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You are here You are here The Red Mill Inn News 2007 News 2006 Archive - Story  Story

Prosperity Approached by Land and Water

By Lou Sorendo
 
June/July, 2006
Prosperity Approached by Land and Water

 

Can Baldwinsville keep up with the growth in Cicero and Clay? Give it an 'A-Plus' for trying

Baldwinsville, NY
Baldwinsville, NY

The more things change, the more they remain the same. That French proverb holds true in the village of Baldwinsville.

When travelers Dr. Jonas Baldwin and his wife Eliza came to Baldwinsville in 1798, they were attracted to the area's natural beauty.

The Baldwins would return 10 years later and begin developing a community which would take on their name.

In a similar vein, local entrepreneurs Jake McKenna and Jay Bernhardt saw that same beauty in 2005 and decided to return an integral part of the village's history to its past glory.

Their efforts have resulted in the establishment of The Red Mill Inn. Formerly the Mercer Milling Co., the inn was once the premier flour mill in the bustling mill town of Baldwinsville.

Today, the lodging and meeting facility has 32 overnight guest rooms along with meeting and banquet facilities.

The developers bought the dilapidated mill about a year ago for $700,000. The inn took about $2.3 million more to renovate. Although it is a new building, it kept the old mill's original timber framing.

The Baldwins helped transform a rural settlement into an industrialized mill town surrounded by a variety of retail and service businesses. Over 200 years later, developers such as McKenna and Bernhardt are looking to preserve the rich architectural legacy inherent within the community's surviving 19th-century buildings.

The development of The Red Mill Inn is only a small piece of a larger program that is slowly but surely transforming Baldwinsville into a destination point in Central New York.

Big plans for B'ville- Two major initiatives in the village are propelling Baldwinsville toward progress. They are the Waterfront Revitalization Plan and the Central Business District Develop-ment Plan. For the last several years, the village plan for the riverfront and canal areas around the Seneca River and Lock 24 of the New York State Canal System.

In addition, the Central Business District Development Plan attempts to achieve a sense of continuity within Baldwinsville. On the agenda are streetscape improvements, parking organization and new curb cut locations.

The goal of the business plan is to make the village more pedestrian-friendly and improve access to downtown B'ville and the revitalized riverfront area.

For Mayor Daniel O'Hara and Deputy Mayor Rick Presley, the village is poised to enter a new era of greatness.

Waterfront revitalization- The waterfront revitalization plan represents the village's most recent effort to provide for the municipality's economic and recreational future.

The New York State Canal Corp. has reviewed the waterfront plan and helped fund past projects. In addition, federal money has previously been allocated to help fund the initiative. There remain several aspects of the plan which are unfunded and are critical to the success of the plan.

The village has successfully implemented much of its Waterfront Revitalization Plan by leveraging grant monies into a $3 million public/private enterprise, which includes a 3,500-foot South Shore West Trail, Finger Dike and Paper Mill Island.

Paper Mill Island is the centerpiece of the project. A once-unsightly industrial site has been cleaned up with state brownfield money and the village has constructed a $300,000 world-class canal-side amphitheater, the first on the NY State Erie Canal system.

CBD Development Plan- The CBD Development Plan attempts to achieve a sense of order within Baldwinsville. Representatives of Environmental Design & Research, a landscape design firm hired by the village, recently presented the plan at a public informational meeting.

The designers divided the downtown business and riverfront areas into distinct neighborhoods, providing drawings of the neighborhoods as they are today and as they might look if redeveloped.

Creating green spaces, revitalizing buildings, demolishing others and building new structures are part of the long-range development plan that could take several years to accomplish.

"It took persistence. It didn't happen overnight," said O'Hara when assessing the long-range plans.

He attributes the progress made to a bipartisan approach to B'ville government.

Although three parties are represented on the board of trustees, it functions as one unit for the betterment of the community, O'Hara said.

"It's all about the village," he said.

B'ville is steeped in a rich tradition of volunteerism, which culminates in residents trying to make their home the best it can be, added Presley.

O'Hara said one of the greatest criticisms of government is that representatives don't think ahead. "Government officials need to think beyond election periods," he observed.

Progress in B'ville is already having an immediate effect. The village officials agree that many young people are returning to their hometown.

"It's an opportunity for people to get back to their roots," he said. "Everyone here generally knows your name."

There's a protectiveness surrounding the community as well, O'Hara and Presley noted.

"We have a kind of community policing concept here," O'Hara said.

He said much of the growth in B'ville over the last 15 years has involved younger couples.

"We're experiencing an influx of upwardly mobile families," O'Hara said.

The Red Mill Inn, Baldwinsville NY
The Red Mill Inn, Baldwinsville NY

Anchor project- The development of The Red Mill Inn epitomizes the level of village support for continued progress in B'ville.

In early 2005, McKenna and Benhardt heard about the eyesore and decided it was a historic gem that should be renovated.

McKenna sees the Red Mill Inn project as being the anchor to the Waterfront Revitalization Program.

He said villagers were growing complacent regarding waterfront and business sector redevelopment over the past several years, but now that the Red Mill project is nearing completion, a new wave of enthusiasm has been created.

"It was the shot in the arm needed to continue," he said.

McKenna of Parsons-McKenna Construction was inspired to engage in the project for several reasons. The structural engineer and specialist in timber structures liked what he saw when surveying The Red Mill Inn site.

"It just has a certain appeal," he said. "Despite being weather-beaten, we certainly felt it was worth trying to salvage and preserve."

McKenna said the key motivational point was the fact that of the nearly 30 mills built in the 1800s along the Seneca River, The Red Mill was the first built and the last standing.

McKenna said another aspect of the project that piqued his interest involved the mill's prime location. The property sits on a parcel of land in the center of the village that is bounded by the Seneca River on one side and Lock 24 of the New York State Erie Canal on the other.

Village backing- Another key stimulus has been the cooperation within the village itself, McKenna said.

"The response of the village has been overwhelming," McKenna said. "I never expected in my wildest dreams that people would be so excited about renovating the building."

McKenna is a veteran contractor who has built thousands of projects. He made note of the fact that Baldwinsville stands out as being positive about the project.

"We've worked with a number of municipalities and it doesn't always go the way you would think," McKenna said. He said in Baldwinsville, everyone from the mayor to planning board members to the average citizen expressed a positive attitude toward the project.

"They hold the development team to high standards, but their attitude is, 'Let us help you through the process,'" McKenna said. "In other places, they dare you to build."

The Red Mill Inn general manager Rebecca Beardsley said the construction team did a "fantastic job" in "following the original footprint" and making the building identical to what it was when it was first constructed.

Beams are featured throughout the guest rooms and main hallways, while historical remnants from the mill-such as bills of lading-adorn the interior.

"We wanted to be able to bring together the old and new," she said. The Red Mill Inn has retained the Mission-style furnishings popular in days gone by, but also presents amenities which frequent travelers expect, Beardsley noted.

McKenna said cooperation between the public and private sectors has resulted in positive developments. "Baldwinsville has got that down," he said.

The Red Mill Inn opened May 4. A "sneak preview" invite-only event featuring local dignitaries took place then.

Carmella R. Mantello, director of the New York State Canal Corp., will be the guest speaker at the preview event. She has helped spearhead canal redevelopment in B'ville and throughout the state.

Foundation for future- O'Hara said the comprehensive plans offer a consistent approach to developing the village.

"Without these plans, we would become a 'rainbow' community with no uniformity," he said.

Back in 1995, the village was at a crossroads as its manufacturing base began to diminish and vacancy signs began to sprout up at an alarming rate.

Canal Corridor Initiative funds began to flow into B'ville, O'Hara noted, ushering in a new era of prosperity for the village.

"Boaters would just wave and keep moving," O'Hara said. "We wanted to capture some of that traffic."

Lock 24 is regarded as the second-busiest lock in the New York canal system.

The village also turned its attention to developing ways to get people to visit downtown, and an integrated trail system introduced through the CBD Development Plan provided the answer.

Downtown was once characterized as a "blighted" area, thus making it a deserved target for state funds designed to upgrade and revitalize the area.

The business corridor plan also addressed the abundance of curb cuts in the village, which results in vehicular congestion.

"The village is seeking a marriage between pedestrian and vehicular traffic," O'Hara said.

The plan aims at encouraging a mix of residential and retail interests while retaining a sense of security for villagers.

"We began to ask the question, 'What's important in life?'" O'Hara said.

Qualify-of-life issues have become paramount, and O'Hara noted the emergence of activities for residents to participate in began to proliferate.

"We want to create year-round activities in B'ville," the mayor said.

Presley said the village is focusing on "creating an atmosphere of slowing down."

"Bustle is nice, but so is a leisurely pace," Presley noted. "That's what kind of atmosphere we want to create in the village. We want the village to keep its look, feel, sights and smells," Presley said.

Tax base stable- Meanwhile, the cost of living in B'ville has been cushioned by a stabilized tax base.

The property value in 1995 amounted to $126 million; in 2006, that number reads $224 million.

"Over the last 10 years, taxes have either decreased or stayed the same while the budget has increased by 55 percent, O'Hara noted. This is attributed to significant public and private investment made in the B'ville area

"The cost of living is reasonable," Presley said.

As far as future commercial growth is concerned, Presley said B'ville is "pretty built out."

"There's not a lot of open land," he said. B'ville comprises of approximately three square miles.

"We're working with what we have," O'Hara said.

The village is located in both the towns of Lysander and Van Buren. Van Buren lies to the south side of the Seneca River while Lysander is located to the north.

Baldwinsville has a population of approximately 8,000 while the towns of Van Buren and Lysander have a combined population of approximately 40,000.

Lysander is regarded as the second-largest growing community in Central New York. Cicero ranks first.

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