POTSDAM — Potsdam is number one in the north country region as the winner of the $10 million state grant for the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
State, county and local officials gathered to hear the news delivered from Lt. Gov. Kathy C. Hochul in the third floor conference room of Clarkson University’s Old Main building.
The near room, which became standing room only with more than 200 people, was all standing as they erupted into applause at the news.
Officials in Potsdam and other areas of the north country region, which includes St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Franklin, Essex and Clinton counties, had been on pins and needles, waiting for the announcement.
Village Planning and Development Director Frederick J. Hanss saw this day coming back in late May when he told the Times, “so, this is our year.”
On Tuesday, he stood wiping tears from his eyes after the announcement, and he wasn’t alone.
“It’s very emotional. I’m kinda speechless at the moment,” he told the Times. “It’s a lot to get your arms around but I think the lieutenant governor, she captured it really well, four years of really, really hard work, building on work that people started 40 years ago. I mean, it’s been this continuum . . . and so we are kind of standing on the shoulders of giants today and it has taken a lot of energy to get here. We’re here.”
He said the next step will involve putting together that local planning committee to help sort through what their goals will be moving forward with help from local representatives from the governors office.
Mayor Reinhold J. Tischler was also choked up over the announcement.
Holding the giant $10 million cardboard check following the announcement, he said it was the greatest moment in his 30 years in politics.
With the award, Mayor Reinhold told the crowd, “in our proposal we said we would collectively do four things with this incredible investment in our community. Think of them as the four Rs, we will revitalize, we will rebuild, we will rebound and as of today, we will rejoice.”
Mrs. Hochul said the resilience of the village — to apply four years in a row — paid off, with a refined vision of what they wanted their community to be. She said the focus was on their core strengths, “the vibrant arts and cultural community, the theatre, the fact that there are so many historic buildings that they can capitalize on.”
Mrs. Hochul was referring to the theater in Old Snell Hall, which is about 98,000 square feet in size and seats about 500 people.
Mr. Hanss predicted in May that the theater was going to be the village’s golden egg in getting the $10 million, when he said the previous recipients of the $10 million DRI grant where each of those communities has a downtown theater.
At the time Mr. Hanss made his prediction, the state announced it was funding $5.6 million toward a $26 million renovation project of Clarkson University’s Old Snell Hall into 59 affordable housing apartments by The Vecino Group is a feather in the cap of the village.
That theater will be part of the renovation and will be occupied by the Arts Council and Shipley Center for Innovation.
Mrs. Hochul said in addition to their assets, like access to the St. Lawrence River, Canada and the Adirondacks which is a complement to the waterfront property that blesses their downtown, the village has a much more sophisticated vision.
“They found that they could capitalize on the arts and cultural dynamic of having the Children’s Museum, but also the opportunities with the theater and the St. Lawrence Arts Council and the vision that they have, I think that is a catalyst to attract young people and create a cool vibe in an urban area,” she said. “I think that is what put them over the top as well as recognizing by changing their streetscapes . . . I mean this is really the epicenter of a lot of great ideas and businesses and tourism opportunities. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and there’s no turning back.”
Maggie M. McKenna, who is both a village trustee and the executive director of the St. Lawrence County Arts Council, was another overjoyed individual who was between laughing and crying over the news.
“It’s incredibly exciting because I came here with my background in the arts, in music specifically, and I started the Ives Park Concert Series, and the community wants to come together around the arts. It’s obvious and we just need to create more opportunities for that,“ Mrs. McKenna said. “When Fred was working on updating his previous applications, even before I was at the Arts Council, I was like what are we going to do that arts related? Then when I was in the Arts Council, I was like, hey, there are some real synergies here. I’m so excited.”
The streetscape enhancement raised by Mrs. Hochul from the village plan would be along the Market Street National Historic Register District, which goes from Depot Street over to the intersection with Maple, Main and Market, and then down Raymond Street.
The funding could go toward replacing the existing sidewalks that are there with one that has a decorative concrete band on it, put in new street trees and “bio-tree planters” which act as stormwater management infrastructure.
There would also be new LED street lighting along Market and Raymond streets to better illuminate the sidewalks and for senior citizens and people with disabilities, groups Mr. Hanss said he has heard from.
Potsdam joins Fulton, in the Central Region; Baldwin, in Long Island; Peekskill, in Mid-Hudson; Hornell, in the Southern Tier; and Niagara Falls Bridge District, in Western New York.
Yet to be announced are the Capital Region, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and New York City.
Potsdam was joined by Canton, Massena and Ogdensburg in applying for the grant in St. Lawrence County. Lowville in Lewis County and Carthage and Cape Vincent in Jefferson County also applied.
This is the fourth consecutive year the village of Potsdam has competed for the funding by submitting a DRI application.
As in the first three rounds of the DRI, one municipality from each of the state’s 10 regional economic development regions is selected as a $10 million winner, marking another overall state goal to target $100 million in funding and investments to help communities boost their economies by transforming downtowns into vibrant neighborhoods where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise a family.