Olean Projects Proposed
Olean’s Downtown Rehabilitation Initiative Continues
By Nicholas Pircio
The process of selecting projects for funding under the City of Olean’s Downtown Rehabilitation Initiative (DRI) is continuing, as the committee involved in the effort compiles a list of priorities. Originally, there were over 50 proposals, some of which have been taken off the list. Discussion is set to continue during a public open house, to be held on Tuesday, February 6th at the John J. Ash Community Center, 112 North Barry Street in Olean, from 6-8pm.
At stake is $10-million in funding under the New York State-sponsored program. Some of the proposals have been taken off the list, mostly because the committee making the decisions does not believe those projects meet the eligibility requirements at the state level. That’s according to committee member Larry Sorokes, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce. He said, “Some might have been decent projects, but had something missing from them that would disqualify them for funding.”
There is a March deadline to submit projects to the state, with 21 potential projects still on the list. According to Sorokes, it appears the committee will submit to Albany a list that’s slightly larger than the amount of available money, “With the understanding there may be some projects that will be rejected for one reason or another. We want to make sure we are using the full $9.7-million. That’s the amount available after consultant fees are paid.”
The most talked about project is the long-standing effort to rehabilitate the former Manufacturers Hanover Bank Building, a long-vacant downtown Olean landmark. Sorokes said there is a preferred developer right now. “I don’t think most of the people on the committee have seen or heard a full-blown plan of what that developer would like to do with the building. I think there’s still going to be a lot of discussion on how that plays out. I would imagine the developer is counting on at least some level of support from the DRI.”
There are also a number of street improvements, public works kind of projects in downtown Olean that would enhance and expand the Walkable Olean project, which to date has seen the addition of roundabouts and the overall rebuilding of North Union Street. While some of the funding may go to private property owners, Sorokes said, “The main focus is to create a greater good for the downtown, to make it continue to become more of a destination and economic engine, helping us to recruit businesses and employees. So I think those city public works projects may well end up on the final list.”
Sorokes said not only would public works efforts address some beautification, they would also include steps to address the congestion on East and West State Street that’s occurred as a result of the roundabout at State and Union Streets. The idea would be to create similar street traffic patterns, to extend the North Union Street project onto at least a portion of East and West State Streets. “Not all the way, but on the areas of State Street nearest Union Street, and even potentially continuing down South Union Street as well, so it would be more of a gateway into the city and into the downtown. Those have had a lot of discussion.”
The concept of beautification, said Sorokes, is clearly another important area. “Everything from the downtown sidewalks, to the plantings, to signage, things that make people more comfortable finding their way in the downtown are important. “And we’re also advocating a fund to help downtown property owners improve their buildings, make the downtown a little more cohesive and attractive, and more of a commercial destination.” Sorokes said downtown is trending that way now, but it’s been tough on a lot of property owners who’ve been through a couple years of construction.
Merchants have seen a decline in business during the construction years, according to Sorokes. “Retail in general has changed a lot in the world. If there are ways we can help create more of a downtown neighborhood destination shopping area, we’d like to do that as well.”