Mayor talks reinvention in State of the City

Shweta Karikehalli | The Daily Star Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig gives his annual State of the City address at City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 4.  

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig talked about upcoming city projects, local business, the 2020 census and more at his annual State of the City address Tuesday, Feb. 4 at City Hall.

To a room packed full of constituents, Herzig began his speech by recounting a meeting he had with Nadya Zhexembayeva, a 2001 Hartwick College graduate. Zhexembayeva came to Hartwick College from Kazakhstan with only $400 and knowing little English, he said.

She’s now a consultant who helps companies such as Coca-Cola, Cisco and Dannon by reinventing their business models and products, he said.

“Nearly all businesses, not-for-profits, individuals and communities come upon times when reinvention presents itself — either as an opportunity or a necessity,” Herzig said. “For the city of Oneonta, I believe this is one of those times.”

He spoke about concerns people have expressed to him, like high taxes, lack of decent affordable places to live, empty store fronts on Main Street, blighted properties and the fact that 20% of city residents live below the poverty level.

“These concerns are real and I can tell you they keep me awake on too many nights,” Herzig said. “These are the reasons I asked hundreds of citizens from all walks of life to help us create a vision and a plan for our future. With our fine colleges, historic downtown, vibrant arts community and surrounding natural beauty, Oneonta could and should be a thriving small city of the future.”

He credited Greater Oneonta Historical Society Executive Director Bob Brzozowski, City Engineer Greg Mattice, Transit Director David Hotaling, members of the Oneonta police and fire departments, water and wastewater treatment plant operators and more for their parts in helping the city thrive.

During the past three years, a new Comprehensive Plan, Oneonta Theater study through the Greater Oneonta Historical Society, parking and housing studies and more have aided in shaping a vision for the city’s future, he said.

This includes providing adequate housing and employment options; having an attractive, pedestrian-friendly downtown; being committed to environmental sustainability and developing a multi-purpose business park that would create new jobs and add to the local tax base.

The creation of a new, safer Lettis Highway for those who choose or need to walk will be top priority, he said. In December, April Johnson, 32, of Oneonta was struck by a car while trying to cross the highway. She died of her injuries in January.

Herzig spoke about the city’s support of new businesses such as Underground Attic, Tribe Yoga and Table Rocks Bouldering.

“You know what they all have in common,” he asked. “The city of Oneonta helped them get started with microenterprise grants of up to $35,000.”

He acknowledged that the city hasn’t always been successful in these efforts.

“One of our losses this year was Bomber’s Burritos,” he said. “It hurts to lose and I know it makes us look bad, but even the best teams cannot win every game and there are no wins if you choose to take no risks.”

This spring, the city will see new directory signs throughout downtown and welcome signs at all five of the city’s gateways, he said.

Within the next two to three months, designs for a new transit hub, a re-envisioned Market Street and redesigned municipal parking lot will be seen, he said.

The Lofts on Dietz Street project, he said, will be a "made-to-order spark plug for our downtown with 40 affordable housing lofts, 24 middle-income apartments, an art gallery and the Hartwick College Grain Innovation Center." Construction is tentatively scheduled for summer 2020.

2020 is a census year, and because much of the population consists of college students and low-income households, the city is at risk for being undercounted, Herzig said. He said the city has partnered with Opportunities for Otsego, Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta to create a Complete Count Committee to ensure the city is properly counted and funded. 

"My goal — our goal — is to stop having to hear about our potential," Herzig said in closing. "The way we achieve that is to realize our potential. Thank you to the hundreds of citizens that have contributed. We now have a plan to do just that and it will take all of us working together to make it happen. Thank you, and let's get to work."

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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