Penn Yan primed for $10 million investment via a Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Grant

Downtown Penn Yan is the key for future economic prosperity. As the center hub of business and recreational activity, the revitalization of downtown is the key component of our economic development plan. We believe focusing on leveraging our natural assets, capitalizing on our craft food and beverage industry, using the local art scene as an economic engine and capturing the intellectual capital that lives and vacations here will drive short-term success and ensure long-term economic health and vitality.

  • Despite the many challenges facing Penn Yan, our community has seen a substantial share of private capital investment within the past five years.

  • More than $13,000,000 of private investment has been completed with more than $25,000,000 currently in process all within the DRI district. 

    • This investment was not made by mistake: The investments were made with respect to Penn Yan’s recently developed Master Comprehensive Plan, Waterfront Overlay Zoning and the community-led Vision 2020 Plan.  

Water Street Redevelopment

Penn Yan partnered with New York State leveraging a $2.5 Million Restore NY grant to catalyze an additional $8 Million in private investment to redevelop the least sightly street in the historic downtown area. The results have been astonishing.

  • Thirteen loft style apartments along Birkett Landing, the first of their kind in Penn Yan, have been fully occupied since completion with a waiting list for vacancies.

  • The completed residential and mixed-use component of this project (example photos below) received two design awards from the Rochester Landmark Society and Reshaping Rochester, celebrating its dedication to historic renovation and commitment to a quality project.

  • A new Wine Bar and Craft Brewery have opened along the Canal and the façade improvement of the former Garret Winery building is complete.

  • Currently NYSEG is nearing completion on an approximate $15 Million cleanup and restoration of the historic gas plant that sits along the shore of the Outlet.

More recently, Downtown was the recipient of another round of Restore NY funding for $500,000 to help with the renovation of two historic structures; Opera House Apartments, the site of a former small opera house vacant since the late 1800s and The Belknapp, a vacant former used book store with upper floor apartments last lived in more than 60 years ago.  The two mixed-use buildings will use the funding to assist with the $1.8 million rehabilitation of vacant upper floors by adding 10 market-rate apartments.

The FLEDC was also recently awarded $300,000 through the NY Main Street grant program in the latest round of the FLREDC. This money will go toward the renovation of nine buildings along Main Street and Elm Street adding 11 mixed income apartments, overnight accommodations, and the build-out of two storefronts for retail and restaurant businesses. In full, the $300,000 will help with the $1.3 million+ of redevelopment costs associated with the nine buildings.

Other private investments recently undertaken include:

  • the opening of a brand new business and the renovation of one of the oldest businesses on Main Street

  • Bank of the Finger Lakes recently opened their first Penn Yan branch location on the corners of Main and Elm Streets brining vibrancy to a vacant corner storefront

  • Pinckney’s Hardware, a 70+ year old hardware store located on the opposite corner from Bank of the Finger Lakes, recently completed renovation of their vacant second floor into a new showroom for kitchen appliances

In additional to these direct capital investments, Penn Yan utilizes:

  • A local development organization that administers a Façade Revitalization Program (FRP) for businesses and a housing improvement loan for residents within Penn Yan limits. The total funding available for the façade program is capped at $30,000 per business with 50% of the funds going to the businesses in the form of a grant and the other 50 percent as a 7-year, 4 percent loan. More than 12 Main Street properties have taken advantage of this program.

  • A PILOT program for any structure located within Penn Yan limits classified as Historic. The program offers a 100 percent exemption from Penn Yan taxes on the increased assessed value resulting from any improvements made to the structure for 5 full years. Starting in year 6, the savings reduce by 20 percent increments ultimately terminating in year 10.

Catalyzing Future Developments

 With the success of these previous projects, Penn Yan is absolutely primed to capitalize on future planned investments. As of this application, there is nearly $80 Million additional potential investment projects within the described boundary, but they will need significant financial assistance to move forward. The following four main areas are where DRI funding will help catalyze future, sustainable growth.

Leveraging Natural Assets

Penn Yan sits at the Northern shore of Keuka Lake, one of the most marketed and widely known and sought out of the Finger Lakes. Every year Keuka Lake is recognized by national and international media for its beauty, and many of the 1 million annual visitors to the area come to see her. Keuka Lake was also the source of the initial commerce for Penn Yan. Grapes from the hills around the Lake were transported by steamboats to the Keuka Outlet to be taken by horse and mule drawn barges to Seneca Lake and through the NYS Canal system to their end destination. The Outlet itself also had more than 40 mills along it at one point in its history also utilizing the barge system to distribute their goods.  The trails used by the mules and horses to pull the barges still exist and is the base for the Outlet Trail. 

Keuka Lake is widely recognized as the most active and social of the Finger Lakes. There are six restaurants on Keuka Lake you can access by boat, and public docks in Hammondsport on the southern end and Penn Yan at the northern end opening up dozens of additional entertainment options. Music abounds on the Lake during the Summer with each venue having bands every weekend. Unfortunately, over time the Outlet has become too shallow for most boats to navigate and needs to be dredged and the Outlet Trail is not easily accessed from the lake into the Downtown area. This lack of both boat and pedestrian access from Keuka Lake creates a massive bottleneck preventing this traffic from reaching Downtown businesses.

 There are four municipal parks located along the Lake and the Outlet including a public boat launch (used mainly by fishing boats and small ski boats) and transient docking area, an athletic complex and two public beaches. These parks play an important role in future community development initiatives. As such, Cornell University’s Design Connect Team is currently putting the final touches on the Parks and Recreation Master Plan update taking a deep dive into current and future uses of the public parks and trail system to foster additional passive and active recreational opportunities along the waterfront. Public docks are located at the boat launch and along the private businesses on the Outlet.  An overlay zoning district was put in place in 2013 to encourage in-fill nonindustrial developments at available properties.  DRI funding could help with the costs of dredging the Outlet and removing the bottleneck to create an immediately flow of individuals on Keuka Lake. 

 The Outlet Trail, while naturally beautiful, is a straight-line trail with a missing section that would connect the recently built Hampton Inn and the municipal public parks of Red Jacket and Indian Pines to Downtown and the rest of the trail. Penn Yan is currently seeking estimates to “finish” the Outlet trail and complete this missing section. In addition, this finished trail would include a boardwalk that would extend around the perimeter of the “Keuka Marsh” creating both a circular aspect to the trail and an educational component allowing users to explore the Marsh and see first hand the natural habitat of the Marsh. DRI funding might be utilized for the construction of the boardwalk that, when partnered with improved boat access in the Outlet, would create a one of a kind trail system connecting Keuka Lake to downtown Penn Yan!

Craft Food and Beverage

No other community is better set to capitalize on this proven development strategy than Penn Yan is. There are over 100 wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries in and around Penn Yan. We are in the center of the largest organic farming County in all New York State and home to two organic grain mills. Thanks to our Mennonite residents, there are fresh produce stands everywhere you look and we are the only County in New York where the number of acres farmed and total farm establishments are increasing. Main Street is home to one of the longest-running farmers market in New York held every Saturday morning. Ironically, Penn Yan has a significant lack of properly sized and outfitted storefronts for restaurants and resources available to culinary entrepreneurs such as commercial kitchens and co-packing facilities.  The lack of these entities significantly decreases tourism revenue and sales tax revenue as visitors and residents head outside of the County to eat, and employment opportunities when food entrepreneurs go elsewhere to establish their food-based businesses. 

The Finger Lakes Economic Development Center created the State’s first agriculture loan fund, now capitalized at $2,000,000, which has helped numerous production farms, wineries, breweries and distilleries launch.  They have now created a restaurant loan fund to help bridge the financing gap to getting new restaurants started by offering up to $100,000 in 1 percent loan funds with a flexible repayment plan to building owners willing to purchase and build-out kitchens in their vacant downtown Penn Yan buildings. Building Owners who participate only need make payments on the loans while they have an active restaurant tenant in the facility. During the time it takes to attract a restaurant or if the unfortunate case that the restaurant closes, loan payments would be suspended until a new restaurant opens.  Although just released, the program is already showing promise as it has attracted the first restaurant which hopes to be open in the Spring of 2019 and is projecting to have 50 full- and part-time employees. 

Yates County Workforce Development and Yates Cultural and Recreational Resources Inc., have created a customer service training program titled “You’re Welcome” that utilizes the “Guest Services Gold” national training curriculum.  The goal of the program is to provide local restaurants and hospitality businesses with trained customer service individuals, capable of enhancing their customers experience increasing the likelihood of returning.  With a ready stock of storefronts and trained labor, DRI funding could be leveraged to create a business plan competition to help attract new restaurants to Downtown that would add the variety of menus demanded by consumers.   

Additionally, the Pinwheel Market, a nonprofit operated by Milly’s Food Pantry, operates a mixed-use facility downtown were retail sales go to fund the operations of the food pantry. The second floor has a small commercial kitchen that is underutilized due to a lack of an elevator in the facility. Local food entrepreneurs have found the lack of an elevator a significant barrier in utilizing the kitchen. DRI funding could help install an elevator in the Pinwheel Market, instantly providing a commercial-grade kitchen to users.

Capturing Intellectual Assets

Yates County has seen a significant increase in telecommuters largely due to the quality of life the area provides.  Our multiple lakes, craft beverage industry and active lifestyle combine to produce a natural draw for individuals who work remotely. Yates County invested in bringing dark fiber into the County a few years ago and downtown Penn Yan has been the benefactor of that; many of the individuals who work from home are moving their offices into Downtown Penn Yan or utilizing coffee shops or the FLEDC offices, where there’s free WiFi.   

A significant opportunity exists for Penn Yan to market themselves to telecommuters by offering free high-speed wireless internet connectivity throughout the DRI area.  Many of these individuals tend to be professionals earning a higher income than the current income averages in Penn Yan.  Penn Yan unfortunately has one of the highest poverty rates in the Finger Lakes outside of the City of Rochester and the lowest average weekly wages in all of New York State.  Offering free WiFi throughout the DRI area would incentivize a mix of income to Penn Yan while also offering lower income earners an ability to access high speed internet. 

Coupled with the free WiFi, the FLEDC would work with building owners to offer co-work locations and maker spaces giving individuals more opportunities to work downtown.  One such opportunity in the Arts is described later in this section.  In addition to co-work locations, Yates Young Professionals would sponsor programming targeted at telecommuters to actively engage them in the community and with one another. 

Keuka College is expanding their nursing program by partnering with Finger Lakes Health College of Nursing, in Geneva, and brought a dual degree (associates and BS) in Nursing to Keuka College’s home campus. Keuka is exploring possibilities to increase the number of students by utilizing a building owned by FLH near the local hospital, Soldiers and Sailors, in Penn Yan, and using the hospital for clinical work. Keuka is focusing on rural health and on educating local students that desire to stay and work in the area; this plays perfectly into the capturing intellectual assets strategy. In addition to the economic impact of having more students downtown there is the added benefit of retaining a higher percentage of students upon graduation. More downtown apartments, free internet access, and new restaurants and cultural amenities are sure to benefit both Keuka and Penn Yan. 

Art as an Economic Engine

The need for more cultural and recreational activities is the most common request from visitors and residents alike. The renovation of the Sampson Theater, identified by the Landmark Society of Western New York as one of “Five to Revive”, noting it as “a highly visible anchor…one of the most important historic theaters in the Finger Lakes region” would provide a much-needed answer to their requests. The Pennsylvania Yankee Theatre Company (PYTCo) proposes to rehabilitate the 1910 Sampson Theatre in the Village of Penn Yan’s downtown commercial district and return it to a theater venue. The Sampson is an early 20th century landmark in the Village of Penn Yan and was the first building in the Village constructed exclusively as an entertainment venue. The rehabilitated Sampson will return the Sampson to a fully functioning theatre venue, offering a much-needed auditorium venue for the Village, Keuka College and Finger Lakes region.

Penn Yan is home to many gifted artists and many more visit every year to find their inspiration for their next creation. Sam Castner is one of those gifted artists whose larger than life metal sculptures dot the landscape throughout the Finger Lakes.  Mr. Castner is partnering with the local school districts and the Friends of the Outlet to create a Sculpture Walk along the Keuka Outlet Trail.  The Sculpture Walk is proposed to be a hands-on learning program where students will immerse themselves in learning about the natural habitat of the Outlet.  Students will then take that education and create metal sculptures of the habitat.  Students will use that education while learning design and fabrication techniques to create metal sculptures that will be located at key points along the Outlet. Funding is needed to help build-out the studio and to purchase the necessary equipment for the students. 

The Yates Community Center in collaboration with their Elevate Youth program has begun an Art Gym.  The Art Gym is a shared workspace that enables artists to create across many artistic platforms and disciplines. In addition to shared space, artists and inspiring artists will have the ability to learn from experts how to use various equipment to make their pieces.  

The collision of creativity through the arts, vibrant culinary scene, active lifestyle (trails and parks), and affordable professional and living options is an encompassing approach to drive a sustainable, year-round economy in Downtown Penn Yan.

Keuka Lake State Park .JPG