UTICA — With the demolition of the Tartan Textile building slated to begin Monday, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr.’s proposed U-District seems to be making headway.
Along with that progress, Picente said he also had a meeting with officials from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office this week to talk about the proposal.
“We’ve stepped it up,” Picente said. “The governor’s budget is coming up and I’m hoping for something as a part of this. We had an excellent meeting with the governor’s staff in here this week to look as this, to really go through the numbers with us and to look at the actual landscape of how it would shake out.”
The 1.9-acre Tartan building makes up the entire block between Charles Street and Broadway east of the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. After the existing building is demolished, the lot will be purchased by the Upper Mohawk Valley Memorial Auditorium Authority, said chairman Carl Annese.
That property is the preferred location for the Nexus Center, which Picente said is one of the key pieces of the district in his mind.
Picente proposed the district — which he envisions including a craft beer museum and a casino — during his 2017 State of the County address.
The county recently received the results of an economic impact study based on all three components being built in the downtown area near the Aud.
It shows that once all three are built, there will be an estimated 1.6 million annual visitors, $76.4 million in new visitor spending and $30.6 million in indirect sales. The net new annual economic impact is estimated at being $106.9 million, the study shows.
“There’s property tax that gets raised up because of other businesses that will want to be located in the district because they’re getting more visitors,” Picente said. “And that’s what this is about; it’s about getting more people. So that’s how you build up the downtown.”
The study also found the three facilities would create 1,168 jobs leading to $35.8 million in annual earnings.
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said he fully supports the Nexus Center and location but isn’t sold on a downtown location for the beer museum. He said he would like to see the county look at the 1933 building at the harbor for that.
“It’s something that could be developed immediately, along with the governor, as a welcoming center,” Palmieri said. “I think our conversations at this point is we’re looking at a much larger picture, so I think that’s where the dialogue is at this point.”
Palmieri has been vocal about his desire to see more development in Harbor Point. But when it comes to the casino, especially, Palmieri said he doesn’t want it downtown.
“The casino, on that 5.5-acre lot, I could never support that,” he said. “There may be other areas he may be looking at that I will not close my thoughts to alternatives, with an understanding that we all come to the table together. … I leave the door open for dialogue and conversation, but at the 5.5 acres, that I do not support.”
Palmieri said he views the U-District as more of a multiple-district endeavor, encompassing Bagg's Square, the harbor and the Aud, connected by a pedestrian bridge.
Picente said the key to his proposal is the walkability piece and being close to the Aud.
Picente said he appreciates Palmieri’s point of view and continues to have conversations with him about his ideas. But in the end, Picente still holds hard to the idea that all the pieces of the U-District should be downtown, though he isn’t opposed to seeing other developments in the harbor.
While Palmieri said there have been conversations between himself and Picente about the U-District plans, moving forward, the mayor would like to see more.
“If we’re looking to have one destination, I think everyone needs to be at the table, talking about it and looking at all of the costs and benefits to the Utica area,” he said. “And that’s what we’ve been advocating.”
Contact reporter Samantha Madison at 315-792-5015 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Madison).