Will Oneonta, New York’s Downtown Renaissance Program Make A Difference?
Last month, to much fanfare, via a column in The Daily Star, Oneonta Mayor Mark Drnek announced plans for a new city initiative entitled the Downtown Renaissance Program. Amid flowery and positive language, Drnek looked to the past as a way to solidify the future.
What does the plan entail?
The mayor's vision is to entice traffic heading to Southside Oneonta to be interested enough in what is offered to divert their route to downtown with "must see" visitor engagement on Thursday nights. According to Drnek, the "heart and soul" of the Downtown Renaissance Program will firmly be rooted in the arts, with performance and artistry being found at every turn. In days gone by, Thursday nights is when locals came out to do their shopping. Any senior citizen who grew up in Oneonta will tell you the stories.
Once facet of the program will see lower Dietz Street and its alleyways morph into walkable shopping areas with wide ranging offerings from vendors to markets to food trucks to galleries. Drnek envisions that this will bring a lively air to the city and help local business shine.
I've experienced ideas like this in other parts of the country. The ideas presented remind me of Portland Oregon's Saturday Market, which has been in operation for over 50 years. The market is an expanse of unique vendors as far as the eye can see selling locally made goods. I've gotten happily lost there, and it's consistently packed. Will something vaguely similar have the same level of buy in from locals and visitors alike?
Parking, parking, parking.
Of course, local discussion has focused on parking issues and interference from the unhoused/addicted populations. Mayor Drnek has addressed these issues and is seemingly meeting them head on. Whether or not they will have any kind of negative impact on this program has yet to be seen.
Does timing play a role?
I obtained a copy of the Downtown Renaissance Program's implementation timeline, and with it, I have a few questions and concerns. Outside of Townsquare Media, I plan and execute four major annual events and a weekly vendor market in Otsego County, and have been doing so for years.
One Facebook commenter raised the issue of competition. Will food trucks be a detriment to already struggling downtown eateries? In much larger places, food trucks and brick-and-mortar establishments meld seamlessly. There's enough business to go around. Oneonta's ecosystem is much more fragile.
Food trucks and vendors that offer items of quality book very early out. Every event in the area scrambles for food trucks. I book mine six months to a year out to be sure they're not snagged by another party. Based on the implementation timeline, this might not be happening until March.
In my opinion, the Downtown Renaissance Program is a great idea on paper, and vital to Oneonta's survival. If implemented properly, it will be a boost to the city's economy and a breath of fresh air for downtown business owners.
My only hope is that it's done right and marketed properly, and inclusive of all downtown businesses.