Downtown projects get grant approval
WATKINS GLEN--Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced the funded Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects for Watkins Glen.
"Watkins Glen is a New York State treasure, featuring its beautiful state park, an internationally renowned race track and a vibrant downtown," Gov. Cuomo said. "These projects and investments will continue to revitalize this area, boosting the economy and helping the Southern Tier soar. I congratulate Watkins Glen and its residents, businesses and leaders for working together with the state to bring these ideas to life as we usher in a new era for this upstate gem."
The projects were announced at the ribbon-cutting for the new main entrance to Watkins Glen State Park Monday, June 18. The $6.5 million project converted an aged parking lot at the base of the gorge into green space, creating new park amenities and enhanced interpretation of Watkins Glen's unique natural and cultural history. The project relocated a parking area away from the gorge and across Franklin Street to improve vehicular traffic flow on village streets and pedestrian traffic flow in the park. The old asphalt parking lot was transformed into a more natural landscaped park setting, including:
• A new visitor welcome center offering information about the park and other attractions in the region;
• A small outdoor amphitheater and improved educational displays on the park's human history and natural and geologic features, including a touchable model of the gorge;
• A new viewing area where people unable to hike the gorge will be able to enjoy a dramatic waterfall;
• Renovation and expansion of the existing concession building with expanded Taste of NY offerings including local wines and craft beverages and locally sourced ingredients in the new café area; and
• Renovation of public restrooms.
The village of Watkins Glen was named a DRI Round 2 winner last year. The $9.7 million in specific projects to be funded through the initiative include:
• Implementing year-round recreation at Clute Park, including design and construction of an ice rink/splash pad, lighting, entrance/driveway/parking, landscaping, signage and related improvements. ($2,017,428)
• Installing new lighting on Franklin Street in coordination with NYSDOT repaving work. Funds will be used to install conduit and foundations and purchase new fixtures once the below-grade work is completed. ($1,500,000)
• Improving East Fourth Street for pedestrians and cyclists and improving connection between downtown and Clute Park, a major corridor to encourage residents and visitors to walk or bicycle between the locations. Improvements will include wider sidewalks, landscaping and pedestrian-activated crossing at Boat Launch Road. ($1,034,565)
• Redeveloping Captain Bill's Port of Seneca Lake to improve site plan and enhance views, including construction of a two-story building to house Captain Bill's Seneca Lake Cruise Terminal. The project will allow the company to expand operations to include event space and include redesign of the site that will enhance views of the lake and draw visitors to the waterfront. ($500,000)
• Renovating the former VFW building into a full-service spa and fitness center for guests of the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, as well as other visitors and local residents. ($250,000)
• Updating the zoning code to address short term rentals, design guidelines, historic districts and other revisions, to encourage appropriate type and scale of development consistent with the village character. The changes will address the challenges of a short-term high demand seasonal rental housing market and update design guidelines. ($50,000)
• Upgrading Lafayette Park with new equipment, lighting and landscaping to build on recent private donations. The improvements include a permanent public restroom, signage, safety surfaces around the play area, lighting, perimeter sidewalks and a new bandstand roof. ($276,047)
• Redeveloping 109-111 North Franklin St. with mixed-uses to include additional ground floor commercial space and 24 mixed-income apartments on the second and third floors. The project will accommodate the existing brewery and restaurant on-site and provide open-concept co-working space operated by FLX Works, including a shared commercial kitchen for hourly rental. ($1,000,000)
• Installing gateway and wayfinding signage to welcome visitors at four major gateways to the village. Wayfinding signage will orient pedestrians, cyclists and drivers while promoting local businesses and attractions. ($644,875)
• Transforming multiple buildings and sites in the DRI area, including improvements to building façades, increasing upper story long-term housing, improving or expanding commercial space and supporting new businesses. A local entity will administer the program providing five property owners with matching funds of up to 50 percent. ($1,039,585)
• Revitalizing the vacant filling station and repair shop at 15 North Franklin St. for commercial and residential uses. Improvements will include facade and roof renovations, interior improvements and landscaping of this northern gateway site. ($287,500)
• Updating a former school auditorium as the Watkins Glen Performing Arts Center, a place for musical performances, live theater and multi-media events. Improvements will include a new air condition system, construction of a dressing room, ticket and concession areas, new energy-efficient lighting and sound systems, a new screen, projector and audio-visual equipment and historically appropriate signage. ($250,000)
• Developing a new mixed-income housing and childcare center on a vacant site owned by the Watkins Glen Housing Authority. Forty-two apartment units and a 5,000-square foot daycare center will be designed to fit into the existing character of the neighborhood. ($500,000)
• Creating a downtown revitalization fund to support small businesses and building owners to improve the built environment in the DRI area with competitive matching grants. Eligible activities include façade improvements, conversion of vacant upper-floor space to residential units, business expansion and other site improvements. ($350,000)
"The Downtown Revitalization Initiative is building communities with unprecedented funding for local projects," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, chair of the Regional Economic Development Councils. "Watkins Glen is a destination in New York, and the developments as part of the DRI and improvements to the Watkins Glen State Park will further enhance the village and attract more visitors. Our ambitious economic development initiatives are growing the economy of the Southern Tier and all regions across the State."
Chairman of the Schuyler County Legislature Dennis Fagan said, "The newly renovated Watkins Glen State Park is a true jewel of our community. Now with its association with the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce, we anticipate more visitors, not only marveling at the beautiful nature of the park, but also utilizing our local restaurants, lodging facilities and shops. Congratulations to state parks staff and contractors in completing a very impressive project for the public to enjoy for many years to come."
Rebekah Carroll, President and CEO of Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce, said, "We couldn't be more excited to be celebrating the grand opening of the impressive new Welcome Center with our partners at Watkins Glen State Park. For years, the beauty of the gorge has received international press and too many accolades to count. It is absolutely fitting that now the entrance to the park matches the beauty that exists within. The state park team has been incredible and generous partners in this venture. It has been and will continue to be an absolute delight to welcome guests and share with them the beauty and amazing experiences that await in our region."
Laurie DeNardo, co-chair, DRI Local Planning Committee, said, "The village of Watkins Glen is committed to strengthening our foundation and improving the physical, social and economic climate of our community. The DRI awarded projects will enable us to enhance these critical issues for a successful future, and advance our vision by providing employment, housing and entrepreneurial opportunities. Thank you Governor Cuomo and our State officials for investing in our future."