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UTICA — Six stakeholders are teaming up for an initiative that aims to create a vision and action plan for downtown Utica while focusing in on what really constitutes downtown.
The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties, city of Utica, Oneida County, the Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce, Mohawk Valley EDGE and the Genesis Group, have created the public-private partnership that will tie together current and future development in downtown.
“It’s soup to nuts: Everything you would need to make downtown vibrant, clean, safe and friendly,” said Alicia Dicks, president/CEO of The Community Foundation, Thursday during an editorial board meeting at the Observer-Dispatch. “At the end of the day, it’s to build vibrancy and connectivity where you have an experience and not just you’re coming in to go to the Aud and then getting in your car to go to the brewery district; it’ll be cohesive.”
Dicks was joined at Thursday’s meeting by John Swann, also of the Community Foundation; Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr.; Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri, Jen Waters, vice president of business development and communications at Mohawk Valley EDGE; and Meghan Fraser McGrogan, executive director of the Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce.
The initiative doesn’t have any specific plans at this moment, but the group hired architecture firm NBBJ to engage with the community and make a plan that will “embrace a broad definition of downtown Utica.”
The new definition will stretch from Baggs Square and the Bleecker Street corridor on the east, to the Brewery District on the west; from Harbor Point on the north to Oneida Square and the arts district on the south.
So far, the group has identified seven districts that will be included in that new definition: the brewery district, Bagg’s Square, Oneida Square, a sports and recreation district, an arts district, a health and wellness district where the hospital is going, and harbor point.
In that plan, there will be no stone unturned, from synching street lights, to city lighting, to urban art projects, they’re going to be looking at how they can use the city’s assets to improve downtown.
Picente said if they start really focusing on downtown, the work will spread and other areas of the city and other parts of the county will see more investment, as well.
“What happens here — obviously it’s the county seat, it’s the large city — but the investment that takes place here has ripple effect throughout the county,” Picente said. “What gets done here is a ripple effect. Property values increase, when people move here and live here, businesses locate here.”
The plan hinges on the downtown hospital and the Genesee Street corridor, with the U District and the work being done on Oriskany Street playing big parts.
It’s very early in a plan officials believe will transform the community over the years to come and turn Utica into a tourist destination as well as one that families want to be a part of.
“For the first time in a long time, everyone is working collectively together to make something that we see is happening, but to sustain it not only for now, but for the next 10, 20, 30 years down the road,” Palmieri said. “We have all the assets, we have all the quality of life, it’s just putting it together and making sure it has sustainability as we move forward. It’s not just one city government that’s going to be doing it, it’s going to be collectively, together, getting ideas, getting thoughts.”
When NBBJ is finished, it will provide the group with an urban design framework — or a roadmap — that can help guide development work in downtown.
Dicks said they will continue to do outreach to find more stakeholders that will work with the group. While the initiative doesn’t have an official name, Dicks said she really likes reimagining Utica.
The idea is modeled after cities that have executed similar plans, such as Nashville, Tennessee. While Utica was planning to apply for the next round of the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative, now it has help from these partners.
The DRI is an annual award that gives 10 communities $10 million to develop a downtown strategic investment plan and implement key projects that advance the community’s vision for revitalization, according to New York state.
Palmieri said downtown has gone from being a place where people go to find shopping to a place where people want to live, and it’s important that they have what they need.
“The downtown has changed from a retail 30 years ago to really a neighborhood, so what do (people) need to have it be a neighborhood?” Palmieri asked. “What are some of the ingredients? Is it greenspace? Is it something to bring people downtown who may not be living there, but want to bring their family there? It’s really a great opportunity at this point.”
Utica's early prosperity was fueled by canals and industrial manufacturing. Downtown's Columbia-Lafayette Neighborhood was a hot bed of early furnace and boiler manufacturing, as homes and businesses were adopting different indoor heating moving from, wood, coal, and then gas. By 1900, the neighborhood's The International Heating Company, claimed- "Largest Maker of Heaters in the World." We're developing the story of over twenty Furnace & Boiler Makers, and their Founders & Inventors and plan to one day offer a museum with exhibits and much more. In the meantime, please consider Fires, Furnaces & Forges to understand how the indoor heating industry developed.Better Utica Downtown seeks to help create a Better Hospital Neighborhood.