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Leaders hear ways to improve downtowns

December 7, 2012
LEVI PASCHER , The Leader Herald

JOHNSTOWN - Local government and business leaders Thursday listened to suggestions on how to improve their downtowns.

The Fulton and Montgomery Region CEO Roundtable presented a City Revitalization Symposium at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services center.

One speaker at the symposium said creating a successful downtown requires focus, commitment, cooperation and patience because long-term change doesn't happen overnight.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Michael Quill, mayor of Auburn, gives opening remarks at the City Revitalization Symposium on Thursday.

A representative of the CEO Roundtable, Dustin Swanger, said the group put together the symposium to provide information about resources available to help cities revitalize themselves.

The roundtable consists of a group of business, education and community leaders from Fulton and Montgomery counties.

"We tried to design this symposium to provide city officials with information of what cities have done to turn things around and what resources are available to make those changes," Swanger said. "We also will have a discussion with developers to better understand what they are looking for and what cities can do to entice these developers to come into the area."

The symposium started with Auburn Mayor Michael Quill discussing how his city was able to reinvent itself through private and local investors, planning and federal grants.

Quill said Auburn started its economic downfall about 50 years ago when its major employers such as the carpet, automotive and hemp-rope industry moved out.

He said his city was able to reinvent itself through several comprehensive and master plans. He said local business leader came together to invest in the creation of an arts festival, a Hilton Inn hotel, a walkway off Main Street that crosses the river and the creation parks.

He said business leaders were at the front of the revitalization effort and the city helped by offering grant funds and tax breaks.

He said when a city looks for change and development, it will always face opposition from something or someone, but he said it is important to remain focused and continue with the plan.

Ken Tompkins, regional director for Empire State Development's Mohawk Valley Region; Chris Curro, manager of the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market in Gloversville; and Richard Kline, owner of the marketing organization Shannon Rose gathered for a panel discussion at the symposium to discuss what makes a downtown successful.

Kline said it is important for cities to let businesses know what benefits they would have by opening in the cities, such as tax breaks, transportation benefits and good atmosphere.

"It takes a lot of marketing through all of these separate channels," Kline said.

Tompkins said cities in the area want to attract employment. He said if they can bring jobs to the downtown area, a lot of other things would follow. He said to make this happen, there must first be a focused plan on one particular area rather than addressing the entire issue at once.

He said if the cities work together to develop a regional plan with surrounding areas, they could help local projects obtain state funding for development.

Curro said a successful downtown must be energetic, exciting and safe.

"The downtown has to make people feel at home," Curro said. "We long for the days when the streets are jammed elbow to elbow on a Friday night, but that may never return because those days were pre-cable. Downtown and each city really needs to rethink itself."

He also brought up the point that downtown businesses shouldn't be competing against each other but rather embracing one another to bring more people to the area.

"If a business next door closes, that will be less profit for not only my business, but all of them on Main Street," he said.



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