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July 17, 2015 - 4:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Jackson Square, batavia, downtown, BID.

Tonight's Jackson Square concert, featuring Penny Whiskey, is being moved to City Centre because there may be rain.

The show is at 7 p.m.

July 13, 2015 - 9:31am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Millennials, population, batavia, business, redevelopment, downtown.

The U.S. Census Bureau put out a press release and the national media ate it up: There are now more people living in the United States who are classified as Millennials than there are Baby Boomers.

The Democrat & Chronicle got into the act by pointing out Millennials now outpace Baby Boomers in Monroe County.

There’s been no similar coverage in Erie County, but Buffalo has enjoyed a reputation for the past couple of years as one of the major cities young adults are helping to revitalize.

So where does that leave Genesee County?

Not on par, it seems.

While nationally, there are 83.1 million Millennials, comprising a quarter of the U.S. population, and the number of Baby Boomers has slipped to 75.4 million, the post-war cohort still rules the roost in the Batavia Micropolitan Area.

According to the Census Bureau Web site, there are 15,422 Baby Boomers locally compared to 14,670 Millennials.

Is Genesee County’s lagging Millennial population a trend that's important?

Absolutely, say those with the jobs related to the area’s development and growth.

“You definitely want to have Millennials in a community,” said Felipe Oltramari, the county planning director. “The next generation will create the jobs and opportunities for future generations to be here. As they become players with purchasing power, we want to make sure they are living here and they’re bringing more buying power and creating more jobs and running our community. From an economic development perspective, and social perspective, you want people here from all sorts of generations.”

The window of opportunity to anchor a small town with Millennials may be closing shortly, according to William Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

And it’s a critically important issue for the future of small cities.

“Most people settle down by age 35, and usually don’t move from one metro area to another after that,” Fuller wrote in an article for Governing.com. “And the demographic group behind the Millennials is a lot smaller. Just like Baby Boomers, the preferences of the Millennials will drive our society for two generations. They’re making location decisions based on their idea of quality of life. And they’re going to make all those decisions in the next few years -- by the time they’re 35.”

The good news, according to Fuller, is even if time is short, the goal is obtainable for small cities.

“Even Millennials … want to live near their families and near where they grew up, meaning that if you can create interesting places, they’re likelier to stay,” Fuller wrote. “And you don’t need the endless hip urban fabric of New York or D.C. to compete. You just need a few great neighborhoods for people to live and work in. For most cities, that’s an achievable goal.”

Interesting places, amenities, activities, culture and the opportunity to interact socially, these are the things planners say Batavia needs to retain and attract Millennials.

“I try to drive this point every time I speak,” Oltramari said. “This generation moves first and then finds a job. If you look, there are jobs here and available, but they want to be where their peers are.”

So how do we create an environment where Millennials want to live?

A key word: density.

According to research by Nielsen:

“Sixty-two percent indicate they prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers, where they can be close to shops, restaurants and offices. They are currently living in these urban areas at a higher rate than any other generation, and 40 percent say they would like to live in an urban area in the future. As a result, for the first time since the 1920s growth in U.S. cities outpaces growth outside of them.”

Tim Tielman, a Buffalo preservationist and development consultant, observed at a Landmark Society talk in 2013 that Batavia is hampering its ability create the kind of economic core that attracts Millennials and like-minded residents with its over-abundance of downtown parking.

"One of the biggest issues every city faces is dead zones," Tielman said. "Batavia has dead zones up and down its streets. Dead zones are devoid of commercial activity. You chain too many dead zones together and you destroy your local community."

When you build your commercial district around the car, the district loses its appeal to pedestrians, and when people walk and interact, commercial activity soars, the feeling of community is pervasive, and social and civic capital grows.

"It isn't cars that make a place a commercial success," Tielman said. "It's a success (based) on how well the human animal can get about certain places. It's what appeals and what stimulates them to walk."

More and more, City Manager Jason Molino said, he’s hearing people talk about walkability. Increasingly, it’s what all communities are after, and something — along with the companion concept bikeability — that Batavia is lacking.

“People want quality-of-life amenities,” Molino said. “People will commute a little bit if you don’t have the jobs in this area if they have the amenities.”

Molino got an immersive experience in the kind of lifestyle amenities that help bring vitality to an urban area. On a vacation day, he and his family visited a couple of the shopping districts in Buffalo and then stopped for dinner at Larkin Square. It was Food Truck Tuesday (video).

Larkin Square, part of what is now known as Larkinville, an area once known as the Larkin District, which is considered Buffalo’s first commercial district, was a rundown industrial warehouse neighborhood. Spurred by a $2 million public-private investment in 2009, the Larkin Building and surrounding cityscape was redeveloped and revitalized. It’s become a hot spot in Buffalo for retail, food and entertainment activity. Tielman was a consultant on the project.

“Two things were obvious to me,” Molino said. “You had people coming to the square right after work, Millennials coming right after work, but you also had the senior population and families — people interested in this kind of quality-of-life amenity with vendors, live music, a pavilion and seating area, and a grass area, and 20 food trucks, all reasonably priced.”

There’s an interesting intersection these days between what Millennials want and Empty-nesters want, Molino noted. They want to get away from the demands of suburban home ownership and the lack of a closely knit community fabric and they seek out walkable neighborhoods with plenty of retail, dining and entertainment options.

That’s what he saw throughout his vacation day with his family in Buffalo.

Steve Hyde’s spent some time recently in Larkinville as well and came away with the same observations.

“It’s a fabulous, vibrant place,” said Hyde, who is the president and CEO of Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC).

Hyde has been spending more time recently working with the City of Batavia to help secure funding and support for the city’s Batavia Opportunity Area, also known at the Brownfield Opportunity Area, or BOA.

The BOA plan is focused specifically on redevelopment of properties that are stalled in the revitalization pipeline in the Downtown area, such as the Della Penna property on Ellicott Street. Moving these projects forward would help advance further Downtown revitalization.

A look around town at all the underused and often dilapidated space might make revitalization feel like a daunting task, and though time is short to attract Millennials, Julie Pacatte, the economic development coordinator for the Batavia Development Corp., isn't feeling any pressure, at least in the sense that revitalization needs to occur before Millennials age out of relocating.

"I think we're fortunate that by the time people reach 35, they tend to move back here with their families," Pacatte said. "They want that smaller-town environment, where they know who's who and they like that feeling of community. We're fortunate it in that way, so no, I don't feel the pressure. I do think we have an opportunity to attract younger people sooner into our community and we're excited about that opportunity. I don't feel the pressure of it, but I certainly want to see something happen in a shorter time frame, in the next five years, in terms of turning some of these sites around."

Since the trend in cities across the country is toward density and mixed use, with greater demand for apartments in downtown areas, Batavia has backed several initiatives to convert underused or unoccupied space in Downtown into apartments, and Pacatte has been right in the middle of it.

She said the new apartments Downtown have certainly proven attractive to Millennials.

Molino agreed.

“All of our marketing studies show there is a demand for this kind of housing in Batavia,” Molino said. “People want to come to our area. It’s a core, central area.”

Part of the plan for Downtown is also creating more office space. Businesses that are founded by Millennials or that hire Millennials need space to relocate and grow, Pacatte said.

"A priority for us is drawing more people Downtown to live, work and shop," Pacatte said. "Millennials are the right target market for our Downtown plan."

While Hyde’s job is to create jobs and stimulate economic growth in Genesee County, Molino’s focus is a little broader. He wants to see Batavia become a better place to live.

He believes Batavia is ideally suited to be a less-expensive alternative to Buffalo and Rochester for Millennials and Empty-nesters, even when they work in the larger neighboring counties.

“With mobility being what it is these days, if you draw a half-hour circle around Rochester and Buffalo, they’re going to intersect in Batavia,” Molino said. “If people at that half-hour distance as a reasonable community, where can they find those amenities? That’s going to be what sells communities to Millennials and Empty-nesters.”

Hyde said what has already been accomplished in Batavia is attracting Millennials. He knows because his daughter, who works in Rochester, and a roommate, who works in Buffalo, rented one of those Downtown apartments.

“They love it,” Hyde said. “Everything is in walking distance. There are restaurants and bars and things for them to do. We need more of that Downtown.”

A place for Millennials to land in Batavia will increase the impact of STAMP (Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park) if the GCEDC is successful in attracting the kind of high tech, nano tech, advanced materials, solar and bio-manufacturing the park is designed to accommodate. The companies that set up shop in STAMP are going to hire a lot of Millennials who will make good wages and want a lifestyle that is social and active.

Hyde believes Batavia needs to be ready for them, or miss the opportunity to secure future growth.

“We can be a bigger center of economic opportunity,” Hyde said. “We can create a hip, smaller center city with lots of lifestyle choices.”

The BOA is tuned to provide just that kind of boost.

"The opportunity is in front of us," Pacatte said. "We have to make our Downtown more attractive and through these BOA sites, we will really be able to transform the Downtown experience."

July 8, 2015 - 4:45pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in brownfield opportunity area, batavia, downtown, business.

Press release: 

Less than a century ago, Batavia’s downtown was bustling with industry, where innovators relocated from New York City to mass produce farm implements to World War II incendiary bombs. These factories employed thousands of workers and took advantage of easy transportation, the railroad and nearby markets. But, the bygone era left a wake of deteriorating buildings, vacant lots and ground contaminants within City limits, a.k.a brownfield sites. Today, City leadership proclaims robust performance-based tax incentives available for the taking to return these underutilized or abandoned locations into vibrant mixed-use places.

In April, the New York Department of State (DOS) officially designated Batavia’s central corridor a Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) listing five strategic redevelopment sites. On a parallel track, the City’s local development corporation encouraged Councilmembers to adopt real property tax exemptions and they chased other tax credits to motivate real estate investment. Bold incentives are now in place.

“We could stand by and let these properties continue to decay the neighborhood or do something about it,” City Manager Jason Molino said.

Do something about it, they have. The City has worked to increase its bond rating to A1, turned a multimillion dollar deficit into a balanced budget with capital reserves and secured more than $5,000,000 in grants to improve existing industrial areas, upgrade infrastructure and study the longtime stagnant community.

A Community Improvement Plan was released in 2012 emphasizing an upgrade in housing stock followed by local adoption of real property tax exemptions that offer 12-year tax-bill discounts for converting non-residential buildings into mixed-use spaces. Shortly after, a sizeable $265,000 New York State Department of State BOA grant enabled local activists to grease the skids even further.

“It took four years but, the grant allowed us to hire a consulting team and organize a local Steering Committee to define market opportunities, investigate the ground and write a plan to move our central business corridor into the 21st century,” Molino said. “We know our small city can offer the conveniences and experiences of a larger city, but at an affordable price.”

The challenge was to determine if the real estate community would invest in the area. Now, the market reports and community confidence suggest they will.

The expert-led and community-inspired BOA plan was formally adopted by City Council in June 2014 and handed off to the City’s local development corporation to implement. The Batavia Development Corporation (BDC) immediately retained Harris Beach PLLC, a known deal-maker in the State to guide the efforts.

“It’s funny how the BOA designation appears like a badge of honor,” said Julie Pacatte, BDC coordinator. "It reads like a proclamation from DOS. In truth, it’s bittersweet. Sad we have these blighted areas but happy it sanctions bonus tax credits rewarding investment.”

Gaining access to that tax credit program is a whole different process, according to Pacatte.

The BDC Board authorized cash reserves to extend environmental investigation and to hire Harris Beach and LaBella Associates to prepare the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) application. DEC serves as the gatekeeper to request access to the State tax credit program.

“It is a 643-page document enumerating data with compelling narrative to justify access to the program,” Pacatte said. “The BDC Board is clearly determined to advance the BOA plan.”

Unfortunately, their ambitious goal to go to market last year was stalled by expanded data collection, typical land assembly delays and uncertainty with the BCP as it under-went reform during the State’s budget process. Nevertheless, advocates still believe Batavia remains milestones ahead of other communities.

“The BDC’s approach is aggressive and recommended,” said Bob Murray, partner, Harris Beach PLLC. “To enter the BCP prior to marketing the property assures a preferred developer significant refundable NYS tax credits potentially worth up to 64 percent of total costs incurred for remediation, site preparation and new capital expended on that parcel. Not many communities are as proactive and committed.”

The BDC has released its first request for proposals addressing “Ellicott Station” a four-acre downtown redevelopment area that has confirmed acceptance to the BCP. The proposals are due next month, by Aug. 12.

“It was a no-brainer to spend the time and money necessary to line up these credits,” said Ray Chaya, BDC Board president. “No longer do we need to stand by to wait for investors, we are bringing the ROI to them.” 

For more information, visit the BDC Web site.

June 30, 2015 - 11:23am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Centennial, batavia, downtown, BID.

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Press release:

Batavia Business Improvement District (BID), sponsor of the Centennial Arts, an outdoor arts display that took place on Tuesday, June 16th announces the winner of the People’s Choice Award.

More than 20 artists set up their works of art for display and for sale in Jackson Square. Those who attended the event were able to vote for their favorite artist or display as a People’s Choice Award. The winner of Centennial Arts was Susan Hoak, of Batavia, whose up-cycled furniture was considered “unique and creative” by several customers.

The Centennial Arts event was an effort to celebrate the City’s Centennial year as well as bring about awareness of the talented artists that are within the local region. Most artists were from Genesee County and one was from Warsaw. Pictures of the event can be see on the Downtown Batavia Business Improvement District Facebook page.

“Shop Local, Shop Downtown.” Sponsored by: Batavia Business Improvement District.   or more info  contact the B.I.D. Office at 585-344-0900 / visit  us at www.DowntownBataviaNY.com. or  like us on Facebook at DowntownBataviaBusinessImprovementDistrict.

June 13, 2015 - 9:34am

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Heavy rain didn't dampen the spirit of Friday's Genesee Symphony Orchestra concert, which was moved from Jackson Square to City Centre because of the storms. As promised, the GSO delivered a lively and energetic show.

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June 12, 2015 - 2:01pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Brighton Securities, batavia, downtown, business.

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It's shred day at Brighton Securities. Anybody with documents to shred can bring them to their tent set up in the parking lot on East Main Street, Batavia, next to the Chamber of Commerce. They will be there until 3 p.m. and even serve you cookies and a beverage.

Pictured are Brittany Weeks, Christina Gregory, and George Arnold from Brighton Securities, and Mark Bonin, of Shred-Text.

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June 5, 2015 - 12:44pm
posted by Traci Turner in batavia, downtown, construction.

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National Fuel is doing repairs on gas lines on East Main Street, Batavia. The sidewalk is closed in front of the former Carr's department store. The construction is expected to be completed in a few hours.

June 4, 2015 - 3:13pm
posted by Billie Owens in jackson square concerts, music, batavia, downtown.

Press release:

The Downtown Batavia Business Improvement District (BID) is sponsoring the 16th Annual Jackson Square Concert Series, each one is from 7 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, June 12th – Aug. 28th, in Downtown Batavia. Free to the public. Food and refreshments available. Rain Days at Batavia City Centre. Bring your own seating. More Info: Don Burkel at B.I.D. at 585-344-0900. Visit: www.downtownbataviany.com

The Jackson Square Concerts “ Friday Nights In The Square” will be featuring:

  • Genesee Symphony (Friday, June 12th)
  • Emerald Isle (June 26th)
  • Fat City (July 3rd)
  • Mitty & The Followers (July 10th)
  • Penny Whiskey (July 17th)
  • OHMS Band (July 24th)
  • Ghost Riders (July 31st)
  • Ghost Riders Drum & Bugle (July 31st)
  • It’s My Party (Aug. 7th)
  • Bluesway Band (Aug. 14th)
  • John Cole Blues Band (Aug. 21st)
  • C’est Bon Dance Band (Aug. 28th)
May 20, 2015 - 11:01am
posted by Howard B. Owens in downtown, batavia.

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It's planter planting day in Downtown Batavia with volunteers from the Sun Catcher Garden Club of Batavia helping out. Above, Connie Moon and Barb Defazio take care of a planter at Main and Jackson.

May 16, 2015 - 9:12pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Beertavia, batavia, BID, downtown.

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May 16, 2015 - 12:35pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Beertavia, batavia, downtown.

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Set up is under way for today's Beertavia in the parking lot off School Street, behind Angotti's Beverages. More than 50 craft brews will be served.  The event is from 3 to 6 p.m. Tickets start at $40 and are available at the door.

April 30, 2015 - 5:58pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown, BID.

The Batavia Improvement District held its annual luncheon this afternoon at the City Church Generations Center on Center Street.

Top photo: Steve Krna, vice president of Genesee Patrons, an insurance company, accepts a Spirit of Downtown Award.

David Boyce, CEO of Tompkins Insurance, receiving a Spirit of Downtown Award for Tompkins.

John Roche, Adam Miller Toy and Bicycle, was honored as a volunteer.

Mary Valle, Valle Jewelers, was also honored as a Volunteer of the Year.

The keynote speaker was Michael Schmand, executive director of Buffalo Place.

April 17, 2015 - 12:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown.

The call center -- or as the folks at Tompkins Insurance call it, the "care center" -- that the Batavia-based financial company opened on the second floor of Main and Center streets now has 27 staff members.

That means in less than six months, Tompkins has hit its three-year projected employment goal for the remodeled office space.

Tompkins purchased the building for $550,000 and has invested nearly $1 million in interior and exterior improvements, from gutting and refitting the entire second floor, putting in a new heating and air conditioning system, painting the outside and hanging new signs.

Investing in Downtown Batavia made good sense said David Boyce, president and CEO of the insurance unit.

"Batavia has been and continues to be a great draw for getting great employees," Boyce said. "Batavia is nicely centered within various counties. When we have an opening we get a lot of attention from people who want to work at a good company."

April 15, 2015 - 9:19am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown.

A portion of Main Street, Downtown Batavia, was blocked off by traffic cones this morning in advance of clean-up work by city crews along the street and sidewalk. The work is expected to take most of the morning.

April 7, 2015 - 5:30pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown.

It was a booming first day of business for Ken Mistler's newest business venture, a downtown grill designed to give patrons quick, hot, homemade meals that they can eat-on-the-go.

Ken's Charcoal Pits features hot dogs and hamburgers, but also offers sausages and a garbage-plate style dish Ken is calling a Pit Plate. For those who want lighter fair, there is a salad bar, and grilled chicken is an option.

Everything is made to order right in front of you with the best and freshest ingredients.

The doors to the new shop are on Main Street, but patrons can also enter through City Slickers.

"We got a lot of requests for a quick lunch," Mistler said. "People would say they really liked City Slickers, but they wished they could get in and out a little quicker, but as a full-size restaurant with a full menu, it was hard to do that."

You can dine in, get your meal to go or carry it into City Slickers, where, of course, there is beer on tap.

Mistler, who owns not just City Slickers, but also Next Level Fitness, has long avoided putting his own name on his business ventures, but was persuaded to call it Ken's after his marketing consultant, Marc Tillery, presented the concept to him. The locale features drawings of Ken's two pit bulls, which are charcoal in color. Ken's Charcoal Pits. Get it?

A lot of people are getting that the food is good. Social media lit up a bit today with early rave reviews and the word spread fast with a line out the door past the normal lunch hour.

The hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and those hours will be extended as the weather warms up.

March 3, 2015 - 2:43pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown, weather.

At least one Downtown business owner doesn't think the city is doing enough to address snow removal and he's not convinced the city cares.

Snow piled up on sidewalks and in parking lots costs bars, restaurants and retail shops money, said Derek Geib, owner of Bourbon & Burger Co. on Jackson Street, and the city loses sales tax revenue.

He thinks the city could be more aggressive about finding a solution.

Geib, along with other business owners, met with city officials earlier this winter and were told city work crews act as quickly as possible to remove snow, but there's only so many workers and so many hours they can work.

That isn't a good enough answer, Geib said.

"Accepting this as just the way it is is not an option," Geib said. "It is directly affecting just about every business Downtown. It needs to be addressed and something needs to be proposed as a solution. Reallocate BID funds, raise taxes, cut something else. Jason (City Manager Jason Molino) needs to sit down and address this. That's my only request. We can't just 'deal with it.' This is 2015. I'm sure someone has some solution somewhere."

Molino said, actually, snow pile-up this winter is something every municipality in the Northeast is dealing with this winter.

Unrelenting cold, near record snowfall, and storms spread out at a pace that keeps workers tied up and makes it impossible to keep up with the mounds of frozen water.

"This February has absolutely been challenging to say the least when it comes to snow removal," Molino said. "From Buffalo to Boston, everyone is having the same conversation. It's not just us with this problem. It's the circumstances of the type of weather we're having, and now we're about to get hammered with another snow and ice event, which means our guys will be out far into the night and perhaps into the morning, which means they're not going to be removing snow tomorrow."

The "not enough workers" answers isn't a good one, Geib said.

"We shouldn't as a city accept that things are just the way they are," Geib said. "If there aren't enough employees to actually do the task at hand then people should be made aware of that and budgets should be adjusted. If garbage wasn't getting picked up, it would be an issue. Snow removal is no different. There is a solution, but the City Manager has to recognize there is a problem first."

Molino said he does recognize there's an issue, but without unlimited resources, there's only so much the city can do.

"I understand and sympathize with the frustration business owners feel over snow accumulation," Molino said. "When there's manpower available, we remove the snow from the parking lots and then from the sidewalks. We do the best we can with the manpower we have."

This has been an incredibly difficult and challenging winter for the city's DPW and Water Department workers, as it has been for municipal employees throughout New York, he said.

The constant use of snow-removal equipment also puts a strain on city resources because inevitably, equipment breaks down and needs to be repaired, Molino said.

Under the circumstances, he said, he thinks they've done an incredible job.

Batavia has also been plagued by a series of water line breaks. Typically, those are handled by the Water Department, but the night of the River Street break, Water Department employees were already out helping with plowing and salting, and with the break, the city's already overextended DPW workers had to help with that nasty and complicated break.

"They went from plowing roads to jumping into a water-filled hole on the coldest night of the year," Molino said. "We've had a series of water line breaks in very poor weather and some of these have been large, deep digs that make the job very challenging. Throw on top of that, sub-zero weather, that makes the job very challenging."

February 14, 2015 - 10:22pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown, weather.

Yes, it's cold, and getting colder.

The overnight low is expected to be two or three degrees below zero with wind chill dropping it down to -24, then in the morning, the temperature will fall even more.

And it will snow. A couple of more inches tonight and another an inch or two tomorrow.

The winter storm warning is effect until 6 p.m., Sunday.

February 10, 2015 - 11:52am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown.

In a winter of unrelenting cold and regular, periodic snowstorms, the snow keeps piling higher and the frustration of Downtown merchants has been mounting.

While merchants might be expected to shovel their own walks, there's nothing they can do, realistically, about the mounds of snow that gets piled up between parking spaces and sidewalks. It takes the city's heavy equipment to move that much snow.

At Monday's City Council meeting, Director of Public Works Sally Kuzon addressed the issue.

"We certainly understand (the complaints)," Kuzon said. "We would love to have a 24-hour operation, but we just can't do it."

This season so far, 90 inches of snow has fallen, including 52 inches in the past 13 days.

That has kept public works staff busy plowing and salting, often in 10-hour, overnight shifts.

That leaves at most two public works employees on the clock during the day.

"That's a little scary if something happens," Kuzon said.

Crews that are plowing and salting aren't available for the tedious, time-consuming, manpower-intensive task of snow removal.

Snow removal needs to be done at night when there is less traffic, fewer parked cars and no pedestrians to interfere with the operation. The project takes from 10 to 12 public works employees at a time.

And it ties up all of the city's loaders and trucks.

It so happened that crews started working on snow removal for the first time this winter last night.

The project was scheduled to start at 10 p.m., but before the workers could hit the streets, the plows and salters from the trucks needed to be removed. It also turned out two trucks had flat tires.

The work started just before midnight.

Crews cleared the south side of Main Street, Court Street and the parking lot near Jackson Street (where we caught up with them for photos at 5:30 a.m.).

Tonight, they will work on the north side of Main Street.

Weather permitting, they will work on Ellicott Street the night after that.

January 27, 2015 - 7:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, economic development, downtown, bdc.

The City of Batavia has realized a 500-percent return on its $360,000 investment in community development, Julie Pacatte, economic development coordinator, told the City Council on Monday night.

The Council has authorized $90,000 a year over four years to the Batavia Development Corporation- that's $360,000. In return, the BDC has generated more than $2.1 million in public-private investment in Downtown.

Several of the projects managed by BDC were building owners constructing renovated apartments, all of which rented immediately.

But perhaps the biggest win is the renovation of the old Carr's Warehouse in Jackson Square.

The property sat vacant and deteriorating for three years. The city marketed the building as a revitalization project and eventually found a developer.

With the help of a $115,000 state grant, Paul Thompson and his partners invested more than $500,000 in constructing four apartments and a first-floor office area.

The vacancies were filled as soon as construction was completed.

The property was assessed at $30,000, but since it was a city-foreclosed property, it was generating zero tax revenue. Now it's assessed at more than $200,000 and on the tax roles. (The developer has the option to apply for a tax abatement by March under a municipal program that works like a PILOT, offering tax relief on the increase in assessed value).

The nine new residential units, using current economic models, are worth about $5,000 each in extra consumer buying power Downtown, Pacatte said.

Pacatte's job has been funded in the past through the use of revenue generated by Batavia Downs and transferred by the state to the city on an annual basis.

Since this is not general fund revenue, it doesn't have any impact on local property taxes. Even so, there is some question as to whether the current council is willing to once again use city money to fund the development coordinator's position.

Pacatte's Monday presentation could be seen as a pitch to save her job, but that didn't stop her from getting a little feisty. She was full of energy during her presentation, and when she spoke about negative attitudes, Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian challenged the remark and Pacatte shot right back with her own view.

The topic of the exchange was the mall, which Pacatte had already called a travesty and an embarrassment and one of the factors weighing down economic development in the city.

"I think maybe people have a negative attitude because they have heard the same old thing year after year," Christian said. "How many years have we heard we're going to do something with the mall. I've sat on this board for 24 years and I've heard year after year we're going to do something with the mall."

Pacatte responded that she didn't say the BDC was going to do something with the mall, just that the issue needed to be resolved.

The negative attitude discussion harkens back to a consultant report from three years ago, which Pacatte referenced, that said one of the things hurting Batavia is a persistent, nagging culture of antagonism to new proposals.

From the report (pdf; page 29):

... many residents and business leaders alike are quick to say what is right about the place, but only after they or others have said how it is not the community it used to be. This habit goes to the core of the challenge for Batavia. Regardless of how effective the city government is, or how successful the schools are, or how homeowners keep up beautiful homes, there is always the perception that things used to be better. This sets up an impossible goal: Batavia needs to be as good as its finest past features, but without any of its previous problems, and certainly without any of yesterday’s resources. It allows critics to say, “see, I told you so.” It lives on phrases like “that can’t be done,” and “we tried that,” and “here’s why that won’t work.” Until the community addresses this problem, Batavia won’t achieve its full and substantial potential.

Pacatte has succeeded in helping to bring new development to Downtown Batavia despite the naysayers. Each new apartment development was met by a wave of criticism and endless predictions that nobody would rent such high-priced units.

Yet, there are no vacancies. Landlords rent the apartments as quickly as they become available.

The Carr's project was roundly criticized, yet it's successful.

The negative attitudes are just something to try and work though as a professional, Pacatte said after the meeting.

"I think it's important to listen to what the community is saying, but we also have access and in our profession we understand that these projects do happen and happen a lot in other communities and there's no reason it shouldn't happen in Batavia," Pacatte said. "We bring the folks to the table who can make it happen.

"It's important to hear some of the negativity at the time to maybe rethink how we approach a project," Pacatte added, "but it's important to be a professional and understand that it is possible and persevere to that end. I was hired to impact the economic community in Batavia and I believe that's what I'm doing when I push those projects forward."

In 2015, the BDC will look to advance the Batavia Opportunity Areas, such as the Della Penna property on Ellicott Street, and right next to it, the Santy Tires property.

The mall fits in there somewhere, as well, though that is a much stickier problem with all of the competing interests and ancient animosities. Pacatte believes there might be an opportunity to apply for funding in 2015 through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council to pursue some sort of long-term solution.

She also sees as her job in 2015 an effort to foster a greater entrepreneurial spirit in Batavia, to coordinate and implement a new micro-enterprise grant program, and support an industry-specific incubator.

The BDC will also apply for more redevelopment grant money from the state.

January 17, 2015 - 1:30am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown.

In the craft business since 1998, Andre Gliwski Jr. thinks it's time to settle down.

Rather than setting up a booth at a different community festival each weekend, Gilwski has opened a craft store in Downtown Batavia, at 220 E. Main St. and is hosting an open house this Friday and Saturday.

Working out of a single location isn't just a better lifestyle for a young father (Gilwski and his wife have children ages 1 and 2), it's better for building relationships with customers.

"You have a better following when they know where you're at rather than trying to chase you down," Gilwski said.

Currently his shop, A.J.'s Crafts, stocks only items that he has made, or his mother or wife have made.

Among the kind of things Gilwski enjoys making are jewelry, clothes, blankets, bean bags, hair stretchies, catnip toys, tooth-fairy pillows and scarves.

He said he can make or have made pretty much any custom item a buyer might want.

His mother has been slowed by arthritis, but there's a table in the store filled with her handmade needlework items.

Gilwski's wife also makes jewelry and helps with some of the product finishes on Gilwski's work.

"I like crafts because they're all handmade and not made in other countries," Gilwski said. "It's something I enjoy doing and I enjoy the look on a customer's face when they buy something I've made. It's something different than what you'll see at Walmart or Kmart or some other Big Box store."

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