GENEVA — When motorists head south into downtown on Exchange Street sometime in the next year or so, they’ll see a sign welcoming them to the city.
Trouble is, those are not the city limits. The arched welcome sign’s placement near the Lake Street intersection more reflects the entry into the central business district.
Some critics think that sends a message to residents who live north of the sign that they don’t matter as much, an allegation the city denies.
A city resident is leading a petition-oriented effort to convince state officials to pull funding from the welcome sign, which is being built with $142,000 from the $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Project funds awarded to the city in 2016. The city also would contribute money toward what was estimated to be a $200,000 project.
The welcome sign was part of streetscape enhancements and gateway improvements funding proposal under the city’s DRI project priority list, which was pared down by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Fred Brockway, who served on the city’s DRI Committee that helped put together the list of potential projects to receive state funding, said he was against the welcome sign, believing there were other, more worthy projects, including the proposed Geneva Resiliency Center project proposed by Family Counseling Service of the Finger Lakes.
Family Counseling Service explained that its proposal was a “community based, community driven initiative that integrates private and not-for-profit sector partners working together to bring awareness, support services, advocacy, training and jobs in a collaborative way, aligning regional and city strengths, fostering the overall health and well-being of the community and reducing poverty.”
The center also would support workforce development and entrepreneurial efforts, as well as the development of safe and affordable housing. It was to be part of an addition to the Family Counseling Services’ location on South Exchange Street in the city.
The proposal was submitted, but did not make the final list selected by the Cuomo administration for funding.
Brockway blames Cuomo and “consultants from Albany” for choosing the sign for state funding. The DRI committee “would never have chosen that,” although it did place it before the Cuomo administration for funding consideration. At at minimum, Brockway said, the sign should be placed at the city limits at some gateway point.
As it stands, Brockway continued, it sends a message to residents of Wards 5 and 6 that they aren’t as important. Further, the sign does nothing to enhance downtown Geneva or address underlying poverty, he claims.
A petition opposing the funding has been launched and is available at a number of city businesses and churches. It’s also available at http://bit.ly/2CXurzz, where the petition is sponsored by activist/city critic Jim Meaney. Meaney operates a blog called Geneva Believer. He has expressed his opposition to the sign, as did another resident at the city’s Dec. 6 City Council meeting.
While the petition effort has been launched, City Manager Matt Horn does not believe the course can be reversed.
“The state is preparing contracts for all proposed projects now, and I am unaware of any process for reallocating funds,” he said.
Further, Horn emphasized that the Geneva Resiliency Center is a high priority for the city, noting that it is in the city’s Strategic Investment Plan. Horn said the city sought money for the center under the latest round of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council funding.
While the city received funds for a host of projects that were announced last week, the Resiliency Center was not among them.
Horn could not be reached for comment Monday.
Brockway urges people to contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by text or voice at (315) 521-5873.