New Community Development Director Provides Report To Plattsburgh City Councilors

Aug 22, 2014

Plattsburgh City Hall
Credit WAMC Photo

The Economic and Cultural Development Committee of the Plattsburgh Common Council last night heard an update from the city’s new Community Development Director on a community and waterfront visioning project and other efforts to revitalize the city.

The common council sworn in on January 1st, is focused on revitalizing Plattsburgh’s waterfront and recreational resources.
The city has one of the longest freshwater beaches in the nation, and the Saranac River flows through the middle of the city, emptying into Lake Champlain near the city center.
On June 4th Mayor James Calnon appointed a Director of Community Development. The office had been empty since 2007, but Calnon said the position was needed to help plan future city development. Director of Community Development Bruce Lawson notes that waterfront development is an issue for the office along with grants to help business and residents.  “I’d love to tell you that the city has those opportunities right now. The reality is we used to have those kind of grants and then because the city made a decision to let Community Development decline a bit we now have to decide if we want to get back in that business. We can and by the way I think we will.  But still you’ve got to have a couple years time horizon before all that would come true.  Now in the short term we still have a revolving loan fund that can be used by businesses that qualify. That’s on-going. That’s being used right now. In fact as recently as today we actually signed all the paperwork for a loan that went out to a local business. This would be loan money that has to be repaid as opposed to grant money that might not.”
Lawson says city officials must coordinate development of all of the waterfront areas including the beach, Lake Champlain and the Saranac River.  “It’s investment that I think is going to pay off for the city. But that being said, does the city have the foresight, the vision, to go ahead and make an investment now that might take years to pay off?” What do you see for the potential along the city’s waterfront areas?  “Wow. Most cities are envious of the waterfront assets that we have. I think we all agree that city beach could be used very, very differently and much more comprehensively. It’s a huge piece of property that we can develop in new and creative ways. On the other hand, that’s probably something that’s going to unfold over a fairly long period of time. If you look at the possibilities for a city marina that’s something that I think could develop much more quickly.”
Lawson reported to three members of the Council’s Economic and Cultural Development Committee.
Ward Six Democrat Joshua Kretzer discussed with Lawson the potential for the city’s varied waterfront areas.  “Not only do we have Lake Champlain, but we also have the river that runs right through the city  center.  So the fact that we can revitalize Durkee Street I think is an amazing thing. And the fact that we can use some of this money to take that waterfront and turn it into something that’s going to be a huge revenue producer for the city, it’s huge.”  Lawson added “We have such assets and it’s not just lakefront. It’s river front and the riverwalk and the Saranac River Trail and all the stuff that’s going on. It’s awesome. But we also  need to use them.”
Ward One Democrat Rachelle Armstrong wanted an update on the city’s new visioning project, intended to bring residents into the planning process.  “Any recent activities that you can provide us with that would help us understand how we’re going forward with the visioning project?”  Lawson answered: “This visioning project is moving forward but the contract with the consultant has not been fully executed yet. There are some questions. These aren’t hard questions, but they’re important questions that the Department of State - New York State - has. I mean I don’t see any roadblock to us executing the contract other than making sure that we’ve got everything buttoned up the way it should be. I understand that there are some deadlines coming that are important to us. And I’d like to see this thing get wrapped up as quickly as possible.”
The first meeting of the 21st Century Vision for Plattsburgh project advisory committee is scheduled for September 8th. A consultant has also recommended at least three community workshops on the city’s visioning project.