CHRISTIAN K. LEE/WATERTOWN DAILY TIMESA view of downtown Watertown’s Public Square from 2017.

WATERTOWN — In 1972, much of downtown Corning had to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes.

But community and business leaders came together with one goal — saving the five-block stretch that made up the downtown area.

Executive Director Coleen Fabrizi credits its now prospering downtown with the formation of the Gaffer District, a Downtown Business District, in 2004.

She told about 40 business owners and community leaders earlier this week that Watertown’s downtown could become a more vibrant central business district if a Business Improvement District was formed here.

“You have a beautiful downtown,” she said during a meeting hosted by the Downtown Business Association and the city of Watertown.

The Downtown Business Association is in the early stages of talking about whether a Business Improvement District, commonly known as a BID, should be created.

Ms. Fabrizi believes that Watertown has the makings of a successful BID. But it takes working together.

“Tell your story,” she said.

The Corning BID is responsible for downtown beautification, street maintenance, snow removal, organizing walking tours of downtown, putting on a series of events throughout the year and marketing and promoting its downtown.

The Gaffer District employs 11 people and has a $235,000 budget, funded by its members through a special assessment tax.

It’s most well-known member is Corning Inc. and biggest tourist attraction is the Corning Glass Museum. Now in its 10th year, a four-day Glassfest attracts about 10,000 people to its downtown every Memorial Day weekend.

Local artist Kathleen Mereand, who’s involved in the Watertown Saturday farmers market in the J.B. Wise parking lot, asked how the Corning BID attracted businesses.

With 90 percent of its storefronts full, it’s a matter of keeping things positive, Ms. Fabrizi said. Instead of talking about vacancy rates, refer to them as occupancy rates, she said.

She remembered putting up signs in store windows that read: “This storefront is not vacant. It’s full of possibilities.”

Diana Clark, who has operated a counseling office in the Key Bank building since 2002, generally supports the BID concept.

“It’s going to be tough to get a lot of businesses on board,” she said.

Last fall, City Manager Rick Finn proposed forming a business improvement district to make further strides in downtown growth.

Business improvement districts have been around since the 1980s. Several other communities have adopted them, including Batavia, Geneva, Canandaigua and Ithaca.

The Watertown Downtown Business Association would have to first get a consensus of the majority of businesses to agree to pursue the BID, the City Council needs to approve and the state Legislature would have okay it.

Carol A. Loch, the DBA’s treasurer, said the discussion will continue at the groups’s July 13 meeting. About 10 DBA members attended the breakfast.

In 1993, a BID was proposed for downtown, but merchants, in the end, voted against the idea.

The Gist of It

n WHAT’S HAPPENING: The executive director of Corning’s Gaffer District met with local merchants about Business Improvement Districts

n WHAT’S NEXT: Further discussion about forming a BID in Watertown

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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