Groundbreaking marks start of construction of Lofts on Dietz Street

Sarah Eames | The Daily StarThe first shovelfuls of dirt were thrown Friday, April 30, at a groundbreaking ceremony for Oneonta's new Lofts on Dietz Street. From left, Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich, Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, state Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus; Empire State Development Deputy Director Allison Nowack, Mohawk Valley Regional Representative Samantha Madison, New York state Office of Homes and Community Renewal Upstate East Director of Development Darren Scott.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Lofts on Dietz Street heralded the city’s shift to the second phase of its “Survive, then Thrive” initiative for navigating the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, according to Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig.

“All through COVID, our theme here has been ‘survive, then thrive,’” he said. “I think we’re now at the point where we can officially say we’re turning the page from ‘survive’ to ‘thrive.’”

Construction began earlier this month on the four-story, mixed-use building soon to occupy the southern half-acre of the Dietz Street Lot. The building will contain 40 one-bedroom artists’ lofts and 24 two-bedroom apartments designated for middle-income residents, including seven “move-in ready” units for people with mobility impairments and three units for people with hearing or visibility impairments, according to Darren Scott, Upstate East Director of Development for the New York state Office of Homes and Community Renewal.

Scott contended that the pandemic helped the general public to understand the importance of affordable housing.

“We all need affordable housing,” Scott said. “I don’t know a person who doesn’t. We may need it at different price points, but we all need it. I think this moment in time has been a teaching moment, and I hope it’s more than a moment. I hope it spans a lifetime and we’re really able to move forward from it in a very positive way.”

The project was approved in July 2019 by the city’s Common Council for $16 million, including $1.47 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds. Common Council voted to approve the $257,500 sale of the half-acre portion of the lot in November 2019. Construction was scheduled to begin in 2020, but was put on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic.

New York has committed more than $2 billion to the Mohawk Valley region since the Regional Economic Development Council program was launched a decade ago, according to Allison Nowack, deputy director of Empire State Development. In 2016, Oneonta became the first community in the region to be awarded DRI funding.

“The Dietz Street Lofts project is a perfect example of the kind of targeted investments the Regional Economic Development Council is looking for,” Nowack said. “Not only does it create quality, affordable housing, right in Oneonta’s city center, but it brings Hartwick’s students right into the heart of downtown Oneonta.”

The first floor of the Lofts project will contain Hartwick College’s Grain Innovation Center, which was funded in part with a $180,000 grant from the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council, according to Nowack.

Modeled after the Hartwick College Center for Craft Food & Beverage, the Grain Innovation Lab will “provide testing and technical support that’s convenient, affordable and reliable to those growers, millers and bakers,” according to Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich.

The facility will contain a research bakery with professional equipment, with the goal of developing 100% whole grain flour from a variety of grains, Drugovich said. The lab will be equipped to conduct an annual harvest survey, collecting and testing samples from farmers across the region, and the space will be used to host workshops and other educational events.

“With the Grain Innovation Center, we want to strengthen the economic base of the region,” Drugovich said. “We want our students to develop skills and knowledge in an area that will encourage them to remain here and live in this area. We think that’s going to happen here.”

“I was smitten by Oneonta from the second I stepped onto Main Street,” said Parkview Development & Construction partner Sean Kearney. “I said, ‘We have to come here, this is a good place for us.’”

Kearney commended Herzig and several other Common Council members for their research on the project, noting that more than a dozen officials chartered a city bus for a four-hour trip to Peekskill to tour an existing development and interview its residents about their quality of life there.

“During the trip back, everybody spoke about how this project was right for the city of Oneonta,” Herzig said.

“Ultimately, this is not just a building. This is about people,” he continued. “It’s going to provide much, much needed affordable middle-income housing, it’s going to provide support for our thriving arts community here in Oneonta, it’s going to add vibrancy to our walkable downtown, and it’s going to help us be in a position to thrive once COVID is over.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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