Batavia didn't win the steak knives.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo told a crowd gathered at City Centre for the announcement of who won the Finger Lakes region competition for the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative contest that there would be more than one winner this year, and getting second or third place isn't so bad.
"Now everyone likes to win first place," Cuomo said. "I understand it, you know, first is first. But second place, $8 million is a lot of money. And if it wasn't for the fact that we had offered a $10 million first place, people would have been very, very happy with $8 million because it's a big win. $6 million is a big win. We have a fourth-place winner, which gets a set of steak knives. That's not so great. But second place, $8 million is great, really great."
Batavia didn't get the $8 million, either. Nor the $6 million. Batavia received the grand prize, $10 million.
And when Cuomo announced that, more than 100 community members gathered for the announcement burst into a standing ovation.
Empire State Development Director Howard Zemsky said the award was well deserved.
"You did a great job on your plan," Zemsky told the crowd. "You understand downtown revitalization. You understand all of the components that have worked down through the years from historic preservation, the workforce initiative, the innovation initiative. You know exactly where your future lies."
The next step in the process is for the state to form a steering committee that will decide how to allocate the funds. City Manager Jason Molino said based on what he's seen taking place in other regions, the committee will include local people with a diverse set of backgrounds and interests.
"You're going to see folks that touch on all elements, whether it's arts and culture, whether it's business, whether there is small business or larger business," Molino said. "I think the state will, as they have in all the other regions, get a good cross-section of good decision makers that can really process and can take some of the planning and move forward."
Julie Pacatte, economic development coordinator for Batavia Development Corp., said the goal is to make Downtown Batavia a more livable and vibrant community for residents and business owners.
"The way we believe it should be spent is arts, culture, entertainment and make it a truly livable downtown," Pacatte said. "So, housing, entertainment dining, arts, walkability, all of those things we've talked about for a number of years. They should be able to bring it all together in Downtown."
BDC President Pier Cipollone said the award will also help the agency fulfill its agenda to help small businesses.
"We need to make downtown a destination," Cipollone said. "I'm a big proponent of clustering. We need to get shops, we need to get restaurants, we need to get bars, we need...These things will cause people to come downtown and then walk around and create the foot traffic that all the businesses need."
Molino said the award is a confirmation the city has been on the right track the past few years in trying to turn around the local economic climate.
"The past decade has been an interesting roller coaster for this community," Molino said. "Perseverance comes to mind as to what they've been able to endure and to grow by ... new leaps and bounds. It's a relief to see everyone's hard work come together. We're excited about what this means -- what's the next chapter of the community? What's the next chapter for the city and in our lives?"
In his speech, Cuomo told the story of how his administration has embraced economic development in the state and attempted to turn around decades of economic neglect, from bringing Robert Duffy into the administration to appointing Zemsky as head of ESD.
"For a lot of decades we just ignored it," Cuomo said. "We denied it. Or we didn't care enough about it. And so we said we are actually going to come in and do something about it and turn it around."
But in a way, Cuomo said, Batavia was already ahead of the curve.
"Actually, the first turnaround and recognition was in many ways done in Batavia," Cuomo said. "Johnston Harvester moved out, and that was the big employer back in the '50s. Part of the manufacturing phase-out, right? Buffalo loses steel. And Rochester loses Kodak. And Batavia loses Johnston Harvester. And in the old building, you started a business incubator.
"I don't know if it was called a business incubator there, but the thought was 'We have to change economies. We're no longer manufacturing. We lost this big employer. We have to get to the economy of tomorrow. And it's going to start by bringing in small businesses and feeding them and growing them and helping them incubating them into bigger businesses -- literally in the same building.' That was ahead of its time by 50 years."
The recognition is great for Batavia, Pacatte said.
"I think what we've been doing has been working and it caught the attention of the state government and their ideas seem to be in alignment with where we're at," she said. "It just caught fire. Another ten million dollars really just propels us forward."
Empire State Development Director Howard Zemsky
The Batavia High School Band and cheerleaders (not pictured) were outside City Hall to welcome the governor to Batavia.