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The Times
  • Cosmetic improvements the first step for Herkimer business

  • Gus Lambros aimed to turn his latest building purchase into an international corridor.

    So, about a month ago, he began transforming the building called the Palmer House — at 267 - 271 N. Main St. in Herkimer — with strokes of vibrant colors. He painted the base burgundy and fire-engine red, and the storefronts black with yellow-trimmed windows.

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  • Gus Lambros aimed to turn his latest building purchase into an international corridor.
    So, about a month ago, he began transforming the building called the Palmer House — at 267 - 271 N. Main St. in Herkimer — with strokes of vibrant colors. He painted the base burgundy and fire-engine red, and the storefronts black with yellow-trimmed windows.
    “This is the way you attract people,” he said. “That’s why I painted it bright colors.”
    While many property and business owners and officials believe façade improvements is a great first step to boosting economic development, they said it shouldn’t stop there.
    Alfred Price, urban and regional planning professor at the State University of Buffalo, said façade improvements can be worth it, but the strategy won’t work alone.
    “We can paint over the real problems, but it doesn’t solve them,” he said. “If you don’t have an integrated multi-pronged strategy, façade fix-up is probably not going to be an effective tool.”
    Price said the key is understanding the dynamic of the area and recognizing the trend lines of economic activity. “A lot of small towns have developed themes,” he said. “Tourism is one of the world’s growing industries. If they can figure out how to cash in on the tourism business, they can re-imagine a different future.”
    While Lambros has brought in Sam’s Deli and Grocery at 271 N. Main St., the colors he’s chosen for the exterior haven’t been well received.
    “It looks horrible,” said Al Dorantes, North Main Street property owner and Herkimer Now member. “It’s a stone’s throw from a historic district. It shouldn’t look like (that).”
    One village trustee even brought the concern to a recent board meeting.
    “The combinations of colors is offensive and does nothing to improve or perpetuate the historic nature of these buildings,” Trustee Katherine Nichols said.
    Price said communities that have a plan and understand their assets can help avoid conflicts like this. They can determine what they want the area to look like with a plan, he said.
    Village Clerk and Treasurer Amanda Viscomi said she isn’t sure if Herkimer has a written plan.
    Whether it’s in writing or not, many communities throughout the Mohawk Valley seek grants — such as those offered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — to fund renovations.
    Last year, Utica received about $2.2 million and Rome received more than $900,000, according to HUD officials. Neither Herkimer County nor the village of Herkimer are eligible for the grants, but HUD Spokesman Brian Sullivan said it’s possible for them to receive grants through the state.
    Lambros said he received no grant money, but recognized other incentives should be offered to entice businesses. “What kind of tax breaks are (officials) going to give to small stores,” he said. “How are they going to compete?”
    Page 2 of 2 - In Rome, Al’s Cycle Parts underwent façade renovations during the summer through a Community Development Block Grant through HUD of $25,000. Owner Al Cingranelli said he expects the second $25,000 grant to be completed by the end of the year.
    “Any time you can improve the appearance of the property around you, I think people feel more comfortable going into a business like that,” he said.
    While it looks nice, Cingranelli said you have to give people a reason to come to the area.
    “You have to have some kind of a drawing card for them,” he said. “You can’t just line up a bunch of businesses and expect people to be there.”
    Christian Mercurio, acting director of Urban and Economic Development in Rome, said the city’s theme is clean, green and safe.
    “Those are the things that transcend any fad, or any decade, or any flavor,” he said.
    Ed Lasek, owner of Ed Lasek Optical World in downtown Utica, said when he received grant money for a canopy for his business, he had to work with neighboring businesses.
    “We all need to be on the same page for the betterment of downtown,” he said. “Things don’t progress when there are conflicts of interest.”

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