‘Low cost’ projects that could make downtown Watertown better

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WATERTOWN — The $10 million downtown grant that the city was awarded last fall has the potential to transform downtown for decades to come.

But Dr. Jason White, chairman of Advantage Watertown, believes there are also a lot of little things costing $1,000 and less that can make downtown a better place.

People just needed to start talking about the possibilities, he said.

To spur some ideas, he led the members of Advantage Watertown — a group of local business and community leaders — during a brainstorming session on Thursday.

They came up with a list of about 50 “low cost” small projects that could make a big difference in the city’s central business district.

“It’s anti-DRI,” Dr. White joked, referring to the city’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.

The ideas ranged from various ways to spruce up downtown, creating Wi-Fi throughout the business district, encouraging outdoor seating for restaurants and replicating the quaint atmosphere that Sackets Harbor offers.

Dr. White said the brainstorming session was a good way to come up with ideas. In the past, he’s used similar sessions to talk about potential downtown projects and ways to improve parking.

“No ideas are bad ideas,” he told the group before the 40-minute discussion began.

The ideas included:

Adding recycling receptacle.

Putting together a downtown cleanup crew.

Completing a beautification project that includes planting flowers, hanging flower pots and baskets and other ways to make downtown look nicer.

Painting traffic control boxes.

A landscaping project for Lachenauer Plaza, where a new design for the fountain was completed by a local artist this summer.

Coordinating downtown events better.

Placing umbrella stands around downtown that downtown visitors can use when it rains.

Getting the North Country Arts Council and local artists more involved in public arts projects.

Installing more bike racks.

Putting up strands of decorative white lights around downtown.

Sprucing up the windows of empty storefronts.

Installing interpretive signs about Public Square’s history.

n Encouraging entrepreneurs to bring food trucks downtown.

It’s not clear how much the list of projects would cost but it would be far less than the projects completed under Watertown’s DRI program, Advantage Watertown members said.

Some ideas are easier to get done than others. Some have been suggested in the past. And one idea may be funded by the DRI program.

After hearing a suggestion that downtown should look like Sackets Harbor during the summer, Donald C. Rutherford, CEO of the Watertown Local Development Corp., pointed out that his organization submitted a proposal for a $50,000 downtown beautification project that he hopes gets funded.

Dr. White is convinced that the 50 items can make a difference.

“It can become an amazing, vibrant place where people want to be,” he said. “I think we came up with some great ideas.”

While he agreed, Advance Watertown member Stephen Hunt, regional director of Empire State Development, said both the DRI program and the list of projects are important.

“I don’t think this is anti-DRI,” he said. “I think the DRI inspires this kind if discussion.”

The discussion about the DRI program will continue later this month when the city’s Local Planning Committee meets on Jan. 25 to talk about potential projects that could be funded under the $10 million grant.

Working with a group of consultants, the planning committee must come up with a list of projects in March.

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