Saranac Lake lands $10 million grant to revitalize downtown
SARANAC LAKE — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that downtown Saranac Lake has been selected as the North Country’s winner of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative — a $10 million grant intended to transform the area.
Cuomo made the announcement at the Hotel Saranac to an invite-only audience, but even though the event was cloistered, the village blocked off Main Street in front of the hotel so the announcements could be heard live by people waiting outside.
“How amazing is it to be in this hotel, right?” Cuomo said, referencing a $5 million state grant the hotel owners are waiting to receive toward their $37 million restoration. “After so many years — it is such a metaphor of what can be, right? So many years, so many dreams, so many ‘what if,’ ‘what if,’ ‘why can’t,’ ‘if we only had some help, we could do this,’ and this is just a manifestation of what can be: Hot Sara up and running and hotter than ever before.”
The Downtown Revitalization Initiative supplies public funding in public-private partnerships — $100 million a year across the state, evenly divided between 10 different regions. The program is in its third year. In the North Country region, the city of Plattsburgh won it in 2016, and Watertown won in 2017.
Cuomo started announcing this year’s DRI grants on July 27 in Auburn, the winner for Central New York. The Saranac Lake-North Country announcement is the second of the 10 regions.
Each region’s Regional Economic Development Council reviews the applications and nominates one downtown in its region that, according to the DRI website, is “best positioned to take advantage of the DRI.”
This year’s round of applicants also included Canton, Potsdam and Massena, but Cuomo didn’t mention any of these in his announcement. He did say the state had received far more applicants than expected — 105, to be exact — and then said Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky had suggested, “rather than just have first-place winners at $10 million, we’ll have second-place winners at $8 million, third-place winners at $6 million, fourth-place winners at $4 million, and then a fifth-place winner, and that winner gets dinner with Howard Zemsky, so you really don’t want to come in fifth!”
But this is not the case. There is only one winner in the North Country Region — Saranac Lake. According to Cuomo’s chief spokesperson Rich Azzopardi, the rest is a joke the governor uses to build suspense. He used a similar approach when Auburn was chosen as the victor of the Central New York region.
After saying Saranac Lake had won the $10 million, Cuomo said, “You did it! You did it; no one else did it! And this is just going to keep the momentum going. It’s going to keep the growth. It’s going to keep the energy. The force is with you, and this is going to keep it going.”
Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau then took the podium and said, “We now stand here ready to accept the DRI award and leverage that investment into something great, keeping the promise and keeping the vision of those Saranac Lakers that never gave up.”
Saranac Lake’s DRI grant will focus on three areas of its downtown: Church and Woodruff streets, the Dorsey Street parking lot on the Saranac River, and the upper Broadway-Depot Street area.
Church Street area
This focus area stretches from Woodruff Street to Bloomingdale Avenue and includes two larger projects. The first is relocating Pendragon Theatre downtown to the Woodruff Street property vacated by Newman & Holmes. The village board has designated the Pendragon move as the top priority project for the DRI grant.
Also included in the proposal is the redevelopment of the Tops supermarket on Church Street. This would entail a major interior and exterior renovation of the building.
This block of Church Street looks different from its other blocks, and the village wants to use the DRI to change that.
“There’s so much pavement and wide curb cuts, so it’s really trying to tighten that up and add some street trees,” village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said in an interview Friday. “It’s really car oriented.”
Dorsey Street parking lot
The projects proposed for this area include rear facades of Main Street buildings, making the parking area aesthetically pleasing and more tied into the River Walk.
“The DRI project is really about trying to put some structure in that parking lot, improve the aesthetics, add some landscaping,” Konkoski said. She also said that it will connect the walkways, and each little alley would each have its own pedestrian connection to the River Walk.
“Right now we have a project that’s looking at filling that gap where the [former] Dew Drop [Inn] is to get a continuous pathway, and we have some grant money already awarded for construction for whatever the design solution is.”
Another proposed project is bringing back a whitewater paddling course on the river, under the Frank Ratigan bridge on state Route 3. There was a whitewater course there in the 1990s, but it is long gone now.
Since the 1970s, there has been occasional talk of developing the former railroad yards at the end of Depot Street, but much of that area is now filled with fuel storage. The DRI grant might be used toward possible mixed-use development along the railroad corridor where Hyde Fuel and HomEnergy now store fuel tanks, and connecting Depot Street to Broadway. Both Hyde and HomEnergy have proposed in the past to move the tanks to other property they own.
More to come
These areas were the main focus in the DRI, but there are dozens of other potential projects the village is looking at downtown, and Konkoski is looking for other grants to help accommodate them.
One of these is a state Main Street grant, and a collaborative application has been filed for Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, through Franklin County. According to Konkoski, that grant would focus more on facade improvements that were outside the priority areas that were proposed in the DRI.
“If the state was willing to award Saranac Lake both grants, the way we would approach it is the DRI would be to focus in these three areas, and our facade target area would be from the Compass Printing building [on Main Street] to about the corner of Church and Main.”
Saranac Lake began the process by soliciting project ideas from the public, and more than 40 potential projects are listed in the proposal. However, there can be complications with fleshing out a community plan of such scope. Plattsburgh’s 2016 DRI grant has been criticized by community members who said city leaders ignored their objections to a big hotel replacing the current site of a parking lot and farmers market.
“The lesson learned from Plattsburgh was that we tried really hard to have a lot of public input right from the start, so doing the project proposals, having the three open house meetings, and really making sure that people were involved — not just in putting forward a bunch of projects and saying ‘What do you think?’ but being able to propose projects, being able to say, ‘I have this project. Does it fit?'”
The state DRI website provides the following deadlines for processing each DRI grant:
¯ November 2018: Completion of the downtown profile and assessment and DRI goals
¯ December 2018: Completion of strategies to implement DRI goals
¯ January 2019: Submission of draft project profiles
¯ March 2019: Submission of DRI Strategic Investment Plan with profiles of projects recommended for DRI funding.