075,000)
Establish a new regional performing arts center at Batavia City Centre by renovating the façade and interior of the city-owned building. The new visually prominent and centrally located downtown theater will feature space for offices, concessions, retail and a dance academy, and will augment nightlife and weekend activity. ($700,000)
Support downtown building improvements by creating a building improvement fund that will provide grants to assist downtown property owners to undertake both interior and exterior renovations. Building improvements will enhance the aesthetics and livability of the downtown core and provide opportunities for new entrepreneurs to establish their businesses. ($600,000)
Transform City Centre into an indoor market and performance space by upgrading the concourse and entrances to accommodate an indoor marketplace with micro-retail kiosks and public performance space to hold community events. Improvements will include flooring, lighting, entrance structures, wall color, and roof upgrades. ($1,000,000)
Enhance Jackson Square, a public gathering space bordered by historic buildings in the heart of downtown, with decorative pavement upgrades, a multi-level deck/stage, seating, lighting, decorative signage, a networking nook and landscaping. The upgraded public plaza will become a lively hub and common space for community interaction and provide connections to multiple businesses through its unique alleyway node configuration. ($750,000)
“Today’s announcement of Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative is exciting news for the City of Batavia and our downtown district. We are thrilled for the projects that were chosen and the City will be ready to assist them move forward,” said Eugene Jankowski Jr., Batavia City Council president. “We are also dedicated to work with all the project owners that applied to the DRI, but did not receive funding to help them succeed in their plans here in Batavia. In all, the DRI investment could yield over $40 million in private investment directly into the downtown core of our city and that will bring prosperity to all.”
The governor’s office noted that downtown Batavia is a mixed-use, affordable neighborhood with access to jobs, anchor businesses and city and county services. The area has an excellent foundation upon which to continue its revitalization, officials said, including amenities such as recreational sites, health care facilities, food markets, a library and various retail and restaurant venues in a walkable environment.
“Through a collaborative process, we have identified various private and public projects that have been vetted publicly. We are confident these projects will further our mission of growing our economy and revitalizing our urban core, as place-making and downtown redevelopment is such a critical piece of today’s live, work and play models required by our multi-generational community,” said Steve Hyde, president and CEO of the Genesee County Economic Development Center and Batavia DRI Local Planning Committee co-chair. “These projects will be a catalyst for future private sector investments as we continue our collaborative efforts to redevelop the city of Batavia. Thank you to Governor Cuomo for his vision to invest in place-making and downtown revitalization across New York and for his confidence in Batavia and Genesee County’s enabling its continued growth and redevelopment.”
The State of New York has launched the third round of its Downtown Revitalization Initiative, or DRI, investing $100 million in 10 downtown areas across the state.
The annual competition awards $10 million to each of 10 downtowns, chosen by the state’s 10 regional economic development councils. The investment is designed to boost local economies and foster vibrant neighborhoods that offer a higher quality of life in regions statewide.
“We have seen firsthand the excitement and transformative nature of these investments—turning downtowns into economic engines for their communities and beyond,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday. “This new round of funding will provide these downtowns new opportunities to rebuild for 21st century needs and foster growth that will be felt across the entire region.”
Now in its third year, DRI will accept applications until June 1 and regional councils will weigh eight criteria to select nominees:
• The downtown should be compact, with well-defined boundaries;
• The municipality, or the downtown’s catchment area, should be of sufficient size to support a vibrant, year-round downtown;
• The downtown is able to capitalize on prior or catalyze future private and public investment in the neighborhood and its surrounding areas;
• There should be recent or impending job growth within, or in close proximity to the downtown that can attract workers downtown, support redevelopment and make growth sustainable;
• The downtown must be an attractive and livable community for diverse populations of all ages, including existing residents, millennials and skilled workers;
• The municipality should already embrace or have the ability to create and implement policies that increase livability and quality of life, including the use of local land banks, modern zoning codes and parking standards, complete streets plans, energy efficient projects, green jobs, and transit-oriented development;
• The municipality should have conducted an open and robust community engagement process resulting in a vision for downtown revitalization and a preliminary list of projects and initiatives that may be included in a DRI strategic investment plan; and
• The municipality has identified transformative projects that will be ready for implementation with an infusion of DRI funds within the first one to two years.
In the Finger Lakes Region, the city of Geneva was the first recipient of the $10 million DRI, while the city of Batavia was the recipient in 2017. Officials did not indicate when the winners would be announced, but last year DRI recipients were announced in October.
“Winning the Downtown Revitalization Initiative has stimulated public infrastructure projects focused on making downtown public spaces and the connection to the lakefront safe, vibrant and lively for residents and visitors,” Geneva Mayor Ron Alcock said. “In addition, property owners are investing further in their buildings and businesses as a result of the DRI. All of the DRI projects contribute towards successfully forwarding our comprehensive plan’s vision of a beautiful, prosperous, equitable, connected and sustainable Geneva.”
In Batavia’s winning proposal, the 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.
“The Downtown Revitalization Initiative has created economic development momentum in Batavia that I have not seen before in my 31-year career with the city,” Batavia Interim City Manager Matt Worth said.
Genesee County Economic Development Center officials on Thursday are planning a walking tour in the Batavia to showcase successful economic development projects, in conjunction with National Economic Development Week May 7 through May 11.
“The Downtown Revitalization Initiative has given communities across the state the opportunity to spearhead local projects that will grow their downtowns and boost the economy,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, chair of the Regional Economic Development Councils. “I’ve visited many cities that were awarded funding as part of Rounds 1 and 2 of the DRI, and they’re moving full speed ahead with exciting plans that will transform their areas.”
As part of the initiative, the state is promoting smart growth strategies and transit-oriented development, which is in increased demand from New Yorkers across the state, Hochul said.
“The investment in Round 3 of the DRI will give even more communities the resources they need to pursue these collaborative and innovative projects,” she added.
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