New mayor loves Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN--It was hard to photograph new Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk without a halo. Standing in front of the large aerial map of Watkins Glen that almost fills the long wall of the village meeting room, the top of his head is just below the outlines of some of the looping roads outside the village. But he insists he's not an angel, just someone ready to use a lot of his energy to help a village he loves reach more of its potential.
Within the village boundaries, he picks out landmarks, considering a broad range of topics. A few empty lots and untenanted storefronts bother him. "Let's work on filling those empty lots," he says. "I've found the driver is capitalism. Let someone come in and fund it to make it work and let business be the driver. This is a great village. We just need to shine it up. The residents deserve a good community."
The Odessa-Montour graduate who left only to serve in the military, returned to the area to work as a state trooper. After earning retirement, he and his wife Jane bought Admiral Peabody's Lakeside Lodging on Salt Point Road. He can easily recall a time when many area businesses closed for the winter, and he's pleased to see that most places now stay open all year. "We're becoming more of a year-round village," he notes, with tourists and locals enjoying the amenities.
One way to keep focused on local needs is listening to residents. "I see the village through 48-year-old eyes," he says. So he's tried to create opportunities to hear concerns from other demographics. At Jefferson Village and the Middle School apartments, he heard a wish for a local senior center. "It may not happen tomorrow, but maybe when someone gets a grant to redo a building..." He's looking for that grant--he works with Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) to identify grants that could work for the village. "If I hadn't gone and asked, maybe no one would have called me up and told me," he says thoughtfully. When he listened to younger people and their parents, he heard worries about a lack of activities for youth. They mentioned the summer recreation program, which ended in 2017. Leszyk looked at statistics about the young people who attended, then went to the towns in the county, asking for help with the funding--and got it. The program is slated to return in 2020.
His job as mayor--a full-time job with part-time pay, he jokes--takes in large issues and small ones. One thing that surprised him, he says, was the number of meetings he had to attend and catch up on. Infrastructure is a big concern, and once the new sewage treatment plant comes online and the old, waterfront plant is removed, an area of prime, lake-front, village-owned real estate will be open to possibilities. Leszyk wants to see it become a revenue-generator for the village. Other areas of the water system--he's looking for more grants here, too--need to be updated. Leszyk says he would like to see areas of concern identified and repaired in advance of breakdowns. He's been meeting with architects and park planners to upgrade the lakeside Clute Park, which will include a new pavilion, upgraded bathrooms and what is expected to be a more user-friendly layout of benches and more trees.
It should be noted the sidewalk project in Watkins Glen is not using the grant money ear-marked for economic development. Rather, it's a Department of Transportation (DOT) project that happens in each municipal area periodically--and this year happens to coincide with a time of village upgrade and growth.
In his other life as a resort host, he finds himself sometimes acting as a local booster for his guests. "It's easy to brag about the area you live in," he says. While many of his guests come with a planned itinerary of activities, often including winery visits and a trip to the Corning Glass Museum and studios, he's happy to point out there's so much more to do in the area. Exploring this quaint and interesting village for one thing--and he'd like to see more enterprises to grab tourist attention and dollars.
As for his own, very occasional down-time, golf is his sport of choice. But mostly, he says, what would really be nice would be spending a little more time with his wife.