In January 2007, City Manager Jason Molino told City Council members that it had taken five years of poor budgeting to put the city into a $3 million fiscal hole, and it would take five years of good budgeting to get the city out of that hole. It’s 2013, and the city has recovered financial health. Now, Mr. Molino says, it’s time to change gears. It’s time now to develop a future.
That is the impetus behind what Mr. Molino and Economic Development Coordinator Julie Pacatte are calling the Batavia Opportunity Areas project. The project, based on market studies and analysis of housing and neighborhoods, outlines three major areas in the city where improvements would have the greatest impact. Included are 366 acres of historic, commercial and industrial property which planners believe underutilized. Some of the property has hazardous materials that need to be cleaned up before the site can be put to new use. In other cases, old buildings may need updating so they can be put to modern use. Other property is vacant, and just needs someone with vision, cash and motivation to build something new.
The idea grew out of the Brownfield Opportunity Area program which provides incentives for cleaning up and reusing property that has been contaminated by former businesses. But it goes a few steps further, in looking to encourage development of non-contaminated properties.
In brief, the three sub-areas include downtown Batavia bounded by Ellicott Avenue, West Main, Bank Street and Richmond Avenue; the adjacent Batavia Central Industrial Area bounded by Main Street, Harvester Avenue, Ellicott Street and Liberty/Summit streets; and Evans Street Commercial Area, stretching from the Tonawanda Creek and Ganson Avenue toward West Main Street. A map of the area is available on the city’s website, www.batavianewyork.com (click on Batavia Opportunity Areas).
The plans are ambitious, no doubt about it. They call for revamping of the Della Penna property, construction of new buildings in all three sub-areas, demolition of parts of the Harvester Center and City Centre, a new fieldhouse, even a brewpub. Parking is reconfigured and traffic flow altered — one big change would be the extension of Jackson Street northward to lead into the City Centre mall parking lot.
What are the chances that all of these plans will come to fruition? That is the first question bound to pop up. But it misses the point. The point is not what exactly will happen, but the direction the city is headed. The Batavia Opportunity Areas project lays out a vision. Planners have looked at what the city has and what the city needs, and have formulated a plan that fulfills those needs. It is not a plan set in stone. It is a plan that can be revised — it is more suggestive than definitive. It is meant to show developers what could be done, with hopes that will stimulate developers to either adopt those ideas or come up with their own.
The economy may not be booming yet, but it is improving. Mr. Molino said this region is already feeling the ripples of economic stimulus coming from the Agri-Park. Batavia is in developers’ sights. If the Genesee County Economic Development Center must focus on “shovel ready” industrial property, so, too, the city needs to make sure areas ripe for redevelopment are ready. The city has come a long way to get to this point. With the BOA plan, the city has shifted gear. It has engaged a future.