In sports, one of the hottest terms of the day is “game changer.” It can refer to a player or a style of play that forces everyone else to not only stand up and take notice but either adapt or be left behind.
And, like so many sports expressions, the term has drifted into the lexicon of other fields. There are game changers in business, in product design, in medicine, in architecture, even in restaurants.
The City of Geneva landed its game changer Wednesday, and it’s a whopper.
It was delivered by none other than Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself who stood at the podium in the sparkling Visitor and Events Center and announced that Geneva had been selected as the winner of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative in the Finger Lakes region, one of 10 such winners around New York state.
Think about that for a second and let it sink in — 10 million dollars ... coming to Geneva.
Reporter Dave Shaw found a number of people around the city yesterday afternoon who already are thinking about it and what it can mean. You can read their thoughts here.
No one is salivating more, however, than the people who put together the city’s application for the award, City Manager Matt Horn and Director of Neighborhood Initiatives Sage Gerling.
In fact, Horn admitted his “knees buckled” when he got word Wednesday morning that Geneva had been selected.
Cuomo’s announcement capped a frantic and whirlwind month and a half that began in mid-May when Horn’s office received details of the process and the application, which was due on June 10.
“We had to get aggressive with time allocation, basically devoting every spare minute to the application,” Horn said. “In terms of man hours, it was easily hundreds. This was the most intensive grant application process I’ve ever been involved in.”
He and Gerling worked with others at City Hall and with a number of community organizations to brainstorm ideas and polish the application. One stroke of good fortune was that the city had recently been through the process of crafting a new comprehensive plan, so, as Horn said, “we had tons of information at our fingertips.”
June 10 was a Friday, and in the evening on the following Monday, Horn received a call telling him that Geneva was one of four Finger Lakes finalists. He also was advised that he needed to be in Rochester at 3 p.m. that Thursday to present a 30-minute overview of the proposal.
A good portion of the application spoke of partnerships and collaborations in the city, so Horn immediately called on some of those partners. For his “presentation team,” he enlisted Hobart and William Smith President Mark Gearan and LNB President and CEO Bob Schick.
To fill out the team — and to continue the sports theme — he also called on Allauna Overstreet-Gibson, who he said hit a “home run” during the presentation.
“She grew up in Geneva, received a GSA scholarship to William Smith, graduated on time, and now is a program manager at the Boys and Girls Club,” Horn said. “She was able to tell a great story about the evolution of Geneva, alongside the very real challenges that still exist.”
“Together the five represent the collaboration of public and private entities that make Geneva so unique,” said Cathy Williams, vice president for communications at HWS. “They created their pitch, practiced for a day and then drove to Rochester for the presentation. In the back of the van were the stools from Mark’s kitchen used for staging the presentation.”
From those stools, the group pitched the city’s nine-page application, which was titled “Connect. Collaborate. Capitalize. The Revitalization of Downtown Geneva.” It painted the picture of a city that had seen its ups and downs over the decades but that was poised, thanks to those partnerships and connections, for “tremendous growth.”
“The end result will be a unique, vibrant urban core that is a showpiece for the Finger Lakes Region,” it read.
Horn said he felt the group’s effort was “great” at the presentation, but he knew the competition was stiff.
Just as difficult — maybe more so — was the waiting.
Horn had expected to hear the results on June 30 but got an email that day that no announcement was ready. He said he spent his July 4th weekend “clicking ‘refresh’ on the closest browser pointed at Governor Cuomo’s schedule webpage. All weekend: nothing. Tuesday: nothing.”
He was beginning to think that all the effort had been for naught ... until his phone rang at 11 Wednesday morning.
“A call came in from an unrecognized ‘585’ to my cell,” he said. “It was our regional rep from [Empire State Development]. He basically said, ‘Take 10 seconds to enjoy this ... then get ready to plan a major event.’”
That included inviting all the members of City Council and dozens of other local politicians, dignitaries and officials who helped fill the Events Center for the governor’s evening visit, which went off — seemingly at least — without a hitch.
Cuomo opened his remarks with this: “First you know, you have such a beautiful spot here. I hope you remember it every day and you don’t take it for granted. Every time I come back I am just amazed at just how perfect and beautiful it is, you couldn’t design a better place. You couldn’t paint a more beautiful picture of Mother Nature.”
Then he went on to praise the city’s application and its intended plans to better connect downtown with Seneca Lake.
“You put in an application that I think was tremendously smart,” he said. “You are looking at your main asset, right? That is a magnet, that lake. Mother Nature only made one of them, and you happen to have it. How do you connect the downtown area with that lake? How do you make that marriage? How do you get the energy and the attraction from that lake to the downtown area?
“So how do you maximize the proximity and the connection with the lake? How do you maximize the educational institutions, the partnership with Hobart? How do you remove some of the blighted commercial areas and residential areas that are in that community, that are now detracting from the growth? How do you bring more commercial activity, banking activity lines, banks? You hit all the right keys.”
It’s still too early to know the details of how the $10 million will be distributed and how it can be used, other than the fact that $300,000 will go into planning, where private-sector experts will work with a local planning committee to draft a Strategic Investment Plan. Look for a story in Sunday’s Times by reporter Steve Buchiere for more on the facts and figures.
Meanwhile, some out there will disparage this announcement, say that the money is only ours — having been paid in taxes by all of us — simply being redirected back to us, but the truth is it didn’t have to come back to us; it could have gone to any of the other well-deserving Finger Lakes applicants.
And yes, as the application itself pointed out, Geneva still has challenges, issues with racial tensions, poverty and crime that a $10 million shot in the arm won’t necessarily solve. However, this award is certainly an indication of a community deemed to be going in the right direction and is something all city residents can take pride in.
“$10M sure makes a person feel darn good!” Williams wrote to me this morning.
Her boss, HWS President Gearan added: “I congratulate the City of Geneva on its successful application and extend my gratitude to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the State of New York, and the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council for providing these important resources that will add to the vibrancy of downtown Geneva. This award will continue the work of the entire community, making Geneva a wonderful place to work, live, visit and study.”
Horn summed up Wednesday this way:
“When I got that initial call, my knees buckled. Then it was pandemonium for about 10 hours. It wasn’t until I got home, had that first taste of Riesling, and exhaled that the magnitude of this was beyond comprehension ... I said it in my remarks last night: ‘The real work starts now.’ And I can’t wait.”
I love that. Celebrating some of the best news the Finger Lakes, in general, and Geneva, in particular, have had in a very long time with a glass of the region’s iconic wine while pondering how to put $10 million to the best use.
It’s not only a game-changer ... it’s the start of a whole new ball game.
Mike Cutillo is the Times’ executive editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 789-3333, Ext. 264.