NORWICH — Commerce Chenango staff, project sponsors, and state officials gathered at Commerce Chenango on Wednesday, February 8 to celebrate and discuss the next phase of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant awarded to the City of Norwich.
Several project sponsors gave overviews of their projects, provided an update on where the project is in the development process, and what their next steps are. The meeting also placed a big emphasis not only on enriching downtown Norwich and drawing residents and tourism, but also ensuring all nine projects are cohesive and interconnected.
"What I’m hoping today will be is a stimulus to talk about the future. The whole point in this revitalization is to create a place where people want to live and work and play," said Commerce Chenango President and CEO Sal Testani. "So whatever your vision is for a revitalized downtown, I have questions about how we get from where we are, utilizing these nine tremendous projects, to where we want to be. How do we think about these things collectively to maximize their impact on downtown?"
The nine projects include a small projects grant fund; Colonia Theater upgrades; restoration of the Unguentine and Heritage Buildings; a downtown Norwich boutique hotel; renovations to the Chenango Arts Council; renovation of 15-19 Lackawanna Avenue; enhancements to East, West, and Guernsey Parks; and American Avenue enhancements.
With the slate of projects approved by the state, project sponsors are now in the process of connecting with the state agencies assigned to oversee their projects. DRI funding is provided on a reimbursement basis, meaning project sponsors must fund the cost of renovations, have the work approved a second time by the state after completion, and then they will be reimbursed with awarded DRI funds.
Commerce Chenango also invited Dana Carson, a project director with international boutique consulting firm Street Plans to the event, where she explained how her organization will be helping with the DRI projects.
"We specialize primarily in transportation planning, so a lot of bicycle and pedestrian planning and design. We have architects on our team, urban design, a lot of integrated planning and design. But something that we really specialize in and something that we have studied and are leading practitioners of across the country is a project delivery methodology called tactical urbanism," said Carson.
"We practice something called tactical urbanism, which is essentially pilot projects. Breaking down long-term capital projects and plans into smaller, relatively low cost, and shorter-duration projects to really catalyze long-term investment," she continued. "Again, our ethos is all about creating places and cities for people. We are really focused on transformational change like this where you take a street that’s predominantly dominated by cars, and how do you create a place out of it? How do you create more spaces for people to gather? How do you make it safer? How do you create a destination out of a street or public spaces?"
Street Plans also focuses on "placemaking," which Carson describes as "the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play, and learn in."
Some ideas for placemaking strategies included safety interventions, such as asphalt art and other changes to intersections to make them more pedestrian safe; engaging frontage to create striking storefronts; "bringing the inside outside" through outdoor dining; and reclaiming the right of way through methods such as closing city streets for community events — something the City of Norwich is already familiar with.
Armed with solid projects, state support, assistance from local organizations, and strategies to implement and tie the projects together from Street Plans, the City of Norwich is prepared to keep moving forward on the nine transformative DRI projects.
"This town has done amazing things, and I’ve been here for 63 years and seen what this town does when it all comes together," said NYS Assemblyman Joe Angelino. "This is going to be so exciting. It’s going to be a spark, and it’s a huge investment in the community."