The Winners of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Round Five Have Been Announced

Governor Hochul and Lieutenant Governor Benjamin have announced the winners of the fifth round of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) in a series of events that were held last fall to highlight the significance of the DRI program in revitalizing communities across the State.

Launched in 2016, The Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) has been envisioned as “a comprehensive approach to boosting local economies by transforming communities into vibrant neighborhoods where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise a family.”

The 2021 winners are as follows:

  • New York City: Chinatown ($20 million)
  • Long Island: Amityville ($10 million) and Riverhead ($10 million)
  • Capital Region: Troy ($10 million) and Tannersville ($10 million)
  • Mid-Hudson: Haverstraw ($10 million) and Ossining ($10 million)
  • Mohawk Valley: Gloversville ($10 million) and Little Falls ($10 million)
  • Finger Lakes: Rochester ($10 million) and Newark ($10 million)
  • Central New York: Oneida ($10 million) and Syracuse ($10 million)
  • Western New York: Buffalo ($10 million) and North Tonawanda ($10 million)
  • Southern Tier: Endicott ($10 million) and Norwich ($10 million)
  • North Country: Tupper Lake ($10 million) and Massena ($10 million)

The village of Tannersville in Greene County (Capital Region) is the smallest municipality to have ever received a DRI award (population 858), and also the first one in the Catskills area. Projects to be considered for funding include housing developments, as more people are leaving the City and relocating Upstate, and tourist attractions such as music and arts venues, as well as a trolley that will take visitors to the Kaaterskill Falls, a major source of inspiration for the Hudson River School of Painting, the first authentic American art movement. Tannersville is only 4 miles away from Hunter Mountain Ski Resort, a worldwide destination. To learn more about the Tannersville’s DRI application, listen to the interview conducted by Brett Barry from Silver Hollow Audio with Sean Mahoney, Executive Director, and Amy Scheibe, Board Chair at the Hunter Foundation, the economic development partner for the Village of Tannersville, which spearheaded the DRI process: https://anchor.fm/kaatscast

The DRI winners are selected every year in a competitive review process based on eight criteria (in 2020 the program was put on hold due to the pandemic):

  1. The downtown should be compact, with well-defined boundaries;
  2. The downtown is able to capitalize on prior or catalyze future private and public investment in the neighborhood and its surrounding areas;
  3. There should be recent or impending job growth within, or in close proximity to the downtown that can attract workers to the downtown, support redevelopment and make growth sustainable;
  4. The downtown must be an attractive and livable community for diverse populations of every age, income, gender, identity, ability, mobility and cultural background;
  5. The municipality should already embrace or have the ability to create and implement policies that increase livability and quality of life, including the use of local land banks, modern zoning codes and parking standards, complete street plans, energy efficient projects, green jobs, and transit-oriented development;
  6. The municipality should have conducted an open and robust community engagement process resulting in a vision for downtown revitalization and a preliminary list of projects and initiatives that may be included in a DRI strategic investment plan;
  7. The municipality has the local capacity to manage the DRI process;
  8. The municipality has identified transformative projects that will be ready for near-term implementation with an infusion of DRI funds.

To learn more about the DRI process, visit https://simonadavid.com/2021/09/01/downtown-revitalization-initiative-dri-a-quick-overview/.

For more information, visit https://www.ny.gov/programs/downtown-revitalization-initiative

Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) – A Quick Overview  

Launched in 2016, The Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) has been envisioned as “a comprehensive approach to boosting local economies by transforming communities into vibrant neighborhoods where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise a family.”

As highlighted in the DRI 2021 Guidebook, the program’s fundamental goals are:

• Creating an active, desirable downtown with a strong sense of place;

• Attracting new businesses (including “Main Street” businesses), that create a robust mix of shopping, dining, entertainment and service options for residents and visitors, and that provide job opportunities for a variety of skills and salaries;

• Enhancing public spaces for arts and cultural events that serve the existing members of the community but also draw in attendees from around the region;

• Building a diverse population, with residents and workers supported by complementary diverse housing and employment opportunities;

• Growing the local property tax base;

• Providing amenities that support and enhance downtown living and quality of life; and

• Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by creating compact, walkable development patterns that increase public transit ridership and allow for adoption of district-wide decarbonized heating and cooling; and by supporting efficiency and electrification of buildings, installation of onsite renewable energy generation, and electric vehicle charging.

Each year ten communities – one from each of the State’s ten Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs): Western New York, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Capital Region, Mid-Hudson, New York City, and Long Island – are awarded $10 million each for strategic investments in transformative projects that can bring commerce and culture together for an increased sense of place and amplified economic vibrancy.

In the first four DRI rounds, forty communities were selected to receive $10 million each “to undertake a bottom-up community planning process and to implement key projects recommended by the community.” Through the planning process, each community develops a shared and clear vision for what is needed to ensure a successful downtown revitalization and sets goals and lays out strategies to accomplish that vision. At the end of the process, a strategic plan is created to implement the catalytic projects as identified in the plan. In addition to community-based strategic planning, a successful DRI process involves sustained inter-agency project support and outside investments.

The Strategic Investment Downtown Revitalization Initiative Plan ought to include:

  • Downtown profile and assessment;
  • Community vision and goals;
  • Strategies and methods to achieve the downtown revitalization vision;
  • Key projects recommended for DRI funding.

In 2021 the DRI Round 5 will invest $200 million in up to 20 downtown neighborhoods across the State. As detailed in the DRI Guidebook, each of the State’s ten Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs) solicits applications and chooses one or two downtowns that are ready for revitalization and have the potential to become a magnet for redevelopment, business, job creation, greater economic and housing diversity, and opportunity. Applications for the current round must be submitted by 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 15, 2021. NYC applications are due by September 3, 2021.

DRI Round 5 is in fact twice as big as the previous rounds. This year each REDC may award $20 million to one or two downtowns. Each REDC will decide whether to nominate two $10 million awardees or one $20 million award upon review of submitted applications.  

Desirable attributes for participation in the DRI, as highlighted in the guidebook, include:

  1. Well-defined boundaries
  2. Past investments
  3. Recent job growth
  4. Quality of life
  5. Supportive local policies
  6. Public support
  7. Transformative opportunities and readiness
  8. Administrative capacity

The winners from the previous four rounds are as follow:

ROUND I: Elmira (Southern Tier), Geneva (Finger Lakes), Glens Falls (Capital Region), Jamaica (New York City), Jamestown (Western New York), Middletown (Mid-Hudson), Oneonta (Mohawk Valley), Oswego (Central New York), Plattsburgh (North Country), and Westbury (Long Island).

ROUND II: Batavia (Finger Lakes), Bronx (New York City), Cortland (Central New York), Hicksville (Long Island), Hudson (Capital Region), Kingston (Mid-Hudson), Olean (Western New York), Rome (Mohawk Valley), Watertown (North Country), and Watkins Glen (Southern Tier).

ROUND III: Albany (Capital Region), Amsterdam (Mohawk Valley), Auburn (Central New York), Central Islip (Long Island), Downtown Brooklyn (New York City), Lockport (Western New York), New Rochelle (Mid-Hudson), Owego (Southern Tier), Penn Yan (Finger Lakes), and Saranac Lake (North Country). 

ROUND IV: Schenectady (Capital Region), Fulton (Central New York), Seneca Falls (Finger Lakes), Baldwin (Long Island), Peekskill (Mid-Hudson), Utica (Mohawk Valley), Staten Island (New York City), Potsdam (North Country), Hornell (Southern Tier), and Niagara Falls Bridge District (Western New York).

To learn more, visit https://www.ny.gov/programs/downtown-revitalization-initiative

THE SOUTHERN TIER ECONOMIC RECOVERY STRATEGY 2021

This year marks the tenth anniversary since the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) were created as a new economic development strategy in New York State, replacing the older top-down model with an innovative bottom-up approach that is meant to increase local stakeholders’ participation in shaping the vision and the priorities of each region. Since 2011 over $6.9 billion in State funding has been awarded to over 8,300 projects. Through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) a diverse range of projects has been funded thus far from hospitality and tourism initiatives to high-tech manufacturing and business incubators.

In 2011 Governor Cuomo created ten Regional Economic Development Councils: Western New York, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Capital Region, Mid-Hudson, New York City, and Long Island.

Each Council has developed its own strategic economic development plan to bolster economic activity, create new businesses, revitalize downtowns, invest in technology, and train skilled workforce. These plans address specific challenges and capitalize on unique assets that each region has to offer to allocate resources judiciously and stimulate economic activity. The plans are updated annually to include new challenges and opportunities. In 2021 specifically the post COVID-19 recovery efforts have become essential as well as investments in a more resilient economy. Public outreach and engagement are paramount in delineating actionable goals for each region.       

Regional Councils are organized in workgroups formed by stakeholders representing each region and engaging with local officials, businesses, community organizations, and academia to identify priorities, set goals, and design and implement strategies that best suit each region’s economic development objectives. The workgroups play an important role in identifying strong projects that can advance regional and state priorities.   

In 2015 The Southern Tier, Finger Lakes and Central New York regions became the winners of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) awards in the amount of $1.5 billion, with each region being awarded $500 million to spend on economic development projects over the span of five years.

In The Southern Tier the expectation was that the URI investment of $500 million would leverage more than $2.5 billion in private investment, create more than 10,200 jobs and have an overall economic impact of $3.4 billion over the span of five years. The focus has been on revitalizing distressed communities, spearheading innovation, attracting foreign investment, increasing exports, leveraging the region’s natural resources, strengthening regional industries ranging from advanced manufacturing to agriculture and tourism, and building a regional brand.

The Southern Tier 2021 Annual Report details the state of the region and highlights regional priorities – it can be found online at https://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/sites/default/files/2021-07/SouthernTier2021AnnualReport.pdf

The Southern Tier’s regional priorities, which are addressed by the workgroups include: The Greater Binghamton Innovation Ecosystem, Advanced Manufacturing, Food and Agriculture Industry, Innovative Culture, and Tourism Business.

A list of awarded projects over the past decade can be found at https://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/cfa/projects

The 2020 global pandemic caused disruption and forced the region to re-set its priorities. The Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council has prepared an Economic Recovery Strategy that addresses COVID-19 related issues and reshapes the focus of the workgroups. The plan includes input from local municipalities, economic development agencies and industrial development agencies to bolster the economic recovery of the region and build resilience. The co-chairs of The Southern Tier Regional Council Dr. Kevin Drumm and Judy McKinney-Cherry described the plan as “pragmatic, ambitious, and forward-focused.”

The following overarching themes have emerged, and they will inform policy recommendations:

  • Expanding broadband access
  • Quality, affordable, and available childcare
  • Creating a unified workforce strategy

Statewide priorities include: childcare, economic and environmental justice, placemaking and downtown revitalization, and workforce development.

In 2021 the Regional Economic Development Councils compete for $150 million in capital funds and $75 million in Excelsior Tax Credits. Over thirty state programs participate in the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) for state economic development resources from multiple agencies, representing a combined pool of grants, tax credits, and low-cost financing totaling over $750 million. Project readiness and the alignment with the strategic plan are of essence. The application process is open from May 10 to July 30. Learn more at https://apps.cio.ny.gov/apps/cfa/      

Learn about Regional Economic Development Councils at https://regionalcouncils.ny.gov

$500 Million Economic Development Award to the Southern Tier 

On December 10, 2015 the Governor’s Office announced the winners of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) awards in the amount of $1.5 billion. The Southern Tier was one of the three winning regions, along with the Finger Lakes and Central New York regions. Each region was awarded $500 million to spend on economic development projects over the next five years.

I spoke with Dr. Harvey Stenger, President of Binghamton University, and Co-Chair of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council.

Simona David: Dr. Stenger, please talk a little bit about the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council: when was it formed, what is its mission, and its structure? In 2011 Governor Andrew Cuomo created ten regional economic development councils as an effort to improve New York’s business climate and expand economic growth.

Dr. Harvey Stenger: The council and the process for economic development initiative that the Governor has driven started right after he took office. We’re on our fifth year now of being part of this, entering the sixth year in 2016. The process that he developed is a competitive process: we’re ten regions that the state has been divided in to compete annually for funds to do capital projects that can have synergistic and large impacts on the local economies. The Southern Tier is made up of eight counties centered around Broome County but going as far to the West as Steuben, as far to the East as Delaware. A very diverse group of about 600,000 people. The process is that each year we come up with projects. We also have a strategic plan that talks about things that we want to do over a very long period of time rather than just projects. So, when the Governor picks winners each year he looks at their plans, as well as specific projects that they have. This year, as you know, he upped the competition so that the winners competed for $500 million compared to $30 – 40 million per year in the past years.

SD: What is the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) program, and how does it relate to the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI)?

HS: That’s a good question. It got confusing this year. In the past there was only the Consolidated Funding Application where any person or agency or company or municipality could go to the Regional Economic Development Council’s website, and enter a project, the project description, its schedule, and its impact, and how would fit into the region’s plan. That was the process that everyone was familiar with for the last four years. And those funds were typically between $100,000 and $2 – 3 million. Many of them were funded directly through the Empire State Development Agency (ESD), but some of them were funded through other agencies like the Energy, Research and Development Authority, or the Power Authority, or the Department of Transportation, or the Department of Labor. That’s the past. Then this year they mixed together the projects that are called Upstate Revitalization projects and the Consolidated Funding Application projects, but there was a lot of overlapping. The most recent booklet that the Governor’s Office has put out actually divides them up. It shows the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) awards, and then it shows the Upstate Revitalization awards separately. So you can actually see the difference in this booklet that’s online which projects were considered CFA awards, and which projects were considered Upstate Revitalization Initiative. We’re going to have a Council Executive Committee meeting maybe the second week of January, and try to move as many projects forward as we can, as quickly as we can. We know that time is money, and we want these projects to get started as soon as possible.     

SD: So, your mandate was to prepare a Revitalization Plan for the region’s eight counties. The Southern Tier is formed by Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, and Tompkins counties. Let’s talk about the process of preparing the Revitalization Plan for the Southern Tier. The State Implementation Assessment Team (SIAT) outlined a number of plan concepts: innovation, leveraging the private sector, investment, connectivity and collaboration, sustainability, workforce development, community reinvestment, global economy, readiness, leveraging other state initiatives. Let’s talk about the process, and also about the team who prepared this plan.   

HS: The advantage we had in preparing this new plan was that we had an existing plan that was in really good shape. The plan that we submit every year as part of the awards process has to have in it things that you just listed: from workforce development to the Opportunity Agenda to hard-to-place workers to manufacturing industries. We already had targeted and talked about those things in previous plans. So, it was easy for us to adapt the 2014 Plan to write the 2015 Plan, which is more extensive. But the best part is that we can now think much bigger. We can think in longer terms. In the past we had to think about year by year one set of awards, one set of projects. This new proposal could talk about more than 100 projects that could take place over five years. And now we can start to build synergies between the projects, so that they have multiplier effect. We have a great team that goes out and talks to companies, talks to municipalities, finds out what their needs really are, tries to make sure that the descriptions of their needs are accurate so that when we put our proposal together we know if we’re promising a project that will deliver 100 jobs, and it’s a $2 million investment. So, it’s a lot of foot work, and travel, and conversations that our staff is going through – the staff from ESD, the staff from all the agencies that we work with. We do have some very skilled writers, and I do think that our plan was attractive, and easy to read, and it had a lot of good features. We’re competing against some big cities, we’re competing against Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, all much larger than us, with more resources than us. It’s exciting that we had a good enough plan to be in the top three.

SD: Actually this was one of my questions: What do you think made the Southern Tier’s application so strong? Maybe we can connect this to talking a little bit about some of the projects listed in the Revitalization Plan, and how the priorities were set.

HS: One of the things that we recognized in our data analysis leading up to writing up this most recent version of our URI plan, is that we have a very high concentration of industries surrounding transportation equipment, and these would include companies like Alstom which is in Hornell that makes the trains for Amtrak; BAE in Broome County manufactures avionic systems for aircrafts; Raymond Corporation in Greene, NY makes lift trucks; and, Lockheed Martin makes helicopters. When you look at all those industries you find out that they’re all in the same industry code, and when you look at their density you find that they’re extremely dense in the Southern Tier compared to other parts of the country. What can we do that synergistically can pull them together? A part of our plan – the Advanced Manufacturing Initiative – addresses that specifically to help companies in our region improve cybersecurity.

Another initiative is agriculture. Even though we have an area that’s fairly low in produce development, we have great diary, great beef, poultry, pork, but we’re limited in many ways by a good distribution system. We don’t have a lot of superhighways, we have certain corridors, but a lot of our farms are mixed up in areas where distribution and transportation are difficult. How can we pull together all these distant farms, and find good distribution hubs for them? This is another project that we think will have a pretty large impact on farming and the rural communities, which is a big part of the Southern Tier.              

SD: There is also the Greater Binghamton Innovation Ecosystem Initiative – you plan to create several iDistricts (i stands for innovation), including a high-technology incubator and a biopharmaceutical hub in the Binghamton area. The fourth initiative – Promoting the Southern Tier’s Innovative Culture Initiative – is very interesting as well: it seems that you plan to develop a regional brand for the Southern Tier. Let’s talk about this fourth initiative a little bit. 

HS: The way I put it to people is that you want to have a great place to work, but also a cool place to live. When I look at what this area probably was 30 – 50 years ago, it was a great place to work and a cool place to live. There were factories in Endicott and Johnson City – IBM in Endicott, the Endicott-Johnson shoe company in Johnson City, and then people ended up in Binghamton in the evening for dinner, or for a play, or for an opera, or a baseball game, or a hockey game, and that’s what we were. We were also a very innovative society. This is where IBM started. We have this history of being very creative and innovative, and having a very good blend of industrial locations and cooler urban centers. But they’ve gone away. In the last 25 years we’ve lost probably ¾ of the manufacturing jobs in this region. These are high-paying jobs, and when they’ve gone away, all those things that were there to help support and provide services for them have gone away. Our job now is to find the bones of what’s left and to inject certain funds into the region to seed and to catalyze the re-growth of those. For example the iDistrict in Johnson City is going to focus on bringing pharmaceutical companies to the Southern Tier. The other area that we’re trying to enhance is the Endicott area where we still have great equipment that can process electronic materials but in a much higher tech way. Downtown Binghamton doesn’t need too much, but we are going to invest some of our funds in high density development trying to create an urban living environment in downtown Binghamton – a lot of student housing there, but we’re looking at more professional housing, and to take advantage of the waterfronts that are in Binghamton, to take advantage of the night life, and try to do some transformative projects.

SD: A couple of questions about Delaware County specifically. I believe Delaware County is the only Catskills county to benefit from the URI awards, just because it belongs to the Southern Tier, one of the three winners, the other two being Finger Lakes region, and Central New York region. First, are there any specific projects to be developed in Delaware County? Second, when we’re talking about developing a Southern Tier regional brand – here in the Catskills we’ve been talking about promoting the Catskills as a region – how will this impact Delaware County?

HS: I think it’s unfortunate that we don’t get Sullivan County too. But Delaware is a beautiful county, along the east branch of Delaware River; the fishing streams in there are historic, and some of the resorts that are in Delaware County are outstanding. Two of the projects that are going to be funded right away are in Delaware County. One is part of The Roxbury Motel that’s certainly a destination. They’re going to rehabilitate about 5,700 sq ft of the federal mansion into guest rooms; we’re going to provide about 20 percent of the funding for that. The second one is an infrastructure project in the village of Walton. This will update their waste treatment facility to make it more efficient, and to have an anaerobic digester that will create biogas that can actually be burned to generate electricity. Peg Ellsworth, who is Delaware County’s representative, certainly has lots of great ideas, great projects. We’re looking at some of the things that we can brand. One of the things we’re trying to do is attract people from New York City, and bring them into the Southern Tier for culture and tourism events, but also to bring their companies here, and maybe move from New York City to a lower cost Southern Tier facility. We can have Delaware County be the gate to the Southern Tier. Delaware County is a great asset that we have.

SD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?                

HS: I do think there are still a lot of details that are developing, people are still wondering about all of the impacts, and all the different projects. The Regional Council will be meeting in January. There will be public meetings; people are encouraged to come and give us their comments and thoughts. It’s great to have a Governor who appreciates the upstate revitalization process, and the legislative support that’s going to be necessary to make these investments, and make sure they are successful.    

SD: Are you still considering new projects?

HS: Most definitely. We have several projects that aren’t completely developed. We will be working with certain agencies to put more details into those plans, and you’ll be seeing more of the Regional Economic Development Council in the Southern Tier asking people for their ideas, and for their projects. We’ll be constantly evolving.               

SD: How do you plan to communicate the status of these projects, and let people know about the progress that’s being made?

HS: We’re pretty good at keeping our website updated at http://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/cohttps://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/southern-tierntent/southern-tier. In there you’ll see our updated plan from last year, you’ll see our video from last year that talks about dozens of projects across the Southern Tier and the status of these projects. You’ll also be able to find our presentation of our future proposal and our URI proposal – there’s a video as well as a document of that. Every project that gets funded is reviewed, and we count jobs, and cost-sharing, and all that can be found on that public site as well.