Project Sponsors Provide Updates On DRI Projects
Published: February 15th, 2023
By: Sarah Genter

Project sponsors provide updates on DRI projects Engineers Mike and Dan O'Reilly explaining where they are in the process of building the downtown Norwich boutique hotel that was awarded $3,360,000 in DRI funding. (Photo by Sarah Genter)

NORWICH — Commerce Chenango recently hosted a celebration of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant, where project sponsors were given a chance to update the community on their goals for the projects and where they are in the planning and implementation process.

In total, nine projects were included in the final slate approved by New York State in December 2022. Now project sponsors have been connecting with the state agencies that will oversee the implementation of their projects.

Funding is provided on a reimbursement basis, meaning project sponsors must come up with funding for the projects, complete the projects, get a second approval from the state upon project completion, and then will be granted a reimbursement from the pool of DRI funds.

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Mike and Dan O'Reilly of Principle Design have already received a commitment letter from the state, and have already secured funding and done most of the planning needed to begin the downtown Norwich boutique hotel project.

"It’s shovel ready, we have schematics figured out, we knew about what rooms we could fit, we knew how we were going to heat and cool it. We have the electrical, the canopy, we did renderings. We had a lot of all the pre-planning stuff that we would normally do already defined," said Mike.

One of the next steps for the pair is deciding on a "flag" for the hotel, or what hotel brand they will be bringing to the space. Mike said the four main flags include Marriot, IHG, Best Western, and Hilton. The O'Reilly brothers have been working with a third partner who has close ties to IHG, so they said that is the flag they're leaning toward.

"Our third partner, who’s been with us since the beginning of this, he is IHG affiliated. He has one of the highest-performing IHG hotels in the industry, so he carries a lot of clout with IHG internally. So that’s kind of the flag we’re leaning at the moment," Mike explained. "They have a really really cool boutique brand that we kind of gravitated toward. So we submitted our preliminary stuff to them, back around Christmas time I think I sent it in, and they contacted us today. They're going to come up in the coming weeks I think to come look at the area with us."

The anticipated result will be an approximately 47-unit hotel complete with a restaurant and bar. The brothers anticipate around a year to build the hotel.

"From a design perspective we’re probably like a two- to three-month window to design it. We’re thinking best case by the end of the year. Given material leads, like glass and storefront and all those things, they’re just crazy right now. So materials are probably going to slow us down," said Dan. "Originally I probably would’ve told you seven months, eight months we could build it. But based on where materials are now, a reasonable time frame is probably a year to build it."

The project was awarded $3,360,000 by the state.

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Commerce Chenango Economic Development Assistant Jenna Ostrander said Commerce Chenango has taken on the small grants fund that was approved in the final slate of projects. The fund totals $600,000, with $400,000 allotted for building renovations and other small project fees, and $200,000 dedicated to public art projects.

Art projects are eligible for full funding through the small projects grant fund, but all other projects are required to be a 50-percent match.

"The purpose of the project is to connect, collaborate, and encourage the current projects by allowing additional projects within the DRI zone the chance to seek funding. So some of the projects that didn’t make it into the last round, we started working with those project sponsors to see if they could get funding through the small project grant fund," said Ostrander.

Moving into the next steps, Commerce Chenango is working on forming a nominating committee that will select which projects will receive a small projects grant, agreeing to their contract with the state, and then requesting applications for small projects.

Restoration of the Unguentine Building, led by project sponsors Adam Spence and Garth Coviello, have also been contacted by the state agency assigned to their project, and have begun talks with architects, and their loan application is moving forward.

Plans for the building include around 24 apartment units, and space for local businesses on the ground floor. In total, the project was awarded $3,006,000.

The Heritage Building will be getting major renovations as well. Project sponsor Scott Sutton was awarded $292,000 to assist with creating a healthy food market and brewery inside an all electric-powered building. Additionally, he's already replaced all the windows in the building, installed a sprinkler system on each floor, and completed apartments on the top floor.

American Avenue will be getting $470,000 in DRI funding to create a safe and welcoming space complete with better lighting, more amenities, and improved pedestrian access. The City of Norwich is sponsoring the project, but has not yet heard from a state agency on next steps.

City of Norwich Community Development Director Erik Scrivener said he hopes the project will serve as a "keystone" to drive tourism and gathering among visitors and residents, as well as represent the overall transformation of downtown Norwich facilitated by the DRI grant.

"We know some things are going to have to change from the initial project scope. Initially it was pedestrian-only, but there is going to have to be vehicular access in there at this time," said Scrivener. "This is really a project that brings things together. This could be the keystone project for everyone who’s coming here, living here, to visit American Avenue, to eat there, to shop there, to do everything that we’re trying to do to transform the city and revitalize it. American Avenue could kind of be that keystone to bring everybody together."

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He said in the best case scenario, the city is looking at having the project completed sometime in 2024.

Mike Hayes and Adam Bosworth are sponsoring the restoration of 15-19 Lackawanna Avenue, which was awarded $140,000 in DRI funds. The pair have been contacted by the state and secured loans to complete the project, and are now waiting to hear what they're next steps are from the state.

The location will be getting facade renovations, and they will be developing the last building in the chain of three, which currently has no electricity, heat, or water.

Friends of the Park will be sponsoring the park enhancement project, which was ultimately awarded less DRI funds than requested — a total of $1,097,000. Friends of the Park representative Tom Larsen said the organization is not sure yet which parts of the project have been cut from the original plan submitted to the state.

But, he did say the project will provide upgrades to East, West, and Guernsey Parks. Upgrades may include things like electrical access, and an outdoor movie theater in Guernsey Park.

Representatives from the Colonia Theater and the Chenango Arts Council were not able to attend last week's celebration. The Chenango Arts Council was awarded $570,000 to upgrade the Martin W. Kappel Theater with new seating, lighting, and audio-visual equipment. The Colonia Theater was awarded $165,000 to upgrade the theater with improved seating, a digital addition to the marquee, and more family-friendly entertainment options.

More information on the downtown Norwich DRI projects and process can be found at