About two dozen downtown business owners and residents gathered Thursday evening to express concerns over the current plans for the Plattsburgh Downtown Redevelopment Initiative and strategize on potential alternatives.
The city has been awarded $10 million from the state to refurbish the downtown but some business owners and residents believe the current plan would fail.
The meeting was organized by Jeremiah Ward, a cooperative development specialist and community organizer who was a member of the now disbanded local DRI Planning Committee. He gave a presentation describing a Strong Towns approach and why it would be better for the city than the current development plan. “Strong Towns employs a small mixed use building strategy that can be easily adaptable. They're very easy to like reconfigure whereas large projects like what's proposed across the street are owned by large developers that generally don't exist around Plattsburgh and they come from Vermont or further afield.”
The business owners say there are underutilized, failed or abandoned development projects in the downtown core including a parking lot that remains from an abandoned waterfront hotel development plan and a largely vacant multi-story office building. Sasha Sanger says the DRI funds should support the local businesses that have built the core of the city. “I think it's only fair to reinvest the money that our community gets from our state into people who have given everything that they can to make their businesses successful here. And to give subsidies and to give tax breaks to companies or developers and the money doesn't really stay here I think for me that is the biggest problem I have with this development.”
Tenzin Dorjee owns a restaurant on Margaret Street and has been unable to get funding to create a boutique hotel. “I come from a very small country and we believed in not big big businesses. We believed in small businesses that drive the economy and that actually is the backbone of the community. And here we're doing the exact opposite of it. We're going to take that away, give it to a developer who will control everything that we do thereafter. Do we want to give that away?”
Though there haven’t been any formal surveys, Ward claims there is no support for the current DRI plan and feels Mayor Colin Read has reversed his position since his campaign. “He said some bad things about the dangers of that project and he went from saying it's going to suck the life out of the city and then he switched recently to saying that we're putting up a bit of paradise on our parking lot like there's a complete one-eighty.”
Mayor Read says the development plan has evolved from the initial concept proposed two years ago. He believes the current plans are similar to the Strong Towns concept. “Throughout this process it’s moved quite away from the initial concept, which I'm very grateful it’s moved away from that, moving not toward some sort of monolithic big box mall-like thing. So I don't know what the controversy is. I really think we are all on the same page and I hope I've been a significant part of trying to make it evolve in a way that's going to be much better for our community and actually completely consistent with what I'd said during the campaign. But it certainly has no resemblance to what was initially proposed and I think the group is still responding to the two year old concept that is obsolete.”
The current plan eliminates a retail mall and includes mixed use residential and commercial, green space and moves toward an arts corridor concept.
The advocates plan to attend upcoming city council meetings to express their concerns.