Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
Jan. 4, 2022

Ten Million for Tannersville: Talking with The Hunter Foundation

Ten Million for Tannersville: Talking with The Hunter Foundation
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Tannersville, NY, is a small mountain village, with big aspirations. And now, with the help of a very large grant from New York State, it's preparing for a basket of revitalization projects that would surely put a smile on Rip Van Winkle's face. We sat down with The Hunter Foundation's Sean Mahoney and Amy Scheibe for some backstory on this major award, and the various partners working toward a more vibrant, equitable, and connected community.

Thanks to our sponsors: Hanford Mills Museumand the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce

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As a direct injection, one time shot, it's the largest. I believe that anything around here any municipality has ever seen. Tannersville, New York is a small mountain village with big aspirations. And now with the help of a very large grant from New York State, it's preparing for a basket of revitalization projects that would surely put a smile on even Rip Van Winkle's face. I sat down with Sean Mahoney and Amy Scheibe for some backstory on this major award, and the various partners working toward a more vibrant, equitable, and connected mountain top community. And with this episode, Kaatscast enters year three. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome. Please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and listen back to any or all of our other 53 episodes, featuring Catskills stories, interviews, audio journeys, and more. This episode is sponsored by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, providing services to businesses, community organizations, and local governments in the Central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and sign up for a weekly email of local events at centralcatskills.org. One event you won't want to miss takes place at Hanford Mills Museum in Delaware County's East Meredith. The museum's ice harvest festival is Saturday February 5th, with a community ice harvest on the millpond, ice sculpting by the SUNY Delhi hospitality center ice team, blacksmithing demonstrations, and local vendors. Kids twelve and under get in free. Visit hanfordmills.org or call 607-278-5744 for updates on ice conditions and event details. Hanford Mills museum opens for the season May 15th, with guided tours of its water powered sawmill, grist mill, and woodworking shop. And now to this week's show, from Tannersville, New York. I'm Sean Mahoney, I'm the executive director of the Hunter Foundation. And I'm Amy Scheibe, I am the chair of the board of the Hunter Foundation. Tannersville was the winner of the 2021 Downtown Revitalization Initiative Award, graciously awarded by the state of New York. It is typically considered the crown jewel of all state funding for a municipality, and historically, it has been mainly given to major metro areas. For it to go to Tannersville, which is now officially the smallest municipality to ever receive an award such as this, is a really big deal. That $10 million will be transformational change on so many levels, and I believe that the state of New York agreed and saw that and chose us. The Downtown Revitalization Initiative or DRI; can you tell me a little bit about the history of that? And traditionally, the types of communities it's gone to and what it's been used for? Certainly. The Downtown Revitalization Initiative was started by former Governor Andrew Cuomo as a means of economic development for large capital intensive projects in these major sort of metropolitan areas. What they want is a DRI zone to be designated. So that's a walkable area that has infrastructure, where these sort of catalyst projects can be completed. The program's been in place for, I would say, about eight years. So funny enough, when we took a look at it, we said, 'We meet all these criteria. We have a walkable zone, we have a condensed, vibrant landscape, has the infrastructure, and we have a lot of needs, and we have a lot of these potential catalyst projects that we can get done.' And on top of that, New York State doesn't want to be the only money in the game. They don't want to say, 'Okay, here's $10 million, and that's all you have.' They want to see a significant amount of private investment, and they want to be a piece of that. We have that here. Thankfully, with the efforts of our organization, the Hunter Foundation and the village of Tannersville and lots and lots of private entrepreneurs and investors and- And other nonprofits, like Catskill Mountain Foundation. Absolutely. They contribute quite a lot. Can you talk about the relationship between the foundations that are active in this community and the community itself, in particular the Hunter Foundation? Well, the Hunter Foundation goes back 27 years and it was created at a time of economic destruction in this community. Hunter mountain also was going into a bit of a tailspin at the time. A lot of our commercial properties were leaving the mountain, and this sort of came on the tailwind of the drunk driving laws changing actually, and people not making Hunter mountain their daily destination. So both good and bad reasons all coalesced into empty storefronts, deteriorating buildings, and a group of like minded local citizens got together and created the foundation in order to find ways to specifically revitalize buildings on Main Street in Tannersville. And as a piece of that, local summer resident Elena Patterson got involved with the paint project, and she underwrote having the buildings revitalized through their exteriors, even before their interiors were being fixed up and new businesses brought in, in order to attract both people to visit the place and also to set up their homes and businesses here. And along the way, at the Hunter Foundation, it really, as Amy said, started with revitalizing buildings and finding people to operate businesses in those buildings. And then over time it evolved, and certainly with Chuck and Deborah Royce coming to the table and seeing the vision, they provided the resources in a lot of ways to make the hunter foundation what it is today, and that is still having many properties where these commercial and residential tenants are living and operating in many cases at a reduced cost. But we also have three core businesses, colonial golf from our market gardens and the Tannersville antique store which we operate for the benefit of the community. I woud also say that it evolved more into a community specific addressing needs type of foundation. There are so many needs that aren't served in our community because beyond a food pantry, and a wonderful Methodist church system, the social safety nets aren't in rural communities the same way they are in larger municipalities. And the Hunter Foundation got so many requests to fill in gaps here and there, whether it's getting a bus for kids to go to soccer in another town in the summer, or- Summer camp. Yeah. Kids programs at the school. And now with a golf course, we also provide a golf camp for kids that they would never have. But then it with COVID it evolved even further into providing actual food for families during the weekends because even though the school was providing lunches, etc, during the week by delivering them to houses, a lot of families below that level of sustenance, were losing their jobs. The government was not stepping in quite yet. So we filled the gap by raising the funds reaching out to restaurants to prepare those meals and then delivering them every week. So we try to fill in a lot of gaps that are identified in the community, whatever that is. We wear a lot of hats. Yeah, we do. What's the association between the Hunter Foundation and the Royce Family Fund? The Royce Family Fund is another charitable organization, and it's headed by Chuck and Deborah Royce. Daniel King, who's on our board, is the executive director. And it's a very close and tight relationship between the two charitable organizations. They're at the table for all of our strategy, and they provide a lot of the financial resources for us to do the good work that is happening. It seems like there's two pretty big foundations here; the Hunter Foundation, the Catskill Mountain foundation, what's that relationship? And where's the overlap? Well, they're very, very different in scope. Catskill Mountain Foundation really runs the cultural and arts track in a way that the Hunter Foundation augments but doesn't run. We're far more focused on business development and community interaction and engagement. Whereas the Catskill Mountain Foundation has brought a level of cultural excitement to the community that we don't have the expertise nor the initiative to do. They bring in ballet classes. They bring in The Nutcracker every year where local kids can participate. They bring in the national dance institute every summer. They have a very fine arts focus on dance and classical music. They bring performances into that Orpheum that I think people should be fighting to get into. You would think in a town like Tannersville people drive through with their nose in the air, but if they stop and actually look at what's happening because of the Catskill Mountain Foundation, they would be blown away. And we work very closely with them. And certainly when, when we can provide our resources, specifically to write the DRI grant, we reached directly out to them and 'Do you want to be involved?' and they were absolutely in love with the idea and have needs have real needs specifically at the Orpheum theatre. So it was a great collaboration. Going back to this $10 million DRI, was that spearheaded by the Hunter Foundation? Yes; the Hunter Foundation, we have a formal agreement with the village of Tannersville. So that basically states that we are the economic development partner for the village of Tannersville. And previously, we had used that to apply for and successfully be awarded a number of CFA grants. And CFA stands for Consolidated Funding Applications to deal with the Rip Van Winkle Lake Trail development, etc. And a lot of other sort of public amenity type capital projects. And we're consistently putting in applications. And we work with a grant writer on that. A great firm of River Street planning and development, headed by Margaret Irwin, who is a great partner for us. So along the way, with multiple CFA grants awarded and pending, Margaret thought that even if we weren't going to get a DRI, which the odds were certainly not in our favor to get it that we should apply. Because just by going through that process, doing the work, doing the data gathering, the community engagement aspects of things, when you apply for CFA grants, it gives you a lot of bonus points for those CFA awards. So we applied for the first time in 2019, and at that time, we were the smallest municipality to ever apply. It was a great application. And we were a finalist among three immediately afterwards, they came and met with us to go through we did what we had done really well, what we could do better, and to encourage us to continue applying for CFA grants, which we did, and the sense we took away was the better we achieved at spending the grant money we were already given, the higher up in that trajectory we would be, and of course then COVID happened. Yeah, so COVID happened, and the DRI was not a program during 2020. So we skipped a year, but we did put in for additional CFAs. And executed on them. And executed on them, and currently there's construction going on and further planning for the Gooseberry Creek-Rip Van Winkle Lake projects; a park is being built in the center of Tannersville that will connect to the roof and like a lake complex. And lots more amenities coming down the pike in I would say late 2020. Through our conversations at the Hunter Foundation, we realize that we also have a significant issue with housing. Well, it's a housing crisis that's happening everywhere. But in particular, in resort styled towns like Tannersville, where more than 50% of our population is transient, whether they're second homeowners, or vacationers, or campers, and we realized about halfway through that all of the people that came up from New York City, absorbed a lot of our housing and has created, therefore, a crisis. And it's a golden crisis, because of course, those people bring up lots of other great things. But what's happened in the last year or so is people have repositioned them as short term rentals. So a lot of our locals were literally evicted from their homes, even during an eviction crisis period, and those homes are now being popped up as $300-$400 a night short term rentals, which is happening everywhere. Right. We're not special in that way. Or going back on the market at a much higher rate than they were previously, which is priced out a lot. A house I sold for $250 before COVID is now on the market at at $800. So that being said, internally at the Hunter Foundation, we realized that this was a crisis, and we felt that the DRI was a good mechanism to see if we could assist. So what we ended up doing was putting out a request for proposals for affordable housing developers, prior to the DRI application, to search for the right partner. We did get a number of responses back and we chose RUPCO which is a very well known 501©(3) out of Ulster County, who has great experience doing projects of this type. So we worked with RUPCO on the affordable workforce housing component, which then went into the DRI application, which was not even a thing in 2019. So it is one of the cornerstones of the application. We submitted that in the late summer of 2021. And thankfully, we were awarded because I think we have a really compelling application, and a real need to solve these issues with the proximity to Hunter mountain and Hunter mountain being the economic engine that it is. The workforce issue is pronounced here more than in other places, because of our rural nature, the difficulty in computing hear from another community. So we really need our workforce to be primarily based here. We're trying to use every tool in the tool chest to make that happen. And I would also say because Hunter Foundation has such a thumb on the pulse of what the community needs. Fe have put the needs of the community forefront and trying to adapt our community into a real viable place that people want to live as much as they want to play. So practically speaking, how will this money address the housing crisis? So we're literally getting $9.7 million allocated to go to specific projects that are shovel ready. Through the planning process with RUPCO, we're looking at developing about 80 units between one and three bedrooms of housing, and that could be in one development or two developments. At this point in time, it's a rough estimate of between $20 and $25 million to complete that successfully. So what this will do will give us funding for the planning stages, site acquisition. But ultimately what RUPCO does is it applies for further tax credits, which then they take in and find usually major financial institutions to invest, purchasing those tax credits, infusing the capital needed to develop the project, and we get it done. So it is seed money, leverage money for further funding, and potentially acquiring site getting infrastructure in place that is needed. We're going to leverage 350,000 from the county legislature to begin the planning phase of that, and that's money that's also coming through the state that is being applied to areas in crisis post COVID. What are some other areas that you'll use this money to leverage into other projects? Oh, that's the fun part. Yeah; there's lots. I think two of the most interesting ones for me to be working on is the expansion of our daycare, which is a linchpin to the workability of a community like this. They have a waiting list of probably 50 people hoping to get it babies that aren't born in three years on to that list, and it's just a finite space is the problem. The people that run it are fantastic. They've been running it with a Hunter Foundation for years, and they want to expand not just their capability but their footprint and thereby bring in more workers to work in the facility. The other is the Orpheum, which is the jewel of our community; beautiful old theater that has been renovated up into a point where the money just ran out. And now we're going to be able to put in the lighting and the sound and all of the things you need to make a beautiful attractor for places like the joyous theatre to come up and work on their performances. And it's been an underutilized space, because currently you need to rent the lighting and sound to bring in and have performance there, and that's really not cost effective for community theater, children's dance, etc. So this will allow not only those infrastructure goals to be completed, but the original architect's vision of what the marquees will look like and what the exterior will look like and also some storage. And that's with the Catskill Mountain Foundation; that is their pride and joy that we are happy to support in whatever way we can, but they wrote up their piece of the DRI request and they will continue to do so and we're working closely with them. It's a very important piece of another of the projects, which is the festival grounds that we would like to build out on the Colonial Country Club. Traditionally, at Hunter mountain there have been giant festivals whether it's Taste of Country, or Mountain Jam. We want to shrink that down to a digestible size that actually involves a community instead of 1000s of people coming up and parking, doing something and leaving. We have this dream of creating a festival grounds, which is five to 10,000 people attending beautiful concerts and other types of cultural events that then embed inside of the community and the Orpheum being finished is a major piece of that. The golf course has some amazing natural features that lend itself to a great festival venue, and it's sidewalk accessible. It has the infrastructure. From a location perspective, it's ideal. The people that are attending the festival can then, you know, walk into town and eat in one of the restaurants or, you know, have a cocktail somewhere or go to a smaller venue such as the Orpheum, take a trail, you know, and go visit the the Rip Van Winkle Lake; it will be one of a kind. One of the main projects that was listed in the DRI is the Kaaterskill Clove Shuttle. Tannersville is in between Kaaterskill Falls, and Hunter mountain. Kaaterskill Falls, certainly with the pandemic, went through an intense amount of overuse vehicular and pedestrian traffic in an area of New York State 23A. That's not really meant for that, and it was providing some real challenges. And so the clove shuttle has been an idea that's been kicking around up here for many years. And now we have a great partner in a gentleman named Ryan Chadwick, who sees the vision and is willing to invest and is going to operate this clove shuttle in order to reduce the congestion in the clove. But at the same time bringing those people that are enjoying the natural resources of the clove, into town, into the village of Tannersville, where they can park, where they can eat, where they can buy local goods, and then jump back on the shuttle, go back to the clove, potentially go swimming or go up to North South Lake, walk around the amazing trail system that the state has, and that's just one piece of it, at the Colonial Golf course, the Huckleberry Trail system; that one point in the future will connect the village of Tannersville all the way to Hunter mountain, to the escarpment trail in Haines falls, for people to ride their bike, walk their dog, run. So park your car walk, you know and get where you want to go. So transportation is a major focus, when thankfully, we're at the center of it all were the hub. Our community is surrounded by state and city lands. So our footprint isn't really going to get much bigger. It's a win-win situation. And I'd say true to the core of Tannersville spirits. Another big piece of the DRI is to continue the rehabilitation of businesses on Main Street, we're probably at 50%. We have another 50% to go. So a piece of that is infrastructure on the exterior but also attracting more businesses and creating more workforce housing on second and third stories of the many buildings that are currently empty. In terms of the exteriors the painted village in the sky was that a Hunter Foundation initiative? That was an Elena Patterson initiative that was facilitated through the Hunter Foundation. Elena Patterson, our former board chair, is a renowned artist, and she painted her own home in these very vibrant colors that you would not typically see painted on the side of a building. And people were visiting her house just to take pictures of it and something went off in our head when we needed sort of a change in the village of Tannersville which was looking very rundown at the time, she pitched it to the village. If she funded the painting and design this and people applied for it, would the village be in support? Absolutely. Just about everybody loved the idea. And we now have the painted village in the sky thanks to her. And she continues to underwrite it. She continues to underwrite it, we continue to support it from finding the painters and doing the contracts and, you know, dispersing the funds, etc. But it's sort of what put the Hunter foundation and Tannersville on many maps. In terms of all of the streams of funding, how does this DRI stack up? This DRI is far and away as a direct injection one time shot. It's the largest, I believe, that anything around here any municipality has ever seen. The Hunter Foundation is funded operationally, and in the aggregate that funding, it's a big number. You know, when you talk about staff acquiring properties, the amount of renovations, but from a single injection point, this is this is the largest that has ever happened. How surprised were you when you learned that you'd won it? I think we're still in shock. Yeah, I don't think it's really hit yet. Because the roll up your sleeves and sit at a table and figure it all out hasn't started, that happens in January. You can hold a big check and feel like Ed McMahon for five minutes. But then you're like, wait, nothing's happening yet. So yes, it's going to be a rolling series of shocks I feel as each of these smaller projects gets funded and starts, and then we begin to see the flowers grow from it. Absolutely. You know, so we got a phone call from the state, you won, the governor was slated to come down, and that happened in the same phone call. And it was like, 'Congratulations; you won. But now we need to put together this event, and we need your help. And the governor is coming down to make this big formal announcement. And we're gonna, you know, have this big check.' Inhaling. So as Amy said, I think it's still sort of settling in. Everyone is just amazed. Everybody that I've talked to is just like, 'Wow, I can't believe we got this.' And we being as close as we are to the project, I don't think we still have fully comprehended that we just got this. It'll really feel real once the negative comments start escalating. Like any good thing eventually gets nibbled apart by but, but but. Yeah, you know, and that's, that's also part of, you know, it's an important thing to recognize is that this $10 million doesn't come directly to us, and we're not the arbiters of who gets what, or anything like that. A local planning commission is established, pulling from the community, and everyone has to reapply, you know, the shovel ready projects have to come back with the planning, and this local planning commission, in conjunction with the state and the planners that they have designated, they're going to award the funding based on each project's merits. Those meetings are public meetings, fully transparent process. So you really get your finger on the pulse of what the community wants and what they don't want. We have a very supportive community here in Tannersville and Hunter. People trust us, and I think people trust the people that will be on the local planning commission to make the right decisions for the community. So I'm not anticipating negative outcry or much of it. I am anticipating a large positive outpouring of support, and certainly favorites. So there's going to be favorite projects for the community, and one of those things is a community center. Every time we do engagement, it's something that comes up and it's in the DRI. But a lot of planning still has to be done to what does that look like? Like what what is a community center to you? And what are the amenities that it has? Where's it going to be? All of that has to be worked out. For Tannersville to get this, the impacts of this are going to be felt so far, they're going to be felt throughout the Northern Catskills. Windham, Jewitt, Hunter, Lexington, Chichester, Venetia, because this amount of direct investment has ancillary investment associated with it and ancillary effects; more people, more attention. More people driving down the road to see what this is all about. This is a very, very positive thing that I think helps so much more than just Tannersville. Is there a use by date on these funds? Yeah, so they want shovel ready projects that have made significant progress in 24 months. They're not going to not fund you if you're 26 months, you know, but they want to see progress fairly quickly. Our strength is our public private partnership between the municipality of the village and the Hunter Foundation, having great success in the past, working towards a common goal. It seemed to be the thing that got them the most excited about continuing to come up here and encourage us to apply again for these grants because at the end of the day, they want to see their money do good. They want the photo ops of shovels in the ground as much as we want them, and there have been grants they've awarded in the past where they haven't had that private sector galvanize behind the initiative. And things have fallen apart, which ends up putting a gun on everyone's faces. So the fact that we are so in tune with what the needs are and how to accomplish the objectives is I think why we won the grant. I agree. I truly feel that, you know, other small communities should take a look at what we do. Because the public private partnership model that we have been using for the past 27 years is generating real hard results to the benefit of the community. Our board is made up of local stakeholders who care, who want to do good things. That's why they're on the board. So is the village board. And so using the various tools in our respective tool chests, we're just out there doing good work for our community, working with the school, working with other non for profits, working with local businesses and residents that have needs. So there's more hands to do this work, and we've been able to realize lots of great benefit. Where do you see Tannersville five years from now? I think Tannersville is going to be a busier place. I think it's going to be a much more beautiful place. I think you're going to see an invigorated and much more diverse community. I hope that we see a much more healthy workforce, and then we're not dealing with such workforce shortages that we are right now. I think one of the things the DRI is going to help do is create a more braided infrastructure of community visitors and workforce. We're really fortunate to have the vision of how we get there. Even as Vail Mountain has come in and purchased Hunter Mountain, we could overbuild so quickly the way many of these communities do. This gives us the ability in a weird way to press pause as we push forward. Because we really need to think about the needs of the people that make a community thrive, rather than hollow it out. And I think with COVID we got set on a certain path of hollowing out our community; people selling their houses and a mad rush to to cash in and you can't blame them. There was definitely a gold rush happening, but the displacement that that caused for people under a certain level of affordability, those are the people that we need to protect as we imagine what this money can do, and become the attractor that five years from now, people who graduated leave this community do so with the intention of coming back, or the ability to come back. I think it will still be painted in very beautiful, vibrant colors, and I think, you know, from a natural landscape, it'll be much the same. It'll still be the Tannersville that people generationally fell in love with. But it's gonna have a lot more amenities and places to eat, and things to do with your family. That is going to attract a lot of people here. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found for free and automatic delivery every two weeks. Thanks again to our local sponsors and to you our listeners for your contributions to the show. If you'd like to contribute just click Support at kaatscast.com. Until next time, I'm Brett Barry; wishing you a happy and healthy New Year. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you again in two weeks. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai / JL