Decades ago, many upstate downtown areas were hotbeds for economic activity. Today you can find those same areas with old, vacant buildings with many opportunities for growth.
The state works with communities to provide funding through the Brownfield Opportunity Area Program.
“Little by little, we’ve been restoring this wonderful old building,” said Mohawk Valley Community Market owner Joseph Chilelli.
Chilelli runs a community market and cafe in the former Mungers Department Store on North Main Street in Herkimer. At one time, the store, along with the Main Street corridor, was a hot spot for shopping and dining.
“This is the heart of the village, and it should be the best part of the village," Chilelli said.
Herkimer recently applied for, and won, a state Brownfield Opportunity Area Grant worth $173,000. Through the state program, communities receive guidance, expertise and funding to develop plans to revitalize qualifying areas.
There are currently 122 study areas and 44 designated areas for brownfield opportunities in the state today. The areas include former manufacturing sites, commercial corridors, residential areas, downtowns and waterfronts.
"It's 32 acres in the downtown of Herkimer," said Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency CEO John Piseck. “We’re working with the village of Herkimer. They're the lead on this. Mayor [Dana] Sherry has done a great job, and her board."
He works with both municipal leaders and state officials to help bring new projects to the county.
"You can't just rush into things and think things are going to happen. And you've got to work with the developers. You've got to have them come in here who know how to spend the money, who know how to make things happen," Piseck said.
Piseck said the BOA grants are there for upstate municipalities experiencing the same thing as Herkimer.
“Every area has a regional person that will work with you to make those connections and walk you through the process. Department of State has a BOA page. It outlines what it takes to fill out the application. But you gotta do it as a community effort,” said Piseck.
“Hopefully, we’ll continue to grow, and continue to be part of the revitalization,” said Chilelli.
To date, more than $45 million in BOA grants have been awarded to both urban and rural New York communities. While the BOA program was created in 2003, Piseck said Gov. Kathy Hochul has made a push to support it.