Good planning has paid off in Newark; other communities should take notice

Newark Mayor Jonathan Taylor is proud of his community, and there isn’t any reason why he shouldn’t be.

If you’ve traveled to Newark in the last year, you know what’s happening downtown: A lot.

There’s the reconstruction — or resurrection — of Main Street, which is happening even though Newark did not win last year’s round of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

A significant sewer overhaul, which happened thanks to years of collaboration between village officials and regional representatives.

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And the village is working on new ways to take advantage of canal-front property, which will draw new visitors downtown.

Then consider the thousands of jobs in Newark. Unlike a lot of other communities, which are struggling to lure or keep employers, Newark is thriving as developers look for ways to enter or expand in the village.

Newark’s ability to focus on long-term planning might be unparalleled in the Finger Lakes. It’s hard to name a community whose elected leaders can point to studies conducted in the mid-2000s and show specific ways that millions in new investment is happening as result, more than a decade later.

“The whole South Main Street reconstruction really started back in 2007,” Taylor said. “Traffic and parking studies that were done at the time to secure funding that would allow for the reconstruction of all of Main Street.”

Then in 2012, as the funding became possible, Taylor says a lot of dollars were pulled to help with Hurricane Sandy relief. That didn’t matter to the then-Village Board or the current leadership team.

They just kept moving forward.

“Our project was kind of put on the back-burner, and in 2016 the Governor notified us that we were getting $6.5 million to fund a reconstruction of South Main Street,” he recounted. Except they weren’t going to be satisfied with simply reconstructing downtown at the surface level. It would’ve been easy to do, but the board had decided that it would be smarter to replace the infrastructure underneath South Main Street. Water, sanitary and storm sewer systems were overhauled.

It becomes a nearly $11 million project with all things included.

If all of that isn’t enough, the Village Board has managed to hold the line on property taxes, too. It’s been several years since taxpayers have seen an increase in their levy — another rare accomplishment for a community that’s seeing millions spent to overhaul a large section of it’s most-heavily trafficked real estate.

There’s the former school on Union Street, which has been torn down to make way for a Byrne Dairy store. Taylor says he likes that Newark is becoming the community that developers and people look to as “seeking progress.”

“They want to see what you can do with the money,” he explained, recounting what he’s learned going through multiple DRI rounds. Newark plans to make a compelling argument for $10 million again, even if to some it might seem like a spoil of riches.

It’s sensible, though, and all roots into the real call to action for all elected officials throughout the region: Come up with a good plan; figure out how to execute that plan; and stick to it, even if there are setbacks.

Newark hasn’t won any DRI funding yet, and not even a hurricane of seemingly biblical proportions could derail its will to stay the course. It’s rare. It’s spectacular. And it’s a hallmark of what is possible in the Finger Lakes.

“I think the state really wants to see a community that’s progressing. They really want to see things happening. They don’t want you to just be there waiting saying, ‘OK, I need $10 million then I’ll do this,’” Taylor said.

They have asked, and more importantly answered, the simple questions: What does our community need? How can we leverage grant opportunities to accomplish those goals? What do we need to accomplish in order to be eligible and successfully obtain those grants that lead to goal completion?

It’s more than a comprehensive plan. It’s will. It’s the genuine desire to make a community better than the way it was found. And it’s something that, sadly, often is lacking in the planning process.

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