For a while now, much of the talk regarding the former Bresee's complex has been on the damage the building has sustained, or how the old days of a single, downtown department store aren't coming back.
With the new ownership by Otsego County Development Corp. and lease by the city, the time has come to seek solutions, modern ones that offer the most to the local economy and its consumers.
On Wednesday, Oneonta was witness to the most tangible sign yet that the former Bresee's complex has a viable future.
Three developers, each seeking to be the one chosen to revitalize a fallen downtown hub, made presentations to the Common Council, other city officials and members of the public.
Two _ Homes-4-U and Michael A. Treanor & Associates _ had vivid plans full of apartments and retail shops. One, Homes-4-U, represented by area developer James Baldo, was so specific as to propose an atrium that would split the original Bresee's facade.
Another developer, Bloomfield Schon, did not offer specifics, but stressed that all paths were possible and it would not unilaterally make a choice. Schon also cited its reputation for making energy-efficient buildings that meet the high standard of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification, much as Hartwick's planned Golisano Hall is expected to do.
Through this meeting the city and the public were able to learn what development was possible, who was interested and become informed as to what choices the city will be making.
All three developers appeared, and each had something creative and forward-looking to say. The firms that proposed specific projects appeared to be flexible on the details, while Schon touched on a key component of building in the climate-change age: Energy efficiency, sustainability and conservation.
What was also positive was the opportunity for feedback. Developers faced queries on parking, construction issues and employment.
Mayor John Nader said public comments could be directed to the city clerk. And, according to OCDC, a final decision will not be made on a developer until later this month, giving this forum an effect that was more than a dog-and-pony show.
The tough decisions have yet to be made. Costs will be a factor, as will the willingness of downtown shoppers, merchants and residents to tolerate an extensive construction phase. Recruitment of businesses to fill these spaces will be a priority, and whoever is downtown developer will have an immediate and very real test of his or her abilities. Finally, much of the pride in downtown is locked into the past.
A successful navigation of the situation at the former Bresee's complex can build a new chapter of pride, community and success for downtown, if not all of the greater Oneonta area.