In case you haven’t heard, the City of Geneva’s downtown revitalization efforts received a bit of a boost this summer with the announcement of a $10 million grant to support redevelopment in the City’s central business district and downtown neighborhood. The award was part of a $100 million competition, in which the Governor’s Office would identify ten downtowns across New York that demonstrated the potential for transformational change in support of their community’s economic advancement vision. Geneva was designated as the Finger Lakes Region’s winner.
The application process itself was different than most grant programs we’ve ever competed for. Rather than identifying specific projects, the City’s application discussed our recent successes, our opportunities for continued revitalization, and the challenges facing downtown and the community. Since awarded, the grant implementation process has been largely focused on brainstorming ideas to foster the transformation described in the application.
In the fall and early winter, the consultant team and City staff spent hours working with the public to identify specific ideas that would advance Geneva’s economic and community development goals. Interactions included a series of public meetings and design sessions (details can be found here), a website with a feedback form, and face-to-face feedback via weekly hours at the project’s downtown storefront headquarters (Tuesdays, noon to 7 p.m.; 425 Exchange Street).
Now for the Hard Part
Brainstorming is always fun. It’s even more fun when you’re brainstorming about how to make your already great community even better. But, at some point, the rubber has to meet the road. Decisions have to be made about how these critical funds will be allocated to our projects. One thing I’ve learned is that $10 million just doesn’t go as far as it used to…
Just before the holidays, the consultant team worked with the Local Planning Committee (a diverse group of individuals from Geneva and the region representing resident, business, tourism, and community development interests) and the general public to prioritize some early thoughts on projects. The consultant team is compiling their report on the results now, which will be released next week to the public. In the interim, project ideas have continued to roll in, as we’re beginning to transition into decision-making mode. It is anticipated that the Committee will ultimately be evaluating a mix of public projects (i.e. streetscape improvement, parks, parking etc.) and private side improvements (i.e. building restoration, infill development, etc.).
Starting this month, the Local Planning Committee will be reviewing project reports and the final prioritization will begin. The Committee will review projects for evaluation criteria, including, but not limited to:
- Congruence with Local and Regional Plans: All projects need to advance the goals of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Strategic Plan, the City of Geneva’s Comprehensive Plan, and the City’s DRI application.
- Community Impact: Projects will be evaluated to determine the potential financial and community development impact on downtown and the surrounding region.
- Leverage: There are not enough funds to support the total project cost of every project. Projects will be reviewed to determine the value of other funds that can be leveraged by DRI support.
- Capacity: It is critical that funds are allocated to projects with a development team that has demonstrated the ability to deliver projects of a similar magnitude. Project submittals will be evaluated to determine the strength of the development team as it relates to delivering on similar projects.
- Project Readiness: Not all priority projects will be ready to go today, but Committee members will seek to gauge an approximate timeframe for project completion. In order to deliver impact to the community, and demonstrate our readiness for future funding, projects should be able to demonstrate an ability to be completed in a reasonable timeframe.
Once those evaluation (among possibly others) are applied, a set of projects will rise to the top for DRI funding. Other projects that are deemed valuable, but not ready (or not a great fit for DRI) may be prioritized for future grant and other funding. All of these observations and recommendations will be compiled into a Strategic Investment Plan, which must be approved by the Local Planning Committee and submitted to the Governor’s Office by February 28th. The Govenor’s Office may fully accept the local recommendations, or direct changes to the prioritization. It is anticipated that we will have a final projects list by June of this year.
When the approved project list is complete, project teams will begin to mobilize. Teams will be required to demonstrate that their project is ready to move before a grant contract is issued by the state. This is likely going to be done on a project-by-project basis. For example, if a building owner in downtown was awarded $500,000 for building improvements as part of a $1 million revitalization project, the owner will likely be required to demonstrate that all other funding is in place, that all project plans have been developed, and that all local approvals have been gained. The state will likely issue a grant contract for that specific project, and owners can apply for reimbursement when project milestones are met. It is not anticipated that any advanced funds will be disbursed–in other words, we expect that project developers will need to do what they said they would do before a check is cut.
As is evident, there is still lots of work to be done, and it is among the hardest work in the planning process. The simple fact is that there are a tremendous number of valuable projects that could make good use of the $10 million and then some. We should view this grant as a springboard; taking our revitalization to the next level–and not as the cap on our efforts. Our work will continue long after these dollars are spent, and the impact of the grant is evident. Building a community is a lifelong journey.
Watch for details in the coming days on meeting times and locations for next week’s Local Planning Committee and Public Meeting sessions. Stay involved in this amazing effort to boost Geneva’s trajectory toward realizing our vision of a beautiful, prosperous, equitable, connected, and sustainable community!