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UPSTATE UNPLUGGED: How can rural communities seeking grant funds use Montour Falls as an example?

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Montour Falls wins major NY Forward grant

Earlier this week Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the village of Montour Falls would be the recipient of $4.5 million through NY Forward.

The NY Forward program adopts the “Plan-then-Act” strategy initiated by the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. However, instead of communities competing for a $10 million grant, the winners share part of $100 million in the program’s fund.

Less than 24 hours after the announcement, we caught up with Mayor James Ryan to find out how his community hoped the $4.5 million could be leveraged. He described the moment, learning that Montour Falls won, as a proud one for the community and his administration.

“We have some thoughts on what we could spend the money on,” Mayor Ryan explained. “revitalizing our marina, Main Street, working on a housing project for market level housing. Those are our ideas, but we have to get those plans solidified locally first.”

The Village has a population of approximately 1,500 and features a convergence of natural, cultural and recreational assets. The downtown area of Montour Falls connects one of the region’s most popular and impressive waterfalls – Shequaga Falls – to a corridor of restaurants, breweries, boutiques and historically significant buildings and sites. The Village is dotted with small parks that serve as gathering places and venues for community events, and it offers unique opportunities to enjoy the scenic beauty of the region, such as the Catharine Valley Trail and the Queen Catharine Marsh trails.

A conversation with Mayor Ryan: How did the Village do it?

What happens next?

This funding will allow Montour Falls to expand it.

For residents, though, change won’t happen overnight. The process is methodical, highlighting the things state officials look for in communities who win grant money through the NY Forward initiative or Downtown Revitalization Initiative. Once some ideas are put to paper in the coming weeks and months, a final list of potential projects will go to the state. The state will vet them, and identify what projects are to be supported through the $4.5 million.

Mayor Ryan says it will take a bit, but playing the long-game is familiar territory.

Unrelated to the NY Forward program, the Village has made improving its community a priority. “We’ve realigned and improved about 85% of our sewer lines and made some significant improvements in water and our interconnects for sewers out to properties,” he explained. “We’ve had a camera in every pipe in the village that I know of, and we’ve spent a considerable amount of money and time going in that direction. Of course, there are some issues that have to be addressed, but we have that plan in place. It shows that we’ve made a significant investment in our community and infrastructure. In something a lot of people don’t see or hear about.”

Those investments, like the plethora of investments made in other communities that have won DRI or NY Forward grants, prove pivotal when it comes to the state making selections on who wins.

In the coming weeks, Mayor Ryan says the state will assign a project manager. That will be the first step in this process. Then there will be townhall meetings, and questionnaires or polls to see what the community is feeling about potential projects. “Then we’ll boil down that list and wait to see what the state says,” he added.

As for a message to other rural communities across Upstate New York: Don’t overlook grants.

It’s a common message that we hear from grant winners, and those in the grant administration process. But executing on that, for the smallest-of-small communities can be a challenge.

“It’s exciting to apply for grants, and it’s important, but it’s a lot of work,” Mayor Ryan explained. “Managing grants and the steps necessary and the personnel hours that have to be invested on just one grant can be significant.”

Mayor Ryan said hiring a grants manager was a crucial step for the small village of approximately 1,500. “My foresight was to get a grant administrator on staff. And without that grants administrator I was managing 14. One clerk, or even a part-time clerk, because these administrations are so small, wouldn’t be able to accomplish the task. It would have been daunting. So we put somebody in position to be the grants administrator.”